We arrived at Sea World shortly before the published 9:30am opening time. Gavin demonstrated his enthusiast credentials by offering to drive down the side of the park before going to the main entrance, giving me the chance to snap my first few photographs of the first completely new wooden coaster to be built in Australia in almost four decades.
Leviathan (#3057) was designed by The Gravity Group and built by Martin & Vleminckx. The initial plans apparently required quite a bit of adjustment to comply with Australian construction regulations. While not all of the changes are obvious to the unskilled observer, it's difficult to miss the yellow anti-slip strips on the maintenance walkways. These look faintly ridiculous, but fortunately they are only really noticeable from the nearby Trident, a 42 metre high SBF Swing Tower. This is worth doing for the view, if not necessarily for the experience, which feels extremely understated compared to other attractions of this type. It does have three-person seats though, a valuable capacity boost given that operation speeds are best measured using a calendar.
Riders boarding Leviathan are treated to an elaborate and very well produced pre-show, showing the fabled sea monster moving around a series of high-definition screens installed behind physical theme elements. This would be a highlight of the experience if it were presented in a dedicated space, but for completely incomprehensible reasons park management have elected to install it in the station. This is disastrous for overall throughput, as the fully loaded and checked train isn’t sent out until the presentation is complete – introducing a significant delay on each cycle. Worse yet, for my visit only one train was in use, leading to a typical dispatch interval of between six and seven minutes. This is a very long way from optimal for a new signature attraction.
On a happier note, the ride itself is superb. The layout is varied and lively, featuring a triple-down, several helices, and airtime in abundance – and the Timberliner trains handle it with aplomb. There was a small pothole in a helix towards the end, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that the average visitor would even notice, and if the Sea World maintenance team are on the ball it may already have been fixed by the time these words are read. The only real complaint is the one I’ve already made, namely the operation speeds; we managed three laps in half a day by judicious use of virtual queueing, and might have gotten a fourth had the ride not broken down – but with today’s guest volumes we should have managed at least twice if not three times that.
The back row of each train has rear-facing sats. It might have been interesting to try these, but I wasn’t prepared to fork out the $25 upcharge. For me this price point is simply too high, and I don’t think I’m alone in that perspective given that I didn’t see any back seat riders during my visit. I’m not in the business side of the theme park industry (except perhaps as a thorn in the side of certain marketing people), but I can’t help but wonder what value is obtained from leaving two empty seats on almost every dispatch. Would it not make more sense to scale the price point so that there’s always a one or two train wait? Alternatively, could there be an auction feature in the park's mobile app, where guests can bid what they’re prepared to pay for a slot?
We spent most of our allocated park time on the wood coaster, but it would have been unconscionably rude not to do at least a token lap on Jet Rescue, which I still consider to be one of the best coaster experiences in Australia. I found myself thinking back to the clone rusting away at Wonderland Eurasia; will it ever take paying customers? I’m not holding my breath.
5th February 2023
Dreamworld was the original theme park on the Gold Coast, and for many years it was considered the finest park in Australia. Unfortunately it has long since been eclipsed by the competition, most notably Warner Bros Movie World less than five kilometres away. Work is underway to refresh it, but the project is scheduled to take several years, and in the interim the experience is going to be mediocre at best. There's no point in sugar coating things; though it pains me to say it, today the place looked run down, scrappy, and a shadow of what it used to be.
Four major rides have been removed since my last visit in 2018: BuzzSaw, Rocky Hollow Log Ride, Tower of Terror II, and Wipeout (a Vekoma Waikiki Wave Super Flip). A selection of secondary attractions and shows have also been cut, most notably the Big Red Car dark ride and the legendary Australian Sheep Shearing Show. With so many attractions gone one might have hoped that management would be pulling out all available stops to keep everything else operational, but that proved optimistic to the point of foolishness; there were five machines out of service for my visit, including three majors: the Giant Drop, Serpent Slayer (formerly Pandamonium), and Shockwave. As if that were not enough, the park is currently removing all licensed theming; the spectacular Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness is the latest area to have been stripped.
In the interests of balance, there have been two respectable and solid additions in recent years: a flying theatre and a major roller coaster. However, the fact is that there really isn’t enough to do in the park at the moment to justify the $109 (~€€70.45) adult ticket price for a single day admission. We didn’t arrive until about 1:30pm, yet we were ready to leave almost an hour before the 5:00pm closing time despite spending half an hour in the bar. That, in a park that I’ve always appreciated in the past, speaks volumes.
Our first stop was Steel Taipan (#3058). The new ride is a Mack design sharing virtually all of its layout with the highly regarded Blue Fire. The only major difference is the addition of a swing launch that goes forwards, backwards up a twisted spike, and forwards again. This was a novelty, and I have to respect management’s desire to do something unique, but I’m honestly not sure that I’d regard the change as an improvement. The initial acceleration feels weak, and there is a long straight and level section between launches that doesn’t add anything to the overall experience. An airtime hill in this section (or indeed anything) would make things much more interesting. I found myself wondering whether the ride could be retrofitted at some point in the future into Steel Taipan II; changing out one piece of track shouldn’t cost an enormous amount in the grand scheme of things.
It’s clear that thought has gone into the ride station layout, which has staging areas for three groups of passengers. This has the added benefit of ensuring that the safety PA is heard repeatedly. The announcement is typically Australian in its attitude to pockets – “it doesn’t matter if it has a zip, buttons, or velcro, it must be empty.” Guests are also instructed not to touch the seatbelts, as the operators will do that for you. I noticed that each seatbelt fitting was paired with a wristband being touched off an RFID reader, which I presume to be an additional redundant safety system to make sure every seat is checked prior to dispatch.
The main portion of ride is very good. I’d have liked some more theming above and beyond the two brief sections of rock work, but it would be unfair for me to deduct points for that given that Europa Park is the only park that has bothered to beautify their installation (and no, the meat grinder on the Velikolukskiy Myasokombinat station platform doesn't count). I managed two cycles, and the queue was short enough that I could have done more if I’d wanted to. Those with deep pockets can pay $25 to ride in the spinning rear car; I didn't feel the need, though I might have done at $10.
With that done, we made our way to Sky Voyager, a Brogent Flying Theatre with footage of various regions across Australia backed by a number of different scent effects. The footage and indeed the projection was excellent, though it would be remiss of me not to record the fact that the top of the screen was clearly visible from the upper level, making the effect somewhat less immersive than it could have been. Once again I feel this is something that could be easily retrofitted at some point, assuming of course that the raw video allows for it.
Neither of us had any interest in riding either Escape Coaster or Motocoaster, but we did make the effort for Gold Coaster, an aging Arrow looper refitted with Vekoma trains in 2015. I’m fairly confident that this marks the first time I’ve ridden any roller coaster under three completely different themes. This isn’t the record, mind; Escape Coaster is the fourth identity for a ride previously known as Sky Rocket, Rugrats Runaway Reptar, and Escape from Madagascar. If anyone knows of a ride that’s had five or more themes, I’d love to hear about it; do get in touch.
Our visit concluded with rides on the petrol-powered Vintage Cars and the diesel-powered Dreamworld Express train. I sincerely hope that both will be electrified at some stage for environmental reasons.
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