Gold Coast Advetures Part II – theme parks in a pandemic

The first five days of our Gold Coast getaway were spent at the Qube in Broadbeach. We had plenty of fun and swimming as is evidenced by the photos in my previous post. While we reluctantly left the beach and our comfy apartment, the kids were rather excited about our second part of the holiday – three nights at Sea World Resort.

After our morning at the beach it was check out time from our apartment and into the car for the 20 minute drive from Broadbeach up to Sea World. We arrived well before check in time, but you can access any of the 4 theme parks (Sea World, Movie World, Paradise Country and Wet & Wild) for the entire day once you get your tickets. The kids were keen to get straight to the animals so once we completed our check in and tickets were sorted, it was into the park…… with promises from reception to text us once our room was available.

Sadly the park monorail wasn’t operating for the forseeable future due to construction of new rides. But this meant we all racked up plenty of steps for as our stay as we wandered the park, along with plenty of trips back to the resort.

Once officially into the Sea World park we noticed the dolphin show was about to start, so off we went. Zinnia had been talking about seeing the dolphins for weeks, so we figured it was a good place to start.

Despite being a Sunday and the first show of the day, there weren’t huge crowds and we got a second row seat. Social distancing requirements meant people needed to spread out, one of few benefits of the pandemic, not having to sit close to strangers!

A few of the dolphins were hanging out showing off and then the show was underway, with trainers getting high speed dolphin rides!

We were all kept entertained by the constant dolphin antics, plenty of jumping, twists and swimming around showing us their bellies. The big kids were thoroughly enthralled. Zinnia was overdue for a nap and both excited to see the dolphins and a bit restless but definitely impressed at ‘dolphins jumping high in the air!’ 🙂 Not to mention the trainers getting thrown high in the air.

Twenty minutes of dolphin fun came to an end and we bid our new friends goodbye. With no text about our room yet we headed out to the car for some picnic lunch. Despite the room rates at Sea World resort being very reasonable due to lack of tourists, the food prices were just as exorbitant as ever so we had no intention of buying resort food. Luckily, not long after we’d finished lunch our room was available, so I took Zinnia off for a nap and did some unpacking while Anto and the big kids started some park exploring.

It turns out Sunday was the busiest day at the park, and it was still pretty quiet by usual theme park standards. Our friends – Tania, Duncan, Finn and baby Arkady were also making a return visit to Sea World and staying at the resort for the Sunday night, so we met up with them and had a great afternoon exploring.

The kids immediate favourite was the battle boats, a guaranteed way to get soaked……. both on the boat and running around the edge helping to shoot water at those on the boats. All the adults took it in turns to get drenched with the kids.

One of the most popular exhibits with all of us were the rays. You are able to pat them and we would go and say hello every time we went past. It was often pretty quiet late in the afternoon and we had plenty of friendly rays who’d swim up for a pat. Soren’s favourite was the blue spotted ray! Zinnia was keen to get in the water, and not impressed that she was sometimes in the ergo 🙂

We rounded off day one by catching the Thunder Lake stunt show. Again, it was pretty quiet, maybe 100 people. The kids all loved it though, and especially hanging out with Finn and Arkady. I think all the stunts may have given Soren too many ideas, and he gets himself into enough trouble!

We did have to get our compulsory silly theme park photos with Finn! Even Zinnia got in on the act……

Day 1 ended with an awesome Japanese dinner, all out together. The 3 big kids and 2 babies had a great time and the adults thoroughly enjoyed our food and wine, so much that I didn’t even take any photos.

Despite the kids being desperate for a swim together it was well past bedtime and exhustion levels by the time we made it back to Sea World, so kids were banished to bed, with promises of more play time the next day.

As predicted all children were up very early for day two. Finn was stoked to be allowed to play lego and beyblades with Astrid and Soren rather than go to school. We did eventually interrupt the play date so we could go and watch the dolphin experience training session prior to the park opening.

Along with a hundred or so other park guests we got to watch the dolphins train for the show we’d seen the previous day, and learn a little more about how they work with the dolphins. There were again plenty of dolphin antics and show-off dolphins!

