Gold Coast – September 2013

Day 2 – Movieworld

Sunday 15th September

I was fortunate enough to awaken at least somewhat relaxed this morning, although being in a different bed is always something of a challenge to someone of my, ahem, physique shall we say? Sadly, the same could not be said for Sandy, who felt the full brunt of the bloody kids’ bloody desire to be bloody well up and bloody active from bloody 4.00am this bloody morning. Bloody kids! An early bedtime tonight again, I fear.

Before I get too deep into what happened today, something that I failed to mention in yesterday’s blog was what happened not 3 minutes after we first got into the cabin. We have some sliding glass doors at the rear of the cabin which form the main entrance. Now, there are some white markings on the door at children’s eye height to stop them bumping into the glass. Alas, these markings were clearly not obvious enough, as Joey careered at full pace straight into the glass, rebounded onto the floor and picked himself up in tears. No damage was done – either to child or door – but given that the angle of the afternoon sun caused the light to stream in in such a way as to make the white markings on the window quite difficult to see from anyone with a child’s eye view, I felt it was necessary to stick something a bit more obvious onto the glass door. The only thing I could find that seemed to suit the purpose was one of Joey’s soft toys, which just happened to have a sucker on the end of a piece of string – perfect for sticking to the window. This seemed to do the trick … right up to the point that Joey saw fit to retrieve his ‘favourite’ toy (in Joey’s world, favourite = whatever is currently being looked at). Strangely enough, not 60 seconds after Joey did this, Jennifer careers at full pace into the same door, rebounds onto the floor and picks herself up in tears. Again, neither child nor door had any lasting damage. Absolutely uncanny.

Anyway, today is a new day with new experiences and new things to report. The early start (for everyone else) notwithstanding, the days started off very well indeed, as today is Joey’s 8th birthday and we celebrated the occasion with some birthday gifts for the birthday boy. This put him into a good mood and I was optimistic that the day would go well as a result (a family day out can often be made or broken on the strength of how well Joey deals with the day, so his mood at the outset can often be a good canary in the mine). Somewhat of a surprise to me was yet another gift in the offering this morning. Sandy saw fit to make today the day to give me an anniversary gift of her own. A brand new lens for my camera, no less. A Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28-300 1:3.5-5.6 G, with which I was absolutely thrilled. Ever since my previous mid-range zoom lens broke, I’ve been making do with a dedicated 70-200 zoom and a dedicated 16-35, along with a separate 50mm lens. These lenses are all very good lenses in their own right but the annoyance is the continual need to switch lenses depending on whether I want a long zoom or a good wide angle shot. With a good mid-range lens, like the one Sandy just bought me, I can get the best of both worlds with a lens that will satisfy the vast majority of scenarios without the need to change lenses – and thus without the need to carry multiple, heavy lenses around with me all the time. Thank you darling, I love you 🙂

Today will be our first foray into the world of Gold Coast theme parks, which is somewhat the reason why Sandy chose today to reveal that anniversary present of mine. Sandy decided last night that Movie World would be as good a place as any to start and so we loaded up the car with kids and various supplies (change of kids clothes, towels, cameras, etc.) and off we set on the 15 minute journey. Now, Sandy and me are somewhat theme park aficionados, having lived for some years in Jacksonville, Florida, which is a stone’s throw from Orlando, arguably the very best place to go anywhere on the planet for theme parks. We have more than a passing familiarity of all the Florida theme parks and it has to be said that we’re just a little apprehensive about the Gold Coast theme parks living up to our lofty expectations. Still, we go into this with an open mind and we’ll just see how things go.

Although this didn’t actually sink in until the end of the day, it has to be said that the lack of any kind of row numbering scheme for the vast car-park does seem like a very obvious oversight on the part of the theme park operator. Fortunately, only the first few rows were occupied by the time we arrived shortly after 10:15am and we were close enough to the one main entrance to figure out where to find the car at the end of the day. Although relatively busy, given that it’s a Sunday, we didn’t feel that the theme park was busy at all by industry standards. The longest wait we had for any ride was probably around 20 minutes, with several rides having next to no wait time at all.

First impressions are that the theme park is actually quite small compared to the Orlando parks. That notwithstanding, we did seem to just wander around fairly aimlessly initially. This was largely due to our not really having done much research at all into what the park had to offer and what attractions we wanted to see & do. A quick look at the park map, which we were handed at the front ticket booth when we converted our voucher into actual tickets, and we decided to home in on those attractions for which the kids were not too short. The closest of these to where we were at the time was the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster, the sound of which sent Jennifer jumping up and down with enthusiasm. This ride turned out to be a sort of indoor roller-coaster and was a lot of fun – for Mummy, Daddy & Jennifer, at least. Joey, on the other hand, seems to have developed something of an aversion to things that have a high degree of external stimuli. He was decidedly NOT impressed with this ride and for the remainder of the day was quite averse to doing anything that was in any way similar. This created just a little bit of a dilemma for Mummy & Daddy in that we wanted to make sure that both kids got the maximum enjoyment out of the day and so we had to juggle with what to do to keep them both entertained.

