Gold Coast - September 2013

Day 5 - Dreamworld

Wednesday 18th September

I’d have to say that it was a rocky start to the day this morning. Various contributing factors were at play here but suffice to say that it was well into the morning before things had settled down and we were all back into our normal routine again. I made a jaunt over to the nearby supermarket to pick up some fresh rolls and other sundries for today’s packed lunches and I also picked up a soft toy for Joey. This was Sandy’s idea. We had given a little something to Jennifer when Joey opened all his birthday presents and she wanted to make sure that we did the same for Joey for Jennifer’s birthday tomorrow. Unfortunately, I was less than discrete with the toy when I came back to the cabin and both kids managed to catch sight of it. Unfortunately, each made the leaping assumption that it was for them. I feel another trip to the same supermarket coming on tomorrow morning to head off a potentially awkward situation tomorrow.

Since we liked the look of the face-painting and colouring activities on the kids club weekly schedule for this morning, Sandy had taken Jennifer over there before I got up. When I returned from the supermarket, the girls were still both there so I made myself busy tidying the place up a little and getting packed for the day ahead whilst Joey sat and engaged in his favourite past-time of recent months - Minecraft on the iPod Touch. If left to his own devices, he’d spend the entire day everyday immersed in that world.

Now five days into the holiday, we’re reaching that point where we’re well into an established daily routine. The packing of lunches, change of clothes, cameras, kids, etc., is a routine of activities that we’ve got down pat by now and it wasn’t long before we were all into the car and on our way to Dreamworld. Our daily routine notwithstanding, it is still taking us a while to get familiar with the road system and signage here in Queensland. Although we made the turn-off to Dreamworld, the weird sort of double-roundabout that they have at major road exits took us a bit by surprise and we ended up driving right back onto the very same motorway that we just exited. Not to worry, there was another turn-off another 4 Km farther up the road and we took that exit. It was by sheer luck that we didn’t pull the exact same stunt there. Worse still, when we made the turn-off again (this time travelling in the opposite direction along the motorway), we very nearly did it again for a third time. The signage, or lack thereof, really forces you to keep an eagle eye on where you’re going (clearly something I should be doing anyway but I’ve become a slave to my sat-nav here in Australia). Because of the slight delay in the sat-nav showing you where you actually are on the roundabout, it’s quite easy to get disoriented and to take the wrong exit thinking you are following the sat-nav directions.

Either way, we managed to finally pull into the car park at Dreamworld by around 10:30am. Once again, there are no markings anywhere in the car park to help you track down your vehicle at the end of the day so we made sure to be absolutely clear about where we left the car.

Unlike the previous theme parks we’ve visited so far, this one boasted fairly lengthy queues at the ticket booths but we managed to find the right one we needed and used the 15 minutes of queuing to get everyone covered in sunscreen. It was clear skies today and nobody much fancied dealing with sunburn at the end of the day. Jennifer usually doesn’t have any problems with having to put sunscreen on but it can often be quite the challenge to convince Joey of this and today was no exception. Kudos to Sandy for putting some of her best tactics to good use in getting across the line there.

Once on the other side of the ticket building and into the park, we made the usual pit stop for toilets and orientation. Although there are no accommodations for special needs, they do have a queuing management system here at Dreamworld - something called Q4U. With this system, you use a smartphone app to register your intent to use a particular attraction and the system then issues you a time to return, at which point you can go straight to the front of the line - the system does the ‘virtual queuing’ for you. Great, I thought, at last one theme park operator that has at some sort of system in place. Alas, the system wasn’t operating today! AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!

The Big Brother TV show is in season at the moment and the Big Brother house is actually right here at Dreamworld. We could have taken a tour of the Big Brother studios. Since neither of us has the tiniest ounce of interest in the show, we didn’t bother.

As has been typical of our theme park tour during this holiday, we really hadn’t done any leg work in finding out what the theme park had to offer and we just sort of meandered off in no particular direction looking for something to see and do. The first attraction we ran into was a wild water rapids ride - the sort where half a dozen people are seated in a round floating tub all facing inwards as it careens along a water course of white rapids. The prospect of getting soggy always sends Jennifer into a tis and so she and I went on to see what it was like. Compared to other similar such rides that we’ve experience elsewhere, I had expected to come out the other end really quite soaked but this was a much more gentle ride and we managed just a few smatterings of water drops between us. Jennifer really enjoyed it so it wasn’t a complete write-off.