Once we had our daily dolphin viewing it was off for a good wander of the park. Zinnia had voted for being rather over-tired and her and Arkady tag-teamed a few naps during the day, but we still got plenty of time to make friends with all the animals and get rides in. Sea World is a pretty nice sized park. We could easily walk around at kid pace, spend time with all the animals, and get time to do rides with the kids without rushing.

it didn’t take us long to figure out where all the animals were located. We often stopped past the ‘little penguins’ wandering back and forwards to the resort. In the morning they were often out and about, having a swim or sunbake. In the afternoons, the lack of visitors meant they were happy to cruise up and say hello!

The pelicans also got a wave as we wandered past (about 5 times a day). This was the closest we got to seeing one them awake!

The polar bear was pretty much in the same boat. We managed to see him out and about once, he even gave us a stretch and jumped in for a swim. Every other time we visited he was off sleeping! It was convenient being able to check on him multiple times a day 🙂

Seal harbour was generally pretty quiet but we had a few wanders down to see what the seals were up to. They’d often come swimming up. The second morning we did catch the behind the scenes training session for the seals. The seal show wasn’t running during our stay but the training session was still pretty good, especially as some of the seals were not doing what their trainers wanted. The kids found that rather amusing!

The big kids had conned Anto into taking them on the big storm coaster roller coaster the first afternoon while Zinnia was napping with me back in the resort. The next morning it was time to hit the smaller rides. I was much happier to go on all the rides in Nickelodeon land and leave the storm coaster to Anto. A few rides were shut for maintenance during our stay, but there was still plenty to keep the kids busy.

Astrid and Soren, went on the little rollercoaster about 15 times, dragging a somewhat reluctant Finn with them. Zinnia cried when she discovered she was still about 4cm too short to go on. She wanted to go on all the fast rides!

Luckily she could go on the banana boogie ride and I got to do that one about 10 times over as it was a stretch for my legs to fit let alone Anto’s. Finn had a great time on that one with all the kids too.

There were generally only short lines (if any) for most of the rides, so blissfully little waiting around in the heat. This meant time for the kids to go on everything several times. The only real delays were the compulsory half hour cleaning of all the rides due to covid-restrictions. This usually meant a 5 minute wait on the hour and half hour, but definitely not a huge inconvience.

All five kids dragged us on the carousel and the spinning jellyfish ride. Duncan was the self-appointed official bag holder while the other adults went from one ride to another with the little kids and he big kids ran around taking themselves on rides.

After a morning of many, many rides, Astrid and Soren had failed to convince Finn on the merits of going on the storm coaster with them and we all headed back to our room for a picnic lunch and a run on the grass. It was then off for a leisurely swim in the resort pool to cool off.

Even in the middle of the day we didn’t have to share the pool with too many other guests. The kids continued their extended playdate and the adults all contemplated if we could tag team nap in the shade while they played.

Much to everyone’s disappointment it was time for our friends to head back to Brisbane prior to peak hour. There had been a last minute attempt to convince them on Mexican dinner with margaritas and more swimming and animal viewing but Duncan was sensibly insisting on them leaving at a decent hour. We’d had a great day and a half together, hanging out in the near empty resort and park and were thankful we could catch up with borders finally being reopen!

Astrid, Soren and Zinnia all requested more Sea World time and we headed back into the park to check out some more animals. Late afternoon is the time to be wandering the park, it was very quiet and we had pretty much every exhibit to ourselves. While the big kids dragged Anto on the the storm coaster yet again Zinnia and I hung out with our favourite ‘big’ penguins, the King and Gentoo penguins at the penguin encounter.

It was always lovely and cool inside and fun to watch what our penguins were up to for the day. The baby King penguins were particularly funny as they were losing their baby feathers and looked a bit ridiculous.

With very few visitors in the afternoons the penguins would often wander up to the glass to see what the weird humans were up to. Between storm coaster runs Astrid and Soren would go and check on their penguin friends, and see how their feathers looked for the day!

Right near our penguin friends were the jellyfish. Another excellent place to hide from the heat and I could have spent hours watching the jellies floating around. We all liked seeing them illuminated and changing colours.

The exhibit also included a jelly research lab upstairs and a breeding area which we all found fascinating. I think we visited 3 or 4 times during our stay.

Another fun place to hang out in the near-empty park was Shark Bay. We had declined to line up in the heat on Sunday afternoon to go into the underwater viewing areas. This proved to be wise because Monday and Tuesday afternoons we could just wander around with no lines (or really other visitors) and watch the sharks, rays and fish at our leisure.