The next attraction was to be the Wild West water ride, which is essentially a water log ride in which you are pretty much guaranteed to get anywhere from just wet to absolutely soaked. Once again, Jennifer was jumping for joy at the prospect but Joey not so much. So, Daddy & Jennifer duly had some fun with the ride whilst Mummy & Joey were on photo lookout duties. The wait to get onto this ride was pretty much non-existent and we made it through the entire circuit of queue, ride & exit routine in less than 10 minutes all up.

As we emerged into the sun again from having passed through the gift shop (all attractions direct participants through a mandatory shopping experience), we were starting to dry off when we were approached by someone that handed us a scratch card and a coin. Before I had time to think, I was scratching off the card and, sure enough, miraculously won the main prize. With a clearly well-rehearsed look of surprise, that was actually not hard to spot for anyone familiar with this scam, the guy told me that winning the main prize like this was rather unusual. Bollox! This con is as old as it is tedious and I was already kicking myself internally for having fallen foul to the initial ‘hook’. The next thing I know, he’s asking me all sorts of questions like whether I’m between a specific age range and whether I’m in full-time employment. “Sorry, I’m not sure what the relevance is of those questions?” I said, raising the intonation in my voice to pose the question. His demeanour changed rather rapidly for being confronted with this question and I could almost read the frustration and annoyance on his face for having snagged someone that actually had half an ounce of understanding of these types of scams and how they work. He mumbled something incoherent about eligibility for some prize or other and I would have loved to have ‘engaged’ him in further dialogue but given that I had a different objective of family fun for the day, I decided that now wasn’t the time and just told him we weren’t interested in any of this nonsense. I have to say that I’m really rather disappointed in the theme park operator for allowing this sort of ridiculous nonsense to take place within the park. I may yet tell them this.

Just across the way from where this little scam is being played out is an amusement arcade that boasted a bumper cars ride, so we wandered over to let the kids spend a few dollars. Now, I know I’m setting myself up for a really very expensive day just by setting foot into a theme park but even by the dodgy standards set by arcades that charge you an arm and a leg for the opportunity to win tickets redeemable for worthless prizes, this place really took the biscuit. All the machines were $2 for a single play and the number of tickets you needed to win, to earn a prize whose actual value is measured in cents per dozen, was staggering. Once again, the theme park operator really does need to be quite severely chastised for not having the decency to put even a thin veil over the fact that the whole enterprise is nothing more than a maliciously greedy money grab. Since the bumper cars ride was free and there was no queuing, we had some fun there before I ushered the rest of the family out of financial harm’s way.

The theme park itself, although quite small, does have the odd smattering of Warner Brothers characters dotted around the place for the benefit of parents taking photos of their kids with them (although they don’t stay in one place for more than a few minutes at a time). This is all well and good, with the exception being the Scooby Doo characters that were paraded in front of the crowds. In this instance, there was a photographer that was shouting out the cost of getting your kids photos taken with these particular characters. Once again, a sheer money grab in my opinion and quite unnecessary, given the fact that everyone has already paid to get through the door to begin with. Indeed the whole day was starting to look more and more like an exercise in avoiding being financially stung whilst inside the park.

Despite me having already had this conversation with the park operator, Sandy decided she wanted to try her luck at guest services to see whether there was a similar system to how the Orlando theme parks operate with regards to special dispensation for children that have difficulty with crowds or confined spaces and whether there is any sort of ‘queue management’ policy in place. In Orlando, you can get a special guest services pass that will allow anyone with any sort of special needs to be able to by-pass the lengthy queues. Alas, no such dispensation is offered here. Fortunately, there queues are not really long enough today for it to be a real problem and we continued on with our trek through the park.

The park does have a very nice children’s area, which is full of gentle rides and attractions and included a nice little wet play area. We spent the next hour or so doing the merry-go-round, go-carts, small roller-coaster and various other things here and we did genuinely have a fair bit of quality family fun time here. Tummies were starting to rumble a little by now so we headed back towards the main high street area to see about lunch via a detour to guest services.

The staff at guest services were actually very helpful, not to mention extremely adept at dealing with customers ‘like me’, and did give us some good tips on where to get some lunch given the list of requirements that Sandy gave them. Alas, the one place we felt would really meet our needs turned out to be closed for maintenance at the moment, so we made do with your basic ‘nuggets and chips’ fare just around the corner which was, you guessed it, excruciatingly expensive. One does wonder at the sheer audacity that anyone has at pricing a very basic ‘burger and chips’ at no less than $14.99. Still, the food, if expensive, was at least plentiful and not entirely disagreeable. The service was good and we were able to find a shaded spot to sit and relax as we ate.