The next attraction was also a water ride - this time of the log ride variety and, once again, Jennifer was chomping at the bit to have a go. Joey is proving to be very much more tentative with rides and declined just about everything during the first half of the day. Whilst Jennifer and I did the log ride, Sandy and Joey wandered into the Australian Wildlife exhibit, which housed a modest number of native Australian wildlife, such as emus, Kangaroos, Dingos, etc. This log ride was just a tad more themed than was the one at Movieworld but still paled in comparison to the similar such rides we’ve encountered elsewhere. The drop was a bit longer but less steep and we got only a modest sousing of water at its base - actually just about the right amount in my opinion. We didn’t get so wet that we were uncomfortable but just enough for it to be a bit of a thrill.

Given that we had arrived by around mid-morning, it was by now time for a spot of lunch and so we found Sandy and Joey parked on a nicely located table just under a bit of shade near the alligator enclosure and enjoyed a peaceful packed lunch.

With lunch duly dispatched, we kind of doubled-backed on ourselves a bit before eventually stumbling into the Wiggles World part of the park. Now, I’ve heard of the Wiggles but none of us really have the first clue who or what they are. From the various TV screens in some of the attractions showing what I assume to be Wiggles characters doing their thing, I can only conclude that the Wiggles are a small group of over-acting adults that dress in colourful pullovers whilst doing simple little songs and dances for very young children. I swear I must have dropped my IQ by a full 10 points by the time we had made it through this part of the park and was entertaining thoughts of stabbing my eye with a fork just to relive myself of the agony. Ok, so the rides were for the smaller children (birth to prep age I would imaging) but some of the rides and attractions here seemed at least OK for our kids and so we did the rounds. I got a little annoyed at one point when Jennifer queued up for one particular ride until it became evident that it wasn’t actually manned. Ok, so I sent her over to the adjacent ride instead and she queued up there. When she got to the front of that line, the woman operating that ride closed it and walked next door to where we had just been to start operating that one instead. Ok, that’s a bit unfortunate for Jennifer but I sent her back over to the original ride instead. When she got to the front of the queue for that ride for the second time, the woman operating it switched back to the other ride again. Now, I’m under instruction to be less of a grumpy old man today but this was really starting to piss me off and so I called out to the woman and asked what on earth was going on and why the kids were being deprived of their rides after having queued up each time. To her credit, she explained that both rides were being manned by a single staff member today but she would be happy to operate whichever ride I wanted next. So I told Jennifer to remain where she was and she was thus first up for the next ride. Phew! Crisis averted. Jennifer got her ride, and I avoided the indulgence of needing to get onto that high horse of mine. Actually, in light of the reasonableness of the attendant, I actually felt somewhat deprived of having a good argument with someone, almost like the pressure has been building since the start of the day and I’ve had no outlet to relieve it with. Oh well, there’s always Telstra I suppose.