After two days of Sea World, we declared Tuesday to be Movie World day. Given how quiet Sea World was, we had hopes Movie World wouldn’t be too busy. We made the 20ish minute drive from the resort on Tuesday morning, timing it to be at Movie World for the 10am opening of attractions. The enormous carpark didn’t look too busy and we walked straight in, a very pleasant experience compared to lining up for extended periods when going to Disneyland in both Hong Kong and Paris.

The big kids had been checking the app for height restrictions and to work out their ‘must do’ rides. We predicted Zinnia (who was too short for most of the rides) would tire of Movie World fast and would be in need of a rest by early afternoon. Our plan was to prioritse the things Astrid and Soren wanted to do while I took Zinnia on the little kid rides and Anto got dragged on thousands of roller coasters. Well our plan was in vain, as we arrived to the blissfully quiet park it became apparent about a third of the rides were closed for maintenance and there wasn’t a lot of lines on the other ones.

Soren was immediately drawn to all the cool cars he could see and Astrid was debating whether she really wanted to go on the Batwing spaceshot, that currently had no line.

She passed on it ‘until later’ and we had the first squeals of excitement from Zinnia as she spied the ‘socially distanced’ Tweety, Bugs, Sylvester and Daffy Duck cruising around giving us waves. This was already closer to any characters than we had gotten with Disneyland visits!

There appeared to be very few lines (or people) so off we wandered and headed towards the little kids rides as the kids were itching to get some rides under their belt.

Yep, this was Main Street half an hour after opening!

In fact the only ride we had to line up for all day was the first one, the Tijuana Taxi, and only because they were only letting 4 kids on at a time and they were letting all 3 of ours go at once. It was a 5 minute wait, and the best time to get on that ride as the lines were longer for the rest of the day. We weren’t sure Zinnia was up to driving the car on her own but the very patient ride operator assured us she was fine and walked around with her. By the second lap she was zooming along!

Astrid and Soren then went for the little road runner rollercoaster. Again there were tears from Zinnia as she was too short, so I placated her with a carousel ride or three! When there are no lines you can just jump back on and choose a new character to ride each time 🙂

While Zinnia and I were waiting for the big kids and Anto to return from their multiple coaster and bumper car rides (Zinnia was also too short for those) we ran into Bugs and Sylvester. No lines of more than 30 seconds but social distancing means you stand in front of the suited up characters. Zinnia didn’t care, she was stoked to see some characters!

Only about two thirds of the little kids rides were open, but we did the rounds of all the operating ones and had a couple of goes on each. Soren also ‘needed’ me to have a go on the bumper cars with him while Zinnia had more carousel rides with Dad.

An hour after opening it was time for the cheesy but vaguely entertaining stunt car show. With only about 60 people in attendance I applaud the actors for at least feigning enthusiasm for their jobs!

Approximately half the thrill rides were under maintenance and unfortunately a few of the ones we’d really been looking forward to like the Scooby Spooky Coaster and the Justice League laser tag ride. We’d liked the equivalent rides when visiting Disneyland so it was a little disappointing but with so few people in the park you can see why they were taking the opportunity to do some ride maintenance.

While we did some souvenir shopping Soren went on more motorbikes (as did Zinnia) and Astrid pysched herself up for some big rollercoasters. She was saved from the superman escape coaster by being a smidge too short……… and Anto breathed a sigh of relief until we all goaded him to going on his own! He will claim he thoroughly enjoyed it, but the photos indicate otherwise and he declined a second go 😉

We established that Astrid but not Soren was tall enough for the DC Rivals Hypercoaster, which happened to be the tallest, longest and fastest coaster in the Southern Hemisphere. We’d been watching it go around all morning and she ultimately decided it was just too high for her. I don’t blame her!

She was umming and ahhing about the batwing spaceshot and in the end decided to give it a pass (I think Anto was secretly pleased) so we did one last quick go on favourite rides and ran into Tweety and Daffy for a socially distanced meet and greet with all three kids.

We’d managed to do all the rides in the park that we could and wanted to do (some multiple times) in 2.5 hours so it was time for a picnic lunch outside the park. We’d gotten around in record time so thought we’d take the opportunity to head to nearby Paradise Country to visit some animals.

