Gold Coast – September 2013

Day 4 – Seaworld

Tuesday 17th September

Today was a good day overall, which was fitting given that today is also our 25th wedding anniversary – this time in celebration of the day that we got married in the church, as opposed to yesterday’s celebration of getting married in the registry office. Throughout the day, we kept an eye on Facebook. It was very nice to see so many comments and likes from various different parts of the world in relation to our anniversary.

As today would be another theme park day, we decided that a packed lunch would be a good way to avoid the nasty sticker-shock of the undoubtedly very expensive concessions inside the park. A quick trip to the nearby supermarket and I was soon toting a couple of arms of supplies for the coming day or two.

We had also arranged to swing by the photographer’s studio from yesterday to pick up some of the photos we had forgotten to collect. Once there, I spent some more time showing her various tips and tricks about how to use her computer whilst waiting for all the photos to load. She again seemed very keen and thankful for the instruction.

With the now complete set of photos safely in the bag, we set off in the direction of Seaworld. Once there, we parked the car in the direct line of sight of the main entrance and, with the aid of the tickets we already had, were able to by-pass the lines to get in. Even though we arrived relatively late in the morning, it didn’t seem like the park was overly busy.

Once again, Sandy insisted on making guest services the first place to stop, much to my own annoyance. She wanted to find out about feeding the dolphins and again wanted to know whether there were any queue management options available to people with special needs children. In my mind, this was just setting us up for more disappointment, since we already knew the answer to the latter question based on our experience with Movie World. Of particular annoyance to me also was the fact that we were ‘greeted’ once we got to the front of the queue by a woman who ‘seemed’ to just want to find out what our question was so that we could be directed to the most appropriate counter. In actual fact, this was an attempt to try to sell various activities to us, as she was toting a list of said activities with various prices – none of which were small numbers I might add. She was well into her beautifully rehearsed sales pitch before I disrupted her flow by throwing out a couple of spontaneous question of my own to try to lead the discussion. It has to be said that I have little tolerance for this stuff and I really wasn’t in the mood to allow myself to be subjected to any high-pressure sales techniques today. The upshot of this conversation was that there were no slots left for feeding the dolphins but we could spend several hundred extra dollars on top of the entrance we already paid to do some other things. As predicted, there are no accommodations for people with special needs of any kind. In the event, we didn’t actually have any problems with Joey today but it irks me no end that none of the theme park operators in Australia bother to do anything to accommodate people with disabilities or special needs like they do in the States.

Now safely in the park, before we did anything else, we spent some time visiting the toilets and dousing ourselves in sunscreen. I’d much rather we just get on with seeing what the park has to offer and finding toilets as and when we need them but Sandy always insists on a pit stop for the kids right at the outset in situations like this (my eldest sister has this same flaw). This burned another 15 minutes, which just added to my mounting sense of frustration. Between slow progress in getting to see or do anything, unaccommodating guest services and their high-pressure sales attack, not to mention the anticipation of sticker-shock throughout the park, my frame of mind was now such that I knew it was going take me a while to settle myself so that I could enjoy the day.

So, with the morning now mostly gone, we once again found ourselves with little to no idea of what to see or do or which direction to set off in. This always adds to the stress of a given situation but luckily the penguin encounter was right at our feet so we wandered in. The exhibit was nice enough but nothing spectacular. I’d say it was on a par with the Melbourne Aquarium penguin encounter. The kids enjoyed themselves, which is all you can really ask for I suppose.

Next up was what at first looked like a dinosaur shop but was in fact the Dinosaur Discovery Centre, which housed a number of large animatronic dinosaurs and various hands-on exhibits. Perhaps my frail mood was tainting my experience but there did seem to be a lot of ‘buttons’ that were just not working at all and I came out of this place with a sense of disappointment of having walked in.

We exited this attraction and wandered across the bridge to the island in the centre of the lagoon, which was home to some very much larger dinosaurs. Some of these were animatronic and some static. The ones that moved and made sounds were accompanied by control panels with buttons that you press to make the animatronics move. There were about a dozen of these panels throughout the small island and all but one of them had buttons that simply didn’t cause anything to move or make sounds. Nearly everything was ‘broken’. Ok, so I’m a grumpy old man by this point and I freely admit to my shortcomings in allowing small things to get to me BUT I also have a lust and enthusiasm for education and there really is nothing quite so effective at dousing a child’s imagination and enthusiasm for learning than an educative exhibit like these that simply don’t work. When a child approaches an exhibit with wide eyes and wonder and they press the button, turn the wheel, pull the cord or whatever it is, and nothing happens – it’s like working in a shoe recycling factory … sole destroying! I can understand the odd thing not working in a theme park on occasion BUT they charge you an arm and a leg to get in and so there’s nothing wrong in my mind with having a little expectation that things actually work and it’s a really poor reflection on the operator to allow so many things to fall into disrepair. There’s really no excuse for so many things not working. To make matters worse, half the major attractions around the park are also not working today. Now, there was a really fierce thunderstorm last night and I wondered whether this might be what was behind so many attractions being out of action today and I had a brief chat with one of the maintenance crew that I happened to bump into at one point and I asked if this was indeed the reason. Apparently, it wasn’t. He suggested that inclement weather very rarely played any role in causing breakdowns. Apparently, they were just having a particularly bad morning today with so many major rides failing for lots of completely unrelated reasons.

