Our last day in the Gold Coast area was constrained by an evening departure from Brisbane Airport. We'd planned to start the day at Sea World, given that it was only a few kilometres from our hotel, but decided to reverse course after Gavin pointed out (correctly) that the shortest queues in a water park are normally in the first thirty minutes after opening while the multitudes faff around in the changing rooms. In an ideal world we'd have made the most of the various slides, but decided on balance that we didn't want to soak ourselves in chlorinated urine on a day when we wouldn't be getting to our hotel (and a clean shower) until after midnight.
Readers retracing our steps should bear in mind that the park was by far the busiest of any visited during our trip to Australia. We managed to score the very last available space in the main car park when we arrived shortly before the advertised opening time, and a grassy overflow area as well as the lot belonging to the Australian Outback Spectacular next door had both filled up by the time we left an hour later. There was a lengthy queue to purchase tickets, making us very glad that we'd arranged ours ahead of time through our friends Gavin and James; those with limited time available should probably buy online.
We made our way through the gate and headed directly for Surfrider, an Intamin Half-Pipe that in years past was augmented with a water cannon system. This was removed a few years ago for the most prosaic of reasons; apparently the moisture was causing maintenance problems with the LSM motors. We narrowly missed the first dispatch of the morning, but this worked in our favour as the barrier at the front of the queue was a perfect location to capture action photographs as the car shuttled its way back and forth. The programme in use today was short but just about long enough for me to get my camera setup right.
Most of those on board were wearing swimwear, and given that we were fully expecting to have to endure wet seats. Luck was on our side, however; there were two that were still dry which we claimed before the group of four behind us could object at being split. The on board experience would have been better if the operators had allowed me to wear my sunglasses with safety strap, as it was a little too bright for comfort without them, but that constitutes a relatively minor niggle for what was a thoroughly enjoyable ride; the launches felt good, and the free rotation added just the right level of excitement.
The queue had built by the time we disembarked, and we decided against waiting for another cycle. Instead, we decided to go for a quick walk around the park to get a feel for what we might want to do on a hypothetical visit in the future. The one attraction that caught my eye was Wild Buggy, an adventure driving course with jumps, tunnels, obstacles, 45 degree walls, and more. Sadly it was already sold out for the day, which is apparently normal during peak times; those wanting to do this during their trip should book in advance. There were no must-do slides in the mix, though the selection on offer would certainly have kept us entertained for a few hours.
12th January 2018
Australia's Sea World, a standalone park unconnected to the American chain, has downsized its amusement ride collection over the nine years since my first visit to the park back in 2009. The cable car, the dark ride, the log flume, and the semi-classic Arrow Sea Viper have been retired, and though there have been additions over the same period the vast majority have targeted younger visitors. The only significant improvement for thrill ride enthusiasts has been Storm, a superbly themed Mack water coaster that looks great but pales in comparison to the longer installations such as Poseidon at Europa Park and Montanha Russa at Aquashow Family Park.
The park has refreshed its family offering on multiple occasions over the years with different licensed properties. The original area morphed into Cartoon Network Cartoon Beach, which subsequently became Sesame Street Beach, then Beach Break Bay, and in late 2015, Nickelodeon Land. The 1981 Arrow Dynamics Carousel and newer but still functional Zamperla Mini Jets were given new themes, and four new attractions from Zamperla were acquired to stand alongside them, including a Demolition Derby, Magic Bikes, a Rockin' Tug, and a small roller coaster suitable for adults and children alike. We decided to begin our visit there.
SpongeBob's Boating School Blast (#2409) is a second generation version of the common 80STD design also found at Legoland Dubai and Legoland Japan, and as with those installations it is rather good, especially when compared against the older models. The train has been designed with cars that resemble boats, and though the result is not quite as striking as the Duplo Dragon it's fair to say that few things are. The rest of the theming looks respectable too; there was a cartoon brick wall adjacent to the first drop (conveniently labelled wall for anyone not paying attention) and a twenty foot high tilted lighthouse beside the finish line. The entire structure stood on a bed of multicoloured gravel that looked considerably nicer than unadorned concrete. The only slight negative was queue jumping, which is arguably outside the park's direct control; today we had more than one parent who felt it was perfectly acceptable to hold places in line for their four (or more) offspring to the detriment of everyone else.
The other significant attraction on our hit list today was Jet Rescue, which in local parlance is apparently thought of as an Intamin Biscuit. This colloquialism is a slightly pejorative reference to the launch system which evidently requires frequent tyre replacement, evidenced today by a distinct smell of burning rubber with every dispatch. Today only one of the two trains was in use, which was about all the crowds justified; the wait time peaked at twenty-five minutes only because the operational efficiency was poor even by local standards. The operators seemed more interested in chatting than checking restraints; the peak throughput could easily have been doubled with a little hustle.
The ride has separate load and unload platforms, and there is no loose object storage available at either. As all pockets must be emptied prior to riding we found ourselves at a bank of coin operated lockers, charged at $2 per hour. Recovery of overdue lockers was not explained, though one presumes that resident philosophers and/or magicians have a technique that allows doors to be opened using the coins stored inside. Today an operator was assigning seats from front to back, a completely asinine approach when access to the individual rows is via a narrow walkway that is blocked when two adults are standing at the same air gate. We decided it was simplest to head as far back as we could for each of our five rides, landing the actual back row (and probably the best in the train) for all but our last.
The experience begins with a gentle launch out of the station, followed by a few gentle turns and an enclosed second launch that takes the train to its top speed of forty-three miles per hour. A tight banked turn to the right follows, angled at almost ninety degrees off the horizontal, and this is arguably the finest moment of the layout as riders on the right hand side of each car are just feet above the ground. The rest of the course consists of a series of tight direction changes that are thrilling enough to keep enthusiasts happy while not being overly terrifying for younger visitors. As the train comes to a halt a recording plays congratulating riders on successfully rescuing a sea lion, an interesting touch that might have worked slightly better if there had been references to the aforementioned creature in the queue and in the loading station.
Park maintenance may not be overly enthusiastic about Jet Rescue, but speaking with my visitor hat on the ride is more of a Michelin-starred meal than a biscuit; it is absolutely superb and a definite contender for one of the best coasters in Australia. As such I'm particularly excited about the duplicate that is among the seventeen coasters currently under construction at Ankapark in Turkey. It remains to be seen when (or if) that park will finally open, as it has already been delayed a number of times, but I'll definitely be heading there when I can, not least because four hours and change in a plane is definitely preferable to the day-long schlep between Ireland and Australia.
On our last visit to the park the Monorail was covered with hideous ad-wraps that made overhead photography all but impossible. These were gone today, and given that we decided to do a circuit in the hope of getting some photographs of the coasters. The first train to arrive was almost completely full, an occupational hazard on a system with multiple stops and no requirement to disembark, but we both landed window seats for the second. The sun was in completely the wrong place for nice pictures, though on the positive side we know what to aim for on our next visit!