Don’t shut your eyes Mum – it’s not scary!” implored my son. Max is a dedicated theme park tourist because nothing is too noisy, wet or stomach churning for him. Of course it isn’t – he’s nine years old.
I’d had no problem taking him on a gentle springtime carousel around New York’s Central Park before, or on the teacup ride at Disneyland Paris, but he was much younger then.
Now as we pulled into the car park of Australia’s Warner Brothers Movie World, a gigantic green and black caged structure grimaced at me, making me feel queasy and resigned to my fate.
Situated in the north-east of the country, the mix of Versace glitz, family-friendly activities and stuck-to-the-sun-lounger relaxation guarantees the Queensland Gold Coast is a destination to please every tourist.
We’d spent the time since breakfast in traditional Gold Coast fashion, licking Paddle Pops (a local chocolate milk iced treat) on a typically broad-foreshore beach with foam-topped waves, almost empty save for a swimmer or two half a mile away.
While it was a wrench to drag ourselves away from the balmy sunny day and powdery sand, the Coast’s theme parks are escalating their battle for the visitors’ dollars and a wealth of new attractions are begging for attention.
Like most Australians, I had previously done ‘The Worlds’ as they are known colloquially – Sea World and Warner Brothers Movie World – but the region also boasts Wet ’n’ Wild Water Fun, making the Coast the Ozzy capital for some serious theme park action.
Our first stop was Movie World, and we got there early so there was no queue (oh dear). Max was straight to the point: “Oh cool it’s the Green Lantern ride, Mum. Pleeeeease can we go on it?”
With the steepest drop in the Southern Hemisphere and speeds of up to 66kph, the Green Lantern roller coaster is not for the faint-hearted. It’s based on the DC comic about an intergalactic police force charged with the protection of the universe. So of course we had to try it. The 488m-long ride pulls 3.5Gs on its hairpin bends, so I’m told by the charming PR, Renee.
It was also suggested that once strapped into my seat, I might want to hold on to the safety rail. In all honesty, that was a given.
Sipping chilled water as I waited for the ride, I realised we were directly underneath it. Close enough to see the patrons’ faces as they whizzed overhead.
Then it was our turn. Locked into place in our car, I eventually opened my eyes as we began our slow ascent. Each click of the fluoro track as we climbed was a reminder that very soon, my heart would leap into my mouth and all my possessions – diamond stud earrings, fillings, the lot – would, I presumed, cascade to the ground below. The Lantern also has an on-board audio system, the only one of its type Down Under, and as I listened, I wondered if mine was supposed to be giving me a few bars of Adele’s Skyfall followed by, “Please take care not to lose the contents of your stomach”.
We flattened out to a level curve and I smiled bravely at Max, taking in the mountain scenery. ‘I wonder what the postcards are like in the gift shop?’ was my last thought as we jolted immediately into a 120-degree, face-forward inverted drop followed by a curve that flipped us 180 degrees upside down.
More dips followed and we were half-way through the Lantern, but of course the best was saved for last. Someone was screaming at a deafening pitch. Oh, it was me. I looked over to Max and he was laughing, arms aloft. I couldn’t really focus on his beautiful toothy grin any more as we plummeted into a 360-degree corkscrew twirl before finally slowing to a complete stop.
Ironically once my legs stopped shaking and I could stand without swaying, I realised I’d enjoyed it. Adrenaline took me over for two-and-a-half minutes and the exhilaration of it all made me feel good, even if it did pack a wallop.
It is, after all, the steepest roller coaster drop in the southern hemisphere.
“Can we do it again?” came the inevitable question. I was relieved not to revisit my breakfast so I managed to coax my little boy into meeting Batman and Superman, just two of the heroes causing explosions of excitement from children as they wandered the fun park.
WB Movieworld had other more ground-friendly thrills in store.The world’s first Justice League 3D opened last December. Players join super heroes in a 3D battle using laser blasters against a villain, Starro the Conqueror.
The interactive ride itself involves climbing aboard a transportation pod and ricocheting through ‘devastated cities’ so kids and adults alike can blast the baddies. Your pod keeps score so at the end you can tally up alien stun points – just a video game brought to life in 3D.
Sea World’s many attractions
For a change of pace, next on our agenda was Sea World, regarded by many tourists as the original and best theme park Queensland has on offer. Amid the concrete splendour of these environments, the heat and baking sunshine can be uncomfortable and that’s where Sea World, with its combination of rides and old-fashioned water dousing activities, is a saviour.
The Dolphin Experience is world famous and has been operating since 1971 when it offered waterski shows that combined comedy, aqua ballet and action. Now the emphasis is on conservation and rehabilitation of marine life. And the current show, Imagine, is quite simply enchanting.
In fact, probably the only time silences descended upon Sea World is when we took a seat in the sheltered auditorium, thankful for a cool breeze.
We studied the surface of the dolphin pool – well it is more of a tropical sandy-bottomed lagoon – as our host roamed the arena with a head mike, educating us about our mammal friends. A trainer, agile and with the physique of an Olympic gymnast, was in the middle of water, up to her waist.
Several loud gasps escaped from the audience – us included – as she shot up skywards, her entire body propelled by the nose of her dolphin who then, without a wobble, guided her back into the water.
The trainer led the applause as the dolphin playfully nuzzled her neck and then dived below before appearing with a flourish of water at the other end of the pool. All in the blink of an eye.
A couple of lucky guests were called forward to pat the dolphin’s nose as he wriggled forward on the viewing platform. Their mammal squeaks are adorable and, not being a particular fan of zoos,I was relieved to see these animals thriving in captivity. It’s no secret that dolphin numbers are at risk – every tuna fan is aware – and the speech delivered about nurturing and breeding at Sea World was not lost on the audience.
It was still hot as we left the dolphins so we headed to Sea World’s Castaway Bay for a cool off. It happened a little bit earlier than expected as we were soaked by a cheeky family riding the Battle Boats. These are mini pirate ships fitted with water canons to drench unsuspecting tourists. But we soon get our own back – pumping up one of the canons fitted land side in a hysterical water fight.
Just for the kids
Later, clutching an ice cream and a latte as we dried off, we moved to the water park where Max and other kids frolicked in miniature water-filled playgrounds of slides, jets, showers and shade.
No visit to Sea World these days can be checked off without seeing a burger-flipping yellow sea sponge. It was the pantomime to top them all – SpongeBob ParadePants dancing around Bikini Bottom.
Max took off to get us a seat so we could see SpongeBob in the flesh, or rather giant inflatable suit. But I was happy to join him. Even I appreciate it’s not every day you get the star of a multi-Emmy Award-winning TV series, movie and merchandising genius willing to entertain you in an acrobatic jet-ski stunt show. His co-stars Sandy Cheeks (a squirrel), Patrick Star (a starfish), Eugene Krabs (a crab, naturally) and Squidward Tentacles (a squid) danced in sequence behind.
Next time we promise ourselves we will squeeze in a trip to Wet ’n’ Wild, although I’m already shuddering at the thought of its new water slide, the Constrictor, where riders hit speeds of up to 30kmh.
Perhaps that’s one for Dad to try – he can test his nerves flying down an enclosed flume slide into a series of corkscrew turns before snaking back and forth in a series of spirals on multi-person rafts. Yep. Definitely one for him.
As we departed to the sound of a familiar pirate hollering just like in the cartoons “Are you ready kids!” and turned on to the highway past the Palazzo Versace hotel, it was hard not to notice that the Coast was pumping. Add to that the casual, friendly vibe of Queenslanders and a visit to the state’s theme parks creates memories that last forever.