As we finished the brief walk through the dinosaur island, we passed a small group of open-air ponds in which a half dozen or so dolphins were happily swimming about, so we spent a few minutes hung over the railings watching them jump in and out of the water. This is identified on the Seaworld map as the Dolphin Nursery.

Next up was kiddies play area that housed a handful of rides and attractions suitable for younger visitors. This kept the kids entertained for a bit, even though one of the rides here was also out of action due to a fault with one of the harness safety lights not working correctly on the control panel (this was later rectified but we had moved on by then). There were very few places to sit in this part of the park and the approach of some dodgy-looking clouds caused us to start thinking about where a good spot might be to sit and have our packed lunches. The onset of some light drizzle sent us walking for cover under the Dora outdoor stage show auditorium area, which was at least covered with a canopy. We gingerly removed the chain to make out way in to the completely vacant auditorium and sat to eat our lunch. Our timing was impeccable, as within seconds of this, the rain started to come down with a vengeance and was followed immediately by marble-sized hail stones. Before long, half the auditorium was full of others also escaping the downfall. The driving rain and hail was so fierce at one point, that we had to up and move right to the centre of the auditorium and next to the stage to avoid being bombarded with rocks of ice. The kids, of course, loved it all and were having the time of their lives. Joey in particular seemed quite impressed with this new phenomenon and was wandering about the place collecting bits of hail to eat. The downpour lasted about 10 minutes all up and the clouds finally broke to let the sun through again so we packed everything up and continued our sojourn through the park.

Still with no idea of where we were going or in which direction we should be walking, we wandered into what turned out to be the polar bear exhibit. There are two full-grown adult polar bears in this exhibit and we were fortunate enough to capture them at a point in the day in which they were very active instead of sleeping. I didn’t notice any of the repetitive types of behaviour that is often characteristic of captive animals going bonkers, which I thought was good. The animals seemed quite content and the exhibit was really very well done with numerous viewing angles from both below and above the water and both inside and outside. As it happens, there are a couple of newly born polar bear cubs here, another sign that the animals are happy I suppose, but these were not on display, apart from the hidden camera in their ‘den’ that broadcast their activities on various screens dotted about the place. We got some nice photos of the active bears before moving on.

Notwithstanding the weather forecast being for dry and clear skies from noon onwards, the cloud cover had by now closed in a bit more again and it was threatening to start raining again so we decided to make the Spongebob 3D show our next port of call – especially since it was an indoor activity. As it turned out, this was actually a very well made 3D show. It lasted only 5-10 minutes or so and is shown every quarter of an hour but the 3D effects were very good and we all enjoyed the brief show.

There’s a brand new roller-coaster in the make here at Seaworld called ‘Storm’. The main superstructure is in place already but the ride won’t be complete until the Christmas holiday season. There is another smaller roller-coaster ride here but it was working only intermittently today. They do have a water log ride so Jennifer and I queued up for this, whilst Sandy and Joey took point on camera duty. The wait for this ride was around half an hour and represented the longest queue we had to stand in throughout the entire day. Queueing with Jennifer is never a problem but it can be quite a challenge with Joey. Most rides of this nature take you on ‘a journey’ through some theme or other before culminating in the final ‘big drop’. This one, however, although had a half decent drop, was not themed at all and was little more, in my opinion, than an excuse to get a photo of you for the purpose of selling it to you for $50. Meh.

One of the attractions at Seaworld is a small water theme park that’s within the park’s grounds. If you are a guest staying at the annexed accommodation resort, you have free entrance. For other mere mortals like us, it’s anywhere from $5 to $15. Sadly, ALL the slides were out of commission due to the inclement weather and the only part that was useable was the small 30cm deep kiddies pool. We originally had high hopes of spending some time in there today but the additional expense seemed like too much to pay just for the benefit of a little paddling so we forewent the experience.