Despite this park being included in our entry passes, we weren’t initially going to bother going, however when we’d realised there was a petting zoo we figured a certain almost 2 year old would be very keen to go! Miss Zinnia was well overdue for a nap but animal visits immediately perked her up.

It was very warm out but the farmyard nursery petting zoo proved popular. I’m not sure the goats and sheep knew how much love they were about to get!

The resident alpacas were about as lazy as ours, and the cows possibly lazier than our alpacas!

Next it was off to see the extremely lazy kangaroos, who thought it was a good time for an afternoon snooze. Even if they had to put up with some pats from the kids at the same time.

The Koalas won the laziness award! We spent plenty of time watching them sleep, some with babies clinging to them!

The kids were happy to watch the animals all afternoon but we were all weary from the heat and plenty of walking. There were plenty of non-animal exhibits, with farm and gold mining exhibits but we decided to head back to Sea World for some air-conditioning and cold drinks.

All three kids were rather tired on the drive back and the adults enjoyed 5 minutes of peace and utilised McDonald’s drive through for coffee for us and cold milkshakes for the kids when they woke up. The nap and sugar worked and somehow they were keen for more walking and we were straight back over to the park at SeaWorld for more animal visits and rides.

A late afternoon soaking on the battle boats. We were mostly soaking ourselves are relying on the 5 other people nearby in the park to get us wet.

The park was near deserted so there was no wait for any rides and we had one on one time with our penguin, dolphin, shark and ray friends until closing!

We finished the last full day at SeaWorld out with a swim, a pretty sunset and some fish and chips we took back to the grass outside our room.

Our last day was upon us. We’d seen everything a few times over at Sea World but it was nice not having to rush about. After packing up the morning started out with a last swim and play in the splash park prior to the park opening time.

Then it was back over to the park for our last goes on everything. I think Anto was happy to never go on the storm coaster again!

It was Wednesday and the quietest day yet in the park. Zero wait time on any ride and you could literally go on, get off and go again. The ride operators, despite rotating rides they work on, were starting to recognise us!

We had a final walk around to visit our favourite animals. It was definitely pleasant having the place so quiet. Theme parks in a pandemic are weird places. It was so empty much of the time. The food outlets were closed for much of the day, making that part of the park deserted. The streets were often very empty and the pleasantness of having the animals and exhibits to ourselves was offset by the slightly surreal feeling on a theme park without tourists and only Aussie accents.

These photos were taken in the middle of the day, yep it was harder to get photos with people in them than without! Theme parks in a pandemic are very, very strange places………

That said, we thoroughly enjoyed the lack of lines and having most of the exhibits to ourselves. It was fun to have alone time with the animals. The shows lacked a bit of atmosphere but were still enjoyable. We all agreed that late afternoon when the park was thoroughly deserted was the best time to visit.

Despite having seen everything a few times over, we hadn’t managed to make it to the ray feeding until our final day. They are ‘fed’ once a day and you can buy cups of food to participate. Our last activity at Sea World was giving our new ray friends some food. It was rather expensive fish at $9 a cup (for 4 small fish) but kudos to Sea World for figuring out a way to subsidise the costs of the exhibit. Fish in hand (or cup) and we were off to feed. Unlike other tourists we’d actually listened to the instructions on how to hold the fish.

The rays are rather greedy and it was easy to get great pats as they came right out of the water to suck the fish out your hands.

It was a rather fun experience and definitely worth the overpriced fish! The kids had a ball and would have had us buy endless cups of fish if we had of allowed it!

We farewelled our rays and all our other new animal friends on our journey out of the park, where it was off to the airport and onto a fairly empty flight back to Canberra.

While Sea World hadn’t been at the top of my ‘must do’ list pre-pandemic. We timed it almost perfectly, with very few states having borders open and no international tourists we had a very pleasant time on Broadbeach and then probably the only time we’ll ever get to stay in a mostly empty theme park, for less than the entry to the parks normally cost. While the upsides of 2020 have been few and far between, this turned out to be great timing for a holiday with young kids.

That’s a wrap for our short but well-timed Gold Coast adventure. Who knows where the next one might be? Our travel plans for this year were well and truly scuttled by coronavirus so we’ll just have to wait and see what new adventures we can plan!

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