We've just returned from a week's holiday on the Gold Coast. The theme parks were the drawcard for our kids. The Queensland weather was the drawcard for me. After endless reading on forums, learning about others' experiences, and studying the rides and details, Dreamworld seemed to be the best fit for our spread of ages – 11, eight, six and three.
Here are my top tips:
1. Buy the 3-day pass
Our 3-day Holiday World Pass allowed unlimited entry to Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and SkyPoint Observation Deck as often we liked but it had to be over three consecutive days from the first visit.
Rather than spending Day 1 madly rushing around, trying to see and do everything, we took our time and orientated ourselves to Dreamworld and its array of exciting offerings. Knowing we had three entire days to get through all the rides and attractions meant we could take it a little easier.
Tip: take the Dreamworld Express train around the park to give you an idea of where everything is. They run every half hour.
Day 2, we alternated between WhiteWater World and Dreamworld where we knew the location of all the favourite rides and attractions.
Day 3, we started the morning at Skypoint Observation Deck looking as far as the eye could see across the ocean and the cityscape. A serene place with wonderful views. Then we returned to Dreamworld, which was now like our second home.
2. Visit outside school holidays
We chose mid-week outside the holidays based on feedback about queues in the school holiday season. I know this is not always possible but queuing for up to an hour with four kids would be the definition of torture for me!
Half an hour was our longest queuing time with most rides less than ten minutes wait. Dreamworld displays approximate wait times at different points in the queue for each ride so you can decide if you'd like to wait or return later.
There is also a Q4U app - an additional cost to have the privilege of skipping the queue. In peak periods, this would be a worthwhile purchase to avoid a significant chunk of the day lost standing in lines.
3. Check the websites and plan your day
Dreamworld's website is extremely informative and easy to navigate. It lists rides in categories – kids, family, and crazy-people (well that's my definition). It also notes any maintenance plans for rides and attractions. You can access a map online, and even skim their suggested itineraries which all help to get the most out of your time.
4. Divide and conquer
With our kids' ages, there were naturally varied interests and skill levels, not to mention heights. I highly recommend going with two adults where possible, so you can divide and conquer.
While my daughter and I visited Wiggles World, enjoying the Rosy Tea Cup Ride, the Big Red Car, and the Big Red Boat, my husband took our boys to the Dreamworks area where Gingy's Glider, Puss in Boots Swing and Skadoosh Bumper Cars were popular. When we joined them later, we were able to take the pre-schooler on the Ogre-Go-Round and Dronkey Flyers while the older boys lined up repeatedly for their favourites.
5. Moderate rides are great for families
In my heyday, I was a ride junkie. That seems like a lifetime ago now. Watching some of those Dreamworld thrill-seekers plunge from frightening heights was enough to have me doing a little sick in my mouth. I imagine rides like the Giant Drop and The Tower of Terror would be fantastic for adventurous teens and people who packed a second pair of pants.
For the rest of us, moderate rides were perfect, starting with the River Rapids - a tyre with six seats that travels down the rapids was great for our family. The dodgem cars (Skadoosh) were also a repeat visit – I think we clocked eight times over three days.
6. Eat at the buffet
We ate at the Billabong buffet. It was cool, clean and a welcome time to relax after a busy morning exploring the park. My kids were super-excited about the idea of a buffet (is it sad they've never been to a buffet?!), and there were enough choices for us to feel like they'd had a substantial lunch, although they of course gravitated towards the nuggets and chips! All-inclusive and unlimited – drinks, mains, dessert – I think it is well worth the money. It also gave us an opportunity to study the map and have a plan of action for the afternoon.
And there was chocolate mousse. Enough said.
7. Don't forget the other attractions
We spent the first afternoon watching the presentation at Tiger Island, visiting the Corroboree, viewing wildlife, riding the vintage cars and browsing the shops. Not only do these attractions and shows offer a break from lining up and spinning around but they give the kids some additional points of interest.
8. Whitewater world - get a cabana
The second day was spent between WhiteWater World and Dreamworld. We'd reserved a cabana which was a fantastic place to dump all of the garb that comes with four children and a day at a water park, plus we could bring our own lunch and store it in the fridge there (homemade non-commercial food is permitted in WhiteWater World but not Dreamworld).
Again, we split into two groups with the older boys braving the Super Tubes Hydro Coaster, while the little ones played in Wiggle Bay. We reunited at the Cave of Waves where we could relax on some floating tubes. Unfortunately the weather was an overcast and windy 25 degrees so after the kids got wet, they stood shivering and weren't keen to try out any other pools. Being at the mercy of the weather is tricky with a three day pass given you have to use it consecutively so we couldn't really pick and choose but having the back gate to move between the two worlds was awesome. The kids changed out of their bathers and we went back on their favourite rides at Dreamworld, and then returned to our cabana for an ice cream, and one final swim.
On a hot day, WhiteWater World would be guaranteed hours of entertainment and I predict that I'd be dragging four protesting kids out at closing time.
So, what's the consensus?
To be frank, I wouldn't have chosen a Queensland theme park holiday for myself; it was a holiday for the kids. I was expecting to endure it rather than enjoy it.
Dare I say Dreamworld and WhiteWater World were fabulous! I felt like a kid again during those three exciting days of fun (and chocolate mousse). And the kids are still raving about it. I wouldn't hesitate to go back.
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