Located a 30-minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi City, Yas Island hosts several of the emirate’s major touristic attractions, including the Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World and the Yas Waterworld water park. These options offer a variety of activities and experiences designed to entertain everyone from international business travellers to families on holiday.
ADRENALINE RUSH: While the Yas Marina Circuit is perhaps best known for hosting the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix every November, this motorsports and entertainment complex is in fact open year-round. Much of the activity outside of the Grand Prix is centred on the Yas Racing School, a building that stands directly on the track. There, visitors can take part in passenger and driver experiences that offer the thrill of racing on a real F-1 track. Indeed, this is not an activity for the faint of heart.
Passenger experiences – open to anyone over the age of 14, no driving skills required – include a ride in one of Yas Marina Circuit’s two Mercedes SL63 AMGs, which served as the safety cars in the inaugural Grand Prix in November 2009. The visitor is fitted out in a racing helmet and strapped into the car by the racing school’s staff, while a professional F-1 driver takes the wheel. The ride, which in total includes three laps around the track, begins slowly but gathers pace, hitting 250 km/hour on the final back straight. But the real excitement may well be the twists and turns the course offers, during which the passenger may find his stomach moving in one direction while the car moves in the other.
Besides the adrenaline rush, perhaps the most enjoyable part of the experience is a view of the track that is normally reserved for the professionals. The beauty of the course becomes apparent when seen from the tarmac, as the car travels alongside the marina and under the glass-and-steel bridge that connects the two towers of the Yas Viceroy Hotel before passing through the main grandstand area.
Passenger experiences are also available for other vehicles, including the Aston Martin GT4 and an F1 two-seater. The latter are single-seater racing cars that have been especially converted for use by two people. For those more inclined to take the wheel, driver experiences are an option, with several models of car offered.
FOR THE KIDS: Adjacent to the Racing School is the Yas KartZone, a lively destination for children and adults alike, offering an 800-metre go-kart track. The go-karts reach speeds of up to 70 km per hour, offering an exciting introduction to motorsports in a safe and fun atmosphere. For groups of 15 or more, the KartZone also provides packages, which begin with a practice session, followed by a qualifying sprint. The fastest drivers then move on to a final race. While this may sound highly competitive, in fact beginners are welcome, and it is easy to pick up the necessary skills.
A WALK IN THE PARK: Meanwhile, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest indoor amusement park, provides another suitable entertainment option for families who visit Yas Island. It is already home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, and additional rides continue to be introduced. New offerings that opened in 2012 include Viaggio in Italia, which offers an aerial tour of Italy’s landscape and famous sites. Guests sit in seats that are lifted 14.5 metres into the air, allowing them to be immersed in scenes that are projected onto a dome-shaped screen. Another family-friendly destination is Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi, located next to Ferrari World. Set to open in the fourth quarter of 2012, the 15-ha water park will highlight the emirate’s pearl diving heritage with 43 rides, slides and attractions.
Yas Island is a short drive from Abu Dhabi City, but for visitors who wish to spend the night, there are several hotel options, including the Yas Viceroy Hotel, which literally straddles the F1 track. The Viceroy, designed by New York-based architects Asymptote Architecture, is hard to miss thanks to its “gridshell” – a steel net-like structure with more than 5000 glass panels that is draped over hotel’s two towers. This glass grid lights up at night with changing colours, offering a spectacle that captures the changing nature of Yas Island.