Late last year I decided to calculate just how much time I'd spent in aircraft in 2017. The final figure came to 278 hours, roughly one third of the amount of time a commercial pilot spends in the cockpit in a twelve month period. The primary benefit one gets from spending over ten days a year in economy class seating is frequent flyer status, which in my case grants me free inflight Internet and a modicum of comfort during long layovers. Once in a blue moon loyalty can be rewarded in style, and so it was on Thursday when Megan and I were given complimentary upgrades into business class for both legs of the day-long journey from Dublin to Sydney. The eleven hour time zone jump was still a challenge, but six hours of sleep on board and decent meals made the journey far less of an ordeal than it might otherwise have been.
Luna Park Sydney
6th January 2018
We began our morning with a short stroll from our hotel to Mascot, a train station located just outside the boundaries of Sydney Airport. There were a surprising number of people heading down the escalator with wheeled suitcases in tow, and later that day I discovered why; for reasons best known to themselves, the powers that be have decided to levy an extortionate $14.30 (~€9) surcharge on top of regular train fares for use of terminal stations, quadrupling the typical cost for a journey into the city centre. Savvy locals have come up with a number of different ways to avoid the charges, and those with less scruples have found an interesting loophole in the smart card system that will no doubt be closed in due course. At the risk of pontificating slightly, it seems more than a little bizarre that the local authorities are going out of their way to discourage use of public transport, an approach that serves nobody in the long run.
The local rail network has a somewhat unusual routing that results in three of the eight extant lines making an effective U-turn in the city centre, with each stopping twice at Central. The terminally lazy heading to the suburbs have the option of staying on board for five bonus stations; everyone else can shave at least ten minutes off their journey times with the simple expedient of crossing a platform. As our route involved a transfer anyway we disembarked at the first opportunity, switching to the T1 North Shore Line for the few stops on to Milson's Point. The walk from there to the park took less than five minutes.
The first task for our visit was to confirm that the classic wooden mouse was operational, as an unfortunate miss during our 2015 trip was the primary reason for including a Sydney day in what would otherwise have been a more relaxed itinerary this year. The sight of a car working its way up the lift hill led to a not entirely voluntary sigh of relief, and with the good news confirmed we joined the queue for tickets. Unlimited season passes were priced very competitively at just $99, in contrast to $52 one-day wristbands and $10 for individual rides, and we saw quite a few local children using them. That said, readers should be aware that the passes block out a number of peak dates throughout the year, negating their value somewhat.
During my first trip to Australia back in 2008 I described Wild Mouse as being considerably more aggressive than the similar ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, now sadly demolished. The passage of time has made it impossible for me to state conclusively whether my words were hyperbole or reality, but what I can say is that today at least the word "wild" felt misplaced on an attraction that was enjoyable but fundamentally sedate. There were no perceptible lateral forces for most of the turns, and the drops on the lower section of the course produced only vague hints of airtime. We rode twice in separate cars and twice together, and on all four laps the experience was equally underwhelming. It is possible that changing health and safety regulations have necessitated some tweaks to the layout and/or wheel compounds to slow things down; if that is what has happened, then it is a huge shame.
One of the more recent additions to the park is Mystery Manor, a short but extremely high quality haunted walkthrough that opened for the first time in September 2015. Signage at the entrance declares the building to be the home of the legendary Doctor Hoffmeister and his wife, though which specific Hoffmeister is never made entirely clear (and why the evil genius is German is anyone's guess). The experience begins with a brief video that was fundamentally secondary to the comfortable couch and gloriously refreshing air conditioning. With that done, we were invited to explore the main portion of the house, which featured a variety of detailed scenes, including a pig's head in a pot on a stove, an overflowing toilet, bodies hanging from the ceiling, and live actors who screamed, banged things, and slammed doors. I found myself contemplating what the typical replacement interval might be for a set of hinges, a definite sign that I need to get out more. In a happy coincidence someone behind us shouted the words "get out!" at top volume as we approached the exit.
We spent an enjoyable twenty minutes in the Coney Island fun house, with Megan making the most of the various slides, much to the amusement of the operators who were apparently not used to adults going back for repeat rides. Rather than join her I decided to indulge in a little people-watching, moving from one comfortable bench to another. As ever the highlight was the Joy Wheel, an increasingly rare attraction where people sit on a rotating disc and the last person to slide off is deemed the winner. The person on the microphone today had an infectious enthusiasm and a ridiculously strong accent; it was all I could do not to giggle at the excited shouts of we have a slidah!
There was an entertaining new sign in the queue for Hair Raiser that warned that guests over 136kg (~300lbs) would not be permitted to ride, and that those who looked near the limit would be weighed for their own safety (presumably on an industrial strength scale). The ride experience was virtually identical to that of 2015, in that the view and the drop were both very good, though marred somewhat by a very hard landing. It would have been nice to take some pictures from the apex, but that was a definite no, so we did the next best thing by heading to the Ferris Wheel for our shots.
6th January 2018
While planning this trip I spent some time researching the known travelling coasters in Australia to see whether it might be possible to shoehorn some of them into our itinerary. Information proved in remarkably short supply, though I did manage to confirm the presence of a Joylands-operated carnival with a coaster in the town of Huskisson, around one hundred and eighty kilometres south of Sydney. It wasn't hugely smart to put a five hour drive onto the evening immediately after an eleven hour time zone jump, but as regular readers will know I'm prone to extreme stupidity when coaster credits are involved. The drive was more than a little tedious as the cruise control in our rental car was incapable of holding the programmed speed on anything other than flat ground, but on the positive side the constant braking kept me awake!
I didn't have an exact GPS location programmed, but enormous numbers of cars parked haphazardly along both sides of the road indicated that we were in the right place even before rides came into view. There was an officially designated lot close to the entrance, but it was quickly evident that there was no point joining a convoy of vehicles driving in circles in the forlorn hope of a spot opening up. Instead, I dropped Megan at the long queue for tickets and headed back the way I'd came. Finding somewhere to stop on the main road was scarcely easier, but in due course I managed to claim the corner of a grassy embankment almost a kilometre away, much to the consternation of another driver who'd apparently had the same idea a few seconds after I had.
The sheer number of guests inevitably meant significant waits for all attractions, and Jurassic Rollercoaster (#2405) was no exception. There were somewhere in the region of two hundred people ahead of us when we joined the back of the queue, which I rather suspect to be the largest number of people waiting to experience a SBF Visa Double Coaster in recorded history. That being said, things moved remarkably quickly; though operations were not quite at German fair levels they were respectably efficient, with the unload/load cycle taking a little under a minute for each four lap dispatch. It was interesting to see a fairly even split between those using individual tickets and those using unlimited wristbands, which were priced to break even on the fifth ride; it strikes me that there were a few too many people on site to really make the most of unlimited ride privileges.
The ride was standard fare, though quite a lot better looking than the various installations elsewhere in the world. There was a large fiberglass dinosaur standing at the entrance, and two smaller ones mounted on poles above the boarding platform, which itself was painted with the words Danger Dinosaurs repeated every few feet. The train had more than enough room for two adults to sit side by side, though it was clear that we were the only people silly enough to ride without children in tow. The lone operator looked to be about one hundred years old, but he remained sprightly and enthusiastic, calling out enthusiastically to the train as it passed.
We decided against trying any of the other attractions, but we did spend a good ten minutes looking around. The event was very reminiscent of an American show, both in presentation and in the selection of rides, which included both a Power Surge and a Zipper. The effect was completed by a number of stalls offering a wide range of frighteningly unhealthy food.