After some incidental playing with some minor bits of play equipment here, we noticed something called the Big Red Car. Unbeknownst to any of us, this turned out to be where our collective IQ would really take a bashing. I assumed that this was going to be a really fantastic attraction. Although the line to get in was not very big at all (the park is relatively sparse today), there was an overhead sign at one point that read ‘Approx. 70 minutes wait from this point’. Well, the ride MUST be good if people are actually prepared to wait up to 70 minutes or more to get onto it, right? Well, we got close enough to the front of the line to see what all the fuss was about. Every several minutes a Big Red Car would race through and come to a screeching halt doing all of 0.0046425 Kilometres per hour. I shit you not; ants walk faster. There are 2 rows of seats that each sat 3 people. Once loaded up, the car pulls away into a room and the door closes behind it. The first room, if memory serves, is a kitchen. There’s a TV screen that runs a 30 second or so clip of 3 or 4 over-acting adults dressed in primary colour pullovers talking to me like I’ve not yet been born and beckoning me to press the microphone button in front of me and to start singing into it. The sheer hideousness of the situation was that I actually found myself pressing the bloody button and leaning into the mic to start singing. Before I knew it, I was actually waving my hand at the screen too! Such in the hold that this enterprise has on people that I was starting to wonder whether this was some sort of bizarre 1950’s soviet plot to somehow brain-wash me and suck my life-force. I had to damn well pinch myself and looked around to see whether other members of my family had succumbed! Sure enough, they all had. Determined to be the one person in the group that kept his wits about him and to ensure that the rest of the family didn’t get sucked in so far that they would be coming out the other end effectively part lobotomised, I did my level best to retain my sanity and concentration but it was damned well difficult. The TV clip ended, somewhat abruptly, and we then entered ‘the lounge’. The TV screen in this ‘room’ was this time showing one of the over-acting adults sitting in a chair apparently sleeping. He had the blue pull-over. The other 3 over-acting adults, wearing red, yellow and purple I think, were standing around his chair and were beckoning me to help them wake the sleeping Wiggle using what to me seemed like some sort of hideous mind control technique. I think they called it ‘singing’. Come on, let’s all wake Jeff by waving our hands at the screen. It was all more than I could bare quite frankly. This TV clip ended just as abruptly as the first did, although Jeff was thankfully awake now, and we entered what was described as ‘the kennel’ of some sort of dog called Wag. Evidently, according to the TV clip in this ‘room’, we could all make Wag the dog ‘appear’ if we all called his name in unison. Stunningly, we all did and this lump of carpet with a face ‘appeared’ as if my magic by sliding down an incline off to our right. By this time, my head was leaning slightly to one side and dribble was coming out of the side of my mouth due to my jaw hanging open. I was almost fully gone. This had better end soon, I thought to myself, or I would surely fall into permanent unconsciousness and there’d be nobody left with enough sanity to rescue the family at the end of the ride, which I was now openly praying for. The final room was now before us and a final onslaught to my senses was now in full-swing with various jingles, rocking and twirling things all going on simultaneously. if I could just hang on for moments longer, I felt sure that the ordeal would be at an end. A final TV screen burst into life and all four of the over-acting adults in brightly coloured pull-overs were now singing and dancing right at me with wanton abandon. I made it this far, I kept telling myself, and so really had high hopes of making it all the way to the end in one piece. The noises coming from the screen seemed to indicate that the end of at least something was now imminent and I could sense that escape was now a very real possibility. Perhaps if I could just manage to close my eyes, that would help to drown out the dross. Alas, the grip that these people had over me by this time knew no bounds and I lost all control of my muscles, as my arm lifted high in the air with no conscious control on my part and started actually waving at the screen. Could I possibly go any farther? Did I have ANY IQ left to drain? Just as I felt a wave of strange, uncontrollable, euphoric feelings wash over me, the car started to turn. Was this it? Was this now going to be the part where surgeons donned in white overalls would come and start pushing needles into my arm to sap whatever life force it was that they had been conditioning me to start collecting? The doors opened and all I could see was a burning bright light coming towards me. I felt an uncontrollable urge to go to the light - to merge with the light - to be one with the light. The doors finally opened fully and then ... “Ok, thanks folks, hope you enjoyed the ride. Exist to your left and watch your step.”

Outside, the suns energy was starting to replenish what was just lost and I felt I was in need of some adrenalin. This would come in the form of a trip to the Tower of Terror II ride. Much of this ride was hidden from general view but what was in view was an enormous tower that looked like a refinery flare stack. Every so often, some sort of ‘car’ would emerge from somewhere and shoot right up the stack following a quarter circle change in direction that started at the base but somewhat out of sight. Once the car reached the apex of its climb up this stack, it would come rushing back down again. I felt this was the antidote I was looking for so Sandy took the kids to view the Tiger encounter and I found the entrance to the Tower of Terror II ride. As luck would have it, there was almost no wait and I found myself strapped into the car in the ‘front’ seat. That is to say, that I was facing the same direction that all the other 3 rows were facing, that were immediately ‘behind’ me. It turns out that this car is shot at extraordinarily high speeds down a tunnel - backwards - and along a track that then curved up the tower and into the air. The tunnel seemed to go on forever before the car emerged into the sunlight and everyone is facing the ground as it shoots up the side of the tower. The noise of the air rushing past as you speed through the tunnel is ear-drum smashing. As if that isn’t bade enough, you get to the apex of the climb and are now weightless as it shoots back down again and through the same tunnel - again at ridiculously high speeds - before coming to a screeching halt exactly where it started. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than 20 seconds from start to finish but it was one of the most intense rides I’ve ever done - anywhere - on this planet!

I left he confines of this attraction actually quite shaken and it took me the several minutes in locating the rest of the family for me to steady my nerves. I did eventually find the clan seated in the Tiger exhibit. From there, we wandered into the Shrek’s Fairy Tale portion of the park, which boasted some more modest rides and attractions that the whole family could enjoy.

