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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Doha Toys Town: A ride back in time to Qatar’s first indoor amusement park

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Doha News takes another trip to nostalgia-town with a visit to one of the spots that played a prominent role in the lives of those who grew up in Qatar.

You probably remember this place from its pink and white soft serve ice cream, the distinctive smell of freshly-popped popcorn, or even the mini wacky worm roller coaster that was occupied by young children for hours. 

For many, Doha Toys Town was a go-to destination that was quickly jam packed after the customary morning family visits on Eid afternoons.

Founded in 1984, the centre – or best known as “Sana Games” because of its location above what the previous apparel “Sana” store – was the first indoor amusement park in Qatar.

Palestinian businessman, Samir Deeb Issa, was the brains behind its launch and joined up with prominent Qatari businessman Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani to bring it to life. After moving to Qatar, Issa searched for a fun spot for children to stay away from the scorching heat that grips the country for the most part of the year.

Asmahan Qarjouli for Doha News

Since its establishment in Grand Hamad Street, Doha Toys Town has become a safe space for children to run around freely and enjoy as many rides as possible at a low cost, opening its doors to even the most least-privileged of society.

“I used to go there as a kid with my cousins. We used to repeatedly play the same games again and again,” said Fatma Mohammed, now 23.

Read also: ‘The Return’: the story of Qatar’s first ever car garage

From its early days, and even until now, the amusement park has received an overwhelming number of visitors, including mothers, fathers, children, and hundreds of children that enjoyed the centre as part of school trips from institutes that no longer exist. 

But even as skyscrapers emerged along Doha’s skyline and malls sprouted across the country, the games centre still maintained its loyal customers.

“We still get many Qatari army members and police officers who come with their children and witness their offspring ride on the same games that they used to get on when they were kids,” said Faisal Issa, Samir’s son and manager of Al Shaab Group, which was behind Doha Toys Town.

Asmahan Qarjouli for Doha News

Issa himself used to visit the amusement park back in its early days when the Grand Hamad Street was a vibrant area that boasted several stores and restaurants.

“I remember there was a Hardee’s right behind it. My outings consisted of going to the amusement park to play there for hours and then walking to have a meal at Hardee’s,” he said.

Though it closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Doha Toys Town still stands in the same street and attracts customers despite access to wide-ranging arcades and malls across the country that offer substantially more advances games.

“You simply pay 30-to-35 riyals here and get on all the rides for as long as you want and for an unlimited amount of time. It is what many parents love about this place,” said Issa.

Read also: Curtains close: Back in time at Qatar’s first-ever cinema

Due to is popularity and its iconic reputation, some of the most significant rides and games at the centre have remained the same. These include the mini wacky worm roller coaster that for decades attracted queues of children waiting to experience the thrill.

“I think this is the most important ride that we have and many people remember the most. People would come specifically for this one,” said Issa, who was a fan of the wacky worm himself.

Asmahan Qarjouli for Doha News

Despite this, the games at Doha Toys Town are regularly maintained and the owners are currently in the process of creating a new, bigger amusement park under the same name for future generations to create more memories.

“We are looking for a new location, with the same idea of paying a standard fee to access unlimited games. Of course, we will have new and developed arcades, including VR games for the new generations,” said Issa.

Asmahan Qarjouli for Doha News

According to Issa, the project was paused due to the pandemic and the company is still in negotiating make it happen. However, this does not mean the original Doha Toys Town will be replaced, he said.

“We are still the same and we are still here. Everybody knows that we are still here,” said Issa.


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