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It’s entirely possible to have a thoroughly fulfilling Gold Coast vacation without stepping through the entry gates of a theme park, but why deprive yourself?, writes Mike Yardley.
For tens of thousands of families jetting to the GC for a winter getaway, those legendary theme parks take pole position on the holiday agenda. And fair enough too. Some of my fondest childhood holiday memories revolve around those enthralling theme parks. I’ve always viewed the GC as a Mary Poppins travel destination — ready, willing and able to spellbind the kids!
The theme park frenzy of thrills and spills, great heights and sights, all combine to deliver a power-packed, head-swirling vacation experience. Attractions are regularly refreshed, so because it’s been a while since Kiwis headed to these parks en-masse, here’s a look at some of the staple experiences and recently added installations to rev-up the titillation-factor.
Dreamworld’s signature new ride is a reptilian roller-coaster experience with a top speed of 105kmh and a G-force of 3.8. Just five months old, the Steel Taipan snakes around 1.2km of twists, turns and gut-lurching launches. With multiple inversions, it is Australia’s only triple-launch coaster, which for the uninitiated means you will encounter three gut-lurching drops. It also features the world’s first ‘‘Tailwhip’’— a spinning seat at the rear of the carriage, if you are so inclined.
Another Aussie (and world) first is a motorbike roller-coaster, or motocoaster, as it’s been dubbed. The Mick Doohan Motocoaster features life-size replicas of 500cc racing bikes and two aerodynamically profiled sidecars designed for small children and disabled guests. As you rip around the track and high-speed corners, you’ll clock 72kmh. It’s supposedly the next best thing to Moto GP racing. And you’ll definitely want to ride what is surely the best named roller-coaster in the world — the Gold Coaster! Speed through a 360-degree loop and 13-storeys of heart-thumping high-speed fun, hitting speeds of up to 85kmh. A Gold Coast classic.
Dreamworld is also a wildlife conservation park, housing a wide range of animals, including their famous Tiger Island. If you’ve ever wanted to feed a tiger, you’ve come to the right place. Thankfully, you’ll feed them holding tongs. But this 15-minute experience will leave you roaring. The character star power at Dreamworld is fuelled by DreamWorks, with a cast of characters out in force including Shrek, Madagascar characters, plus Wiggles characters like Dorothy the Dinosaur and Captain Feathersword. And how could you not say g’day to Dreamworld mascots Kenny and Belinda?
Movie World sets itself apart as one of the very few movie theme parks outside North America, blending an old Hollywood vibe with live character performances, interactive adventures and thrill rides galore. Top honours in the adrenaline stakes go to the DC Rivals Hypercoaster — a seriously high coaster with a 1.4km-long track. Reaching speeds up to 115kmh, you’ll experience a menacing 89-degree drop as you descend from the lair of the iconic Joker head. You can even do it backwards, if you wish. What is a hypercoaster, you might ask? A hypercoaster is any complete-circuit roller coaster with a height measuring at least 200 feet. Movie World’s specimen measures 203 feet in height.
For more extreme thrills, there’s Batwing Spaceshot, which hurtles you 60m skyward at 100kmh in just two seconds. 4.5-Gs of extreme power. How’s that for a holiday head-clearer? In fact, like a good espresso, I went back for a double shot. For a freaky frisson, let me recommend the towering Green Lantern Coaster, which has the steepest inverted drop in the southern hemisphere. You won’t forget it. The Superman Escape coaster is an epic heart-pumper, dramatically designed with holes blasted out of the side of buildings, which your carriage hurtles through.
Another crowd-favourite is the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster, which starts off like a gentle ghost train, before transforming into a full-tilt, multi-sensory extravaganza complete with laser lighting and state-of-the-art animatronics. Kids understandably love Movie World for its outstanding array of highly engaging costumed characters, spanning Bugs Bunny to Batman. Selfie heaven! Movie World boasts a full day of adventure filled with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, your favourite Looney Tunes characters plus the superheroes and super villains of the DC Universe.
New additions at the park include the Scooby Doo 4D Film Experience. Just opened, the Warner Brothers studio showcases movie costumes and props, featured in all of the Batman releases since 1989. The collection of exhibits is enormous, from the Catwoman suit worn by Anne Hathaway to Ben Affleck’s classic batsuit and grappling gun. It’s the biggest Batman props collection in the southern hemisphere. The movie magic really hits top gear at Movie World with the daily Star Parade down Main Street, which is simply unmissable. I so want a JL52 Batmobile.
For a change of scenery, spend a day at Australia’s largest marine theme park, Sea World, where you can get up close and personal with its stirring abundance of furry, flippered and feathered residents, from dolphins and seals to polar bears and penguins. Join Sea World for an educational adventure in the amazing Affinity Dolphin Presentation or chill out in the shade while the kids cool down in Sea World’s new splash pad attraction, The Reef at Castaway Bay.
A new addition to Sea World’s repertoire of animal encounters is the Dolphin Couple Adventure. What could be more romantic than enjoying a private experience with your partner, interacting with some inquisitive dolphins, guided by a trainer? You’ll learn about these beautiful mammals as they demonstrate amazing skills in a 45-minute encounter, with about 20 minutes spent with them in the water.
There’s Nickelodeon characters galore to meet and greet all over the park, plus the Ninja Turtles live stage show is highly rated. As much as new novelties freshen the offering, there’s no ignoring the classics like the Thunder Lake Stage Show, with daredevil stunt riding by a vast cast of water skiers and wakeboarders. The New Atlantis precinct is a game-changer for Sea World.
It is a thrilling and immersive new multimillion-dollar precinct revving up the park’s adrenaline-inducing fire power, with three new world-class rides. Leviathan and Trident open in September, but the latest addition now open is Vortex, a twisting, turning, spinning thrill ride, that spirals you around silly. Hold fire on the lunch break until after that ride. Must-do roller-coaster rides? Jump on board the Storm Coaster, a rollicking water flume roller-coaster ride, that goes underwater and features explosive special effects. It’s the park’s largest ride. Another big crowd-favourite is Jet Rescue. As the name suggests, this coaster sees you seated in a jet ski, zipping you around the track at a top speed of 70kmh, flying past rock pools and blasting through a blowhole cave. Oh yes! Jet yourself to the GC.