In the planning stages of this trip we ran into a problem trying to find accommodation on the road between Merimbula and Melbourne. There were quite a few choices on Airbnb, but we were forced to rule them out as we couldn't predict our arrival time with any degree of accuracy; instead, we set about looking for a hotel that could cope with a late arrival. We ended up at the Ibis Sale, which I'd recommend despite its somewhat suspect exterior; the room we were given was modern and spotlessly clean, and the breakfast was pretty good (if a little greasy).
Wonderland Fun Park is a small collection of family rides located in the shadow of the Melbourne Star, an enormous ferris wheel that was at one point the fourth largest in the world. It would have been nice to give this a try, but we decided to skip it because we didn't feel like taking out a bank loan to cover the cost of our tickets. As an aside, one has to feel a little sympathy for the marketing team charged with selling "flights" on this wheel, an experience that is apparently much more than a view.
There is a large car park located directly adjacent to the credit, though readers should be aware that it is designated for Costco Members Only. Those without the required credentials can follow the road around to the left where there is a public garage that charges $3 per hour (which proved to be just over twice what we needed).
Wacky Worm Coaster (#2101) was until this year the only permanently installed Big Apple in Australia. While the provenance of the ride isn't entirely clear, it is known that it was imported from the United States during 2010, probably from the fair circuit. Its visual appearance today left quite a bit to be desired:
There was some orphaned support structure around the top of the lift that might once have supported an Apple.
The entire upper level of the ride was decorated with pink and green flags, but these were in very poor condition, and quite a few were missing.
Only half of the drop track had been painted; the other half was the colour of tarnished metal.
Despite the above, however, the ride experience was entirely normal, stretching over three laps. The only tricky part was shoehorning myself into the car, as this wasn't one of the more spacious apples; I managed it only by crossing my legs.
Luna Park Melbourne
15th February 2015
I've been writing detailed trip reports from theme parks around the world for over twelve years. During that time I've done my best to emphasise the many good experiences that I've had while giving my honest opinion about areas for improvement. This hasn't always been popular, but the web traffic statistics for this site suggest that at least some people appreciate my formula. Given that, I'd really hoped that this report could say something nice about Melbourne's Luna Park after two previoustrips that were memorable for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, the friendly staff on duty today represented the only real positive in a visit that featured ridiculously slow operations, corporate loose article policies, queue jumpers, and a badly maintained wooden coaster that did its best to kill us.
We began our visit with a brief walk around. As expected the only significant change to the ride line up from my last visit five years ago was the absence of Metropolis, dismantled in 2012 after twenty two years of operation. Its space was repurposed for a travelling coaster for a brief period, but has since been transformed into a dining area with a green astroturf surface and an open sided tent to provide shade. While it would have been nice to see a new coaster in this location, it's hard to fault the addition of some relaxation space, something the park badly needed.
The waiting area for the Scenic Railway carried a dire warning advising that queue jumpers would be ripped in half and eaten by demons, but this didn't seem to phase the clientele today. At one point we noted four people climbing over barrier ropes to join a friend near the front of the line, and sadly this wasn't an isolated case. It would have been easier to put up with the occasional degenerate if the ride was being operated efficiently, but only one train was in use on this gloriously sunny weekend, and dispatches were running at the rate of one every ten minutes.
It is perhaps useful to contemplate briefly what the throughput on a coaster like this should generally be. As a start point, each lap of the course requires around three and a half minutes from start to end, the time varying slightly depending on the enthusiasm of the brakeman. One can reasonably assume around thirty seconds in the unload station, thirty seconds to move the train to the load station, and maybe a minute to complete the boarding process. If one adds a little contingency time for restraint checking the end total is in the region of six minutes. Two trains on the course at once should allow for a train every three minutes, for a capacity of around four hundred guests per hour, or around four times what was being achieved today.
The biggest time loss we noted was during the unload process. At the end of each ride the parked train was being left in situ until all guests had exited the platform, which on some dispatches took over ninety seconds. Guests were at least being grouped on the load platform ahead of time, a marked improvement over a few years ago, but the complete lack of urgency in the process meant that there would have been enough time to make (and drink) a cup of coffee while restraint checking was in progress.
As the train was being dispatched the operators made an announcement about the ride being quite bumpy due to it being over one hundred years old. This statement annoyed me; age is not an excuse for poor maintenance, and there are manygoodexamples of antique coasters that have been restored to as new condition.
As it was, the best bit of the Scenic Railway was the lift hill, which was driven by a smoothly engaged cable mechanism. This led to a small turnaround across the park entrance and the first drop, a shallow descent and climb out that looked to be somewhere in the region of thirty feet. The words of the ride operators quickly came back to me as the relatively sedate profile was negotiated with unbelievable violence, the train bouncing up and down in a fashion guaranteed to shake fillings loose. It was immediately evident that this was a ride that was going to hurt, and we were less than a quarter of the way around the track.
The ride layout comprises two full circuits of the park, and the pattern quickly became obvious; a flat bit with gentle brakes, a drop, mild pain, severe pain, and a climb out – repeated several times with only the occasional interruption for a turn. At the half way point the brakeman told us to watch out for the on ride camera; my immediate thought was to wonder whether this had been installed to help stock the park's ghost train, as my expression was not something I wanted to remember. It was only the final few drops that were bearable, almost as if they'd been retracked recently, but they were negotiated extremely slowly with no airtime whatsoever.
While the ride must have passed safety tests in order to operate it nevertheless felt very much like an injury waiting to happen. We watched from ground level later in the day and could clearly see the roughness as people were thrown up and down with their heads bouncing around like bobbleheads. I'm very much in favour of preserving classic wooden coasters for future generations to enjoy, and the Scenic Railway definitely qualifies as a classic, but its current condition leaves an awful lot to be desired. With luck it will get some major reworking in the not too distant future.
We had a much better time on the powered Silly Serpent, which for some reason had no queue at all. We were given five laps, and very much enjoyed the laterals delivered by the descending helix. We ran through several different adjectives to describe them before eventually settling on cromulent as the most appropriate choice. We went from there to the Ghost Train, which both of us enjoyed despite its general level of silliness.
Earlier this week I wrote in scathing terms about the loss of the vintage carousel at Sydney's Luna Park. Fortunately there is more respect for history in Melbourne, where the Carousel is a PTC model dating from 1913. The backing music is produced by a band organ that is even older, a 66-key model built by the Limonaire Freres Company in 1909. The combined installation went through a $2.2 million restoration at the turn of the century to bring it back to original condition, and the result is beautiful. We found two horses that were unusually close together for our ride.
The worst operations of the day by several orders of magnitude were on the Sky Rider wheel, a 1971 model with side facing seats. We were at first bemused and subsequently aghast to see that the lone attendant was handling the unload and load processes separately; he would stop the wheel, unlock restraints, unload one car, lock the restraints, return to his control box, rotate the wheel roughly 180° to maintain balance, and repeat, each iteration requiring at least a minute. Only when all seats were empty did he begin to load, following the same steps again. This ridiculous procedure meant that we had to wait almost half an hour despite there being less than twenty people in line in front of us. Then, when at long last the wheel was loaded, he added insult to injury with a PA announcement advising that the use of cameras and mobile phones on board was strictly forbidden.
We decided to go against our better judgment and finish our day with a second lap on the Scenic Railway, as we figured that we wouldn't have another opportunity to ride it for the foreseeable future. This proved to be a tactical error; the roughness that we'd experienced earlier was amplified significantly by sitting in the back half of the train, and I disembarked with a thumping headache that stayed with me for the rest of the day.