DOHA, Kuwait — It was virtually a perfect Friday afternoon, with a sky of cobalt blue over the Persian Gulf and a strong onshore wind buffeting the clouds into so many swirls that they looked like fingerprints.
Friday is the day of rest here, as in much of the Arab world, and many families tend to head for the desert, as their nomadic forebears used to do.
Along the seaside freeway from Kuwait city north to the village of Doha, the sand was dotted with thousands of white tents anchored in the snowy sand next to Cadillacs and Chevrolet Suburbans.
But Kuwait, an oil-producing country with one of the highest per capita income levels in the world, likes to boast that it has the best of the Western world, too.
So beyond the long rows of tents, the Kuwaitis have carved an enclave of almost 400 square miles out of the sand dunes along the seaside. Officially, it is known as Medina al Tarfiha, or Entertainment City, but just about everybody calls it Arab Disneyland.
Although Orange County can rest easy, the amusement park here has some distinct echoes of its California relative.
Fuad Hussein Turo, a front-office manager for Entertainment City, explained that the designers paid a number of visits to Anaheim, took a lot of pictures like good tourists and came back with a design already in mind. It cost 35 million dinars, about $120 million at the current exchange rate, and was opened in 1983.
40,000 Visitors Monthly
Turo said the park gets about 40,000 visitors a month--in a country with a population of 1.7 million. On holidays, the daily crowd swells to 5,000.
"There's very little difference with Disneyland," he boasted proudly.
Like Disneyland, Entertainment City is a theme park. There is a Future World, an International World and an attraction even Disneyland still doesn't have: Arab World.
In Arab World, the boat ride is called Sinbad the Sailor and the boats are shaped like dhows, the ancient Arab sailing vessels.
The Ali Baba fast-food restaurant is a Disneyland look-alike, but instead of hamburgers and french fries, the fare is fast-food Mideast-style: tabbouleh, hommous-- tongue salad.
Ties to Pizza Hut
In Future World, Johnny Cash's voice booms out of the public address system as crowds gather for rides on the Space Needle, the Atom Smasher, which looks remarkably like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and a bumper car ride where the drivers are almost as fearless as those traveling on the main highway outside.
The restaurant in Future World, which is called Infinity Fast Food, turns out to be a Pizza Hut franchise.
In International World, the main attraction is the Australian log ride, a water-borne roller coaster. Many of the passengers, while clearly enjoying themselves, soaked their kaffiyehs, their checkered head cloths, and were unable to fold them again.
Kuwait is still religiously conservative and many of the women waiting in line wore black chadors, which cover their bodies from head to toe except for a slit at the eyes.
Chadors and Stagecoaches
The effect was dramatic as lines of black-robed women waited patiently outside the Arbat Khiul Hantour, or "Stagecoach Roundup" for a quick spin. Afterward, they moseyed over to Popeye's Fried Chicken, which is inexplicably housed in a Chinese pagoda.
It is disconcerting to be standing in the Wild West Shooting gallery when the afternoon call to prayer comes wafting out of the General Store.
Instead of adults dressed up in outsized Pluto and Mickey Mouse costumes, the park's operators have full-grown Pakistani men dressed in pink rabbit ears, offering to be photographed with children. Pakistani men do all the manual labor in Kuwait.
Admission is relatively cheap--the equivalent of 75 cents. Rides range from 60 cents to $2. However, a pizza only five inches across costs about $5.