By the time lunch was all said and done with, the wait for the Scooby Doo ride, much to Jennifer’s chagrin, had reached around 30 minutes, so we all wandered back over to the Wild West water ride again so that Jennifer and me could have another go. Much as we tried, we couldn’t get Joey to agree to ride but that was fine too. I could barely contain a chuckle to myself as we walked past the scratch card con artists again only to overhear that the next lucky customer had somehow also just miraculously won the ‘main prize’ on her scratch card. Oh well, there’s a sucker born every minute.

The afternoon was by now starting to roll on a bit and I wanted to have a crack at the several different roller-coasters at the front of the park so we decided that I’d head off to do that on my own, since the kids are too small anyway, whilst Sandy and the kids went back for another bumper car ride. I made my way over to that area and, rather pleasingly, walked pretty much immediately onto the Green Lantern roller-coaster. It’s a really great ride and I can quite recommend it. Not far from this ride is the Superman Escape roller-coaster, which is possibly the best ride that the park has to offer, if you like roller-coasters that is. Sandy had the back-pack with her so I saw no impediment to me getting onto this ride but I was stopped at the main entrance and told I wouldn’t be able to ride with my bum-bag. I’d have to either leave it with a non-rider or place it in one of the conveniently placed lockers for the duration of the ride. Since Sandy and the kids were at the opposite end of the park, the one remaining choice before me was the lockers which, you guessed it, were rather expensive one-time use lockers. With all the scams, hideously expensive concessions and various other money grabs already going on in the park (such as the expensive photos you can buy of yourself on the various rides, for example), I decided that enough was enough. I’d already paid to get into the park and I wasn’t feeling particularly accommodating to the idea of having to spend more money just to get onto another ride. Despite being very frustrated, I knew that the poor kid at the ride’s front entrance was just doing the job he’d been told to do so I didn’t feel that ‘venting’ at him was fair or appropriate, but the guest services office was just around the corner from this spot and I already knew that they would be much better equipped at dealing with me, so I dragged myself over there and ‘offloaded’ to the rather nice young lady there instead. Actually, the truth is that I was really rather polite and very diplomatic (something that I’m actually quite good at even if I say so myself). She listened very attentively (she’s very good at her job) and calmly pointed out all those things she probably felt I was just unaware of that would cause the operator to make the various conscious decisions that they have done to arrive at why they charge customers to use these lockers. I stood my ground and countered her arguments with reasoned and, I thought, well-thought-out arguments of my own. Ultimately, she suggested that she was more than happy to hold onto my things right there at the office so that I could have my ride. I felt this to be an adequate compromise (I was actually trying to convince her to give me a one-time code to use a locker for free) and so this is what we did.

Now unencumbered with anything that would deny me entrance to the ride, I smiled politely at the young man at the entrance and went in to enjoy my ride. As it turns out, it really is the best ride in the park and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are roller-coaster around the world that can actually make your quite nauseous, due mostly to changes in G-forces that are too sudden, but the roller-coaster here at Movie World are really very good indeed.

By now, it dawned on me that Sandy must have wondered where I was. Worse still, my mobile phone was in my bum-bag back at guest services so she will have been unable to call or text me either. I had gone to spend no more than 10 minutes doing one ride but it must have been about 45 minutes in all by now since I initially set off. Having left the Superman ride, I actually bumped into the rest of the family sitting near the main entrance whilst I was walking back to guest services to collect my things. I explained my absence and then went to collect my stuff. The woman at guest services and I had a brief but very polite exchange in which neither of us backed down from our previously stated positions before I went to collect the clan again to head back to the car. Notwithstanding my winging about being stung at every turn, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day in the end and we all go home content.

Back at the cabin, I spent some quality time with Joey building some of the lego toys he got for his birthday this morning. Shortly thereafter, I indulged Jennifer at the pool for a spot of swimming. The water was very cold and I was hesitant initially to get in but she had been asking me about this earlier in the day and I am genuinely trying to accommodate the kids’ requests for ‘Daddy time’ as much as I possibly can whilst we’re here. So, in I jumped and we spend the next half an hour splashing around. We were then joined by Sandy and Joey. Joey got straight in, which actually surprised me given how cold the water was, but Sandy elected to remain dry this time but did manage to get some nice photos of the kids and me having a splash.

We all got dry and changed (well, the kids did), and then we wandered over to the main reception to partake in some impromptu ice-creams and a rental DVD for the cabin. I did my best to ignore the fact that I was continually dripping and I hope they didn’t notice the floor getting quite wet by the time we walked back to our cabin.

Sandy and Jennifer stopped off at one of the on-site playgrounds whilst Joey and I went back home, where we cracked open a science experiment set that Joey had received earlier this morning. Together, using some vinegar and bi-carbonate of soda, we made a volcano and inflated a balloon without blowing into it.

With everyone now back home, we made some snacks and wound down with a movie for the kids. Sandy and I have reviewed the days photographic takings and I’m just about to finish writing this daily journal entry. Tomorrow promises to be a cooler day with some rain forecast, so we may not do another theme park. We are, however, booked in for a family photo shoot with a nearby photographer. This is something that Sandy has been wanting for quite some time now so this will be her anniversary gift from me. Happy 25th my darling! I love you 🙂