Now, during this holiday, it has transpired that Jennifer is somewhat fearless and a bit of an adrenaline junky. I explained the Tower of Terror II ride to her in terms that I felt would really put her off. However, she decided that this was an experience that she wanted to absorb for herself. Ok, I thought to myself, I’ll just humour you on this one. We’ll get close to the front of the queue, we’ll hear all the riders screaming in sheer terror, and we’ll calmly exit the ride without actually going on it. It’s all good and I’m happy to hold her hand up to the last minute just to see how far she goes before she bails on me. We spend 10-15 minutes queuing up and I really laid it on thick telling her all about how this terrifying machine would suck the fear energy right out of her. Well, she was just eating it all up and it wasn’t until we were actually strapped in that it dawned on me that she was actually going to go through with this. There were some older children in our group of 16 riders that were actually sobbing in anticipation of this ride but Jennifer was just lapping the whole experience right up. We leaned back and the car started its run backwards through the tunnel. At this point, I’m suppressing my own sheer terror just to contemplate what I was actually subjecting my poor little baby to but the harness was designed such that I couldn’t actually see the what I assumed would be the frightened look on her face. What have I done? What have I subjected this little girl to? Could I possibly live with myself after I took her off the ride in tears? The car exited the tunnel and shot high in the sky at break-neck speeds. The weightlessness then kicked in and I could hear noises coming from Jennifer, although I couldn’t quite make out what it was. Was she crying? Was she screaming in terror? Was she ever going to sleep again without having nightmares? The car plunged the several hundred feet back down towards the tunnel and went screeching through it. The noise was absolutely deafening but it came to a final complete stop and I could hear lots of expletives from the various adults in out group that had just realised that they were still alive. Jennifer’s harness was loosened and she got out. I followed her and was planning on giving her a big hug. My poor little child spun around on her heals, looked me straight in the eye and said: “Again, again, again Daddy!” At this, there was audible gasping from most of the other riders, as well as the staff operating the ride, many of whom were using the walls to steady themselves. In absolute sunned disbelief, I was then immediately led by the hand forcefully down the exit and then up again through the entrance tunnel for another go around. By now, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a particular ‘fear gene’ that has mutated or is simply not present in her genetic make-up.

The tower up which the Tower of Terror II car climbs plays host to another death-defying attraction called the Giant Drop. A gantry in which 8 riders are strapped is hoisted up to the very top of the tower (perhaps an additional 5 stories higher up than the car reaches). It is then ‘dragged’ to the ground and very much faster than gravity would ordinarily accommodate for. We’ve seen this a few times during the day (the tower is visible from all corners of the park and for Kilometres beyond) and not once have we heard any screams. The act of being ‘pulled’ to the ground faster than gravity means that your are literally held breathless for the several seconds drop and are quite unable to make any sounds. Well, Jennifer, who turns 7-years-old tomorrow, decides she wants to do this too. Naturally, she cannot do this unattended and so Daddy ‘has’ to do this with her. Marvellous! There was a bit more of a queue for this and we were fortunate, and I use that word quite wrongly, to only just make it into the queue before they closed it off to any new riders so that they can close the attraction before the end of the day. My heart was pounding at the thought of the Tower of Terror II ride but this one was actually making me really quite anxious and, dare I say a little terrified even? Somehow, it didn’t seem right to expose Jennifer to this fear of mine. Whereas with the Tower of Terror II ride, I was actively trying to scare her but for this one, the best I could manage was to at least avoid showing her the level of my own terror. When we made it to the front of the line, I was somehow hoping the ride would close before we got there but, alas no. I gingerly got into the seat and pulled down the harness. Jennifer bounced into her seat, was grinning from ear to ear and telling me just how brilliant this was going to be. The best response I could muster to this was to avoid openly vomiting right there into my lap. With everyone strapped in, nobody was making a sound as the car was slowly hoisted the nine hundred or so stories into the sky. I swear that the vantage point from the top offered me a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. “Are you ready, Daddy,” proclaimed Jennifer? I then felt my dangling feet lurch skywards and the ground thrust itself upwards at an impossibly fast speed. My shoulders were forced into the harness as I felt myself pulled towards the ground. What had taken nearly 60 seconds to climb had taken just 2-3 seconds to descend again. Once again, when we reached the ground, the only sound other than the expletives and praying to various gods on the part of the adults on the ride was that of my Jennifer bouncing up and down begging to go again. Alas, the ride was now closed. I really don’t think ‘I’ could have done it again.

I managed to steady my nerves by the time we reached the Shrek’s play area - all the while with Jennifer bouncing happily in tow and holding my hand. It was here, doing yet more (but smaller) roller-coasters and other rides that we rounded out the remainder of the day. After we sucked the last remaining enjoyment to be had and the last ride had closed, we found a place to sit so that the kids could enjoy a snow-cone each and pondered the activities of the day. We stayed there until past closing time and were among the last of the guests to leave the park.

On the way to the car, I pondered just how much I enjoyed it here at Dreamworld. All of the penny-pinching, money-grabbing, extortionately-priced lechery was still on display at this park but I was able to suppress my grumpy tendencies to overlook them for the benefit of the greater good.

Back at the cabin, I fired up the BBQ and cooked the provisions that I collected from the supermarket this morning. We all enjoyed sitting and watching the second half of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang before the kids were off to bed. I’ve now just completed this journal and will now proof-read it before uploading and heading off to bed. It’s now 22:54pm.

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