We had by now made it pretty much all the way to the very rear end of the park and this, as it turned out, was absolutely the place for us to be. There’s a lake there around which pirate ‘ships’ slowly meander along a fixed course. Each of these ships has a number of hand-operated water canons that squirt water for a few meters in front of you in various directions. Around the edge of the lagoon through which these ships travel are places that house similar hand-operated water canons but that are stationary. People on the ships do their level best to aim jets of water at onlookers and these same onlookers do their level best to squirt water at the passing ships. The whole thing is tremendous fun and we had an absolute blast here. Immediately adjacent to this is a kids climbing play area that is about as good as any I’ve seen anywhere else (which is saying something since I’ve been to 33 countries and to many places that have such things). Tunnels, ropes, gantries, and all sorts of nooks and crannies for kids to explore – all made from ropes. This, too, was tremendous fun and we spent a good chunk of the afternoon just having fun here. Also in this part of the park is something that, as far as I can tell, is really quite unique. It’s a sort of climbing structure that you explore with a safety harness attached and in such a way that you can move freely around the structure on various levels but without ever being detached from the superstructure itself. The net result is that, for those that dare, you can walk around on perilously narrow or shaky beams or ropes with absolutely no chance of falling to the ground. Myself, Joey and Jennifer were game (some of us less than others) and so we had a go. Quite amazingly, and certainly contrary to my expectations, this was a free activity. Well done to Seaworld for this – credit where credit is due. You just needed to be dry and booked in for a particular session (each of which runs for about 10 minutes every quarter of an hour). Now, I went on this really just because the kids wanted to give it a go but fully expecting for both kids to bail on me or at least not get very far onto the structure. Joey was true to this expectation and got only as far as the first level – and not even across any of the elements – before deciding this was not for him and going back down to ground level again. Jennifer, on the other had, was off! And I mean she was off! She had absolutely no hesitation whatsoever on traversing ALL the elements – even the most difficult ones – right to the very top of the structure. She was absolutely fearless and brave and showed no sign of any hesitation at all. Of course, since my purpose there was to supervise the youngsters, everywhere she went, I had to follow. Now, I’m fairly game for this sort of stuff but I was really having difficulty keeping up with little miss ‘I have absolutely no fear of death whatsoever’ and it was a genuinely difficult challenge for me to keep up with her.

We must have spent a good 2 hours at this part of the park and in retrospect, we should have went straight there and stayed there for the whole day. We had an absolute blast and by the time we left, the park was all but closed. The only little kink in the cable was the apparent misunderstanding between Sandy and me before we left the cabin that resulted in the majority of all the towels and changes of clothes NOT being put into the back-packs. Fortunately, I still had a change of clothes for everyone in my back-pack from our Move World day earlier in the week and a quick $10 spend in the shop was enough to net ourselves a nice new Seaworld-branded towel.

My grumpiness from earlier on in the day was but a faded memory, that was re-ignited only slightly by the revelation from Sandy that the one-time-use lockers here were a stunning $10 to operate. I mean, c’mon!

The kids today were absolutely on their best behaviour again and both Sandy and I were more than happy to recognise this with a quick visit to one of the remaining shops that were still open. They each have a modest amount of pocket money that they are each allowed to spend daily and we added yet more soft toys to their ever growing pile today. I just hope we find the space in our luggage to tote them all back home at the end of the week.

Having now left the park, I’d have to reflect that the theme parks here on the Gold Coast are simply not in the same league as those in Orlando. They are smaller, offer less, are less accommodating and try to sting you twice as bad financially once you’re inside. If you’ve not been spoiled with countless trips to Orlando like we have, however, I suppose the parks here are OK.

Within a few hundred meters of having left the car park, Sandy suggested we stop at what looked like a supermarket so as to pick up some provisions for tonight’s dinner. As it happened, it turned out not to be a supermarket at all. However, this little plaza DID have a Hog’s Breath Cafe so a very impromptu decision was made (it is our anniversary again after all) and we stopped to gorge ourselves on some prime rib with all the trimmings. I’m sure my colon will not thank me but we are on holiday after all 🙂

With tummies now full to bursting, we made our way home and settled in for the night. Jennifer and me walked up to the main reception office and swapped out the movie we had for another. The kids sat and watched the first 45 minutes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang before turning in.

For tomorrow, the Dreamworld theme park beckons. It’s a different park operator to the theme parks we’ve seen so far but it remains to be seen whether Mr. Grumpy Old Man is awoken by whatever it is that they have in store for us. I’m not holding my breath – but I will sleep well tonight nevertheless 🙂