Have you ever wanted to go away for a weekend but baulked at the idea of taking your toddler or infant child? Me too. Until last Thursday, that is.*
Nick and I decided to take the kids to Sea World for the weekend, staying overnight at Sea World Resort**. That’s right, we took our three children, all under three years of age, to a theme park for the weekend. I can hear eyebrows colliding with hairlines all over the internet. (I would like to point out that kids under three are free and my eldest turns three this Wednesday.)
My parents took my sister and me to Sea World when we were in our early teens and it remains one of the shining memories of my childhood. I’ve been looking forward to passing that on to my own children but I’ll admit to being skeptical about taking such young children to a theme park. Itâ€™s a major expense for something they’ll forget in a week. Better to spend the money when the experience will remain with them for life and really get your money’s worth, I thought. Plus, it’s not as though a two-year-old can ride the Corkscrew, right?
However, having now spent the time and money on a two-year-old and an almost-three-year-old, I confess to a sea change, so to speak, in my viewpoint. Firstly, I didn’t realise how well Sea World (and possibly other theme parks) cater to the really young. Secondly, the value in the money spent is found in the sheer joy the kids exhibited while enjoying the Sea World experience. And finally, living by my previous philosophy meant my kids wouldn’t have any meaningful experiences – or fun – until they were at least five years old!
For those unaware, a new-ish attraction is Sesame Street Beach, featuring Elmo, Big Bird and the rest of the CTW gang. SS Beach is like a mini theme park inside the grounds of Sea World – just for tykes. It features rides, merchandising outlets, food stalls and a little stadium that hosts daily shows.
A big worry was how my three-month-old daughter was going to bear up to a day spent being pushed in a pram through a crowded venue in the blazing heat all day. Also, was it too much walking for a two-year-old? What about the barely-toilet-trained three-year-old? Would I be loaded down with 40 changes of undies and shorts for the inevitable “accidents”? Spend the whole day apologising to people as my son left puddles of wee everywhere? To say I was anxious is understating it.
We started our day at Sesame Street Beach, on Oscar’s Beach Sweep, a “convoy” of mini semi-trailer trucks designed for toddlers. All kids under 105cm must be accompanied by an adult so I drew the short straw and sat on the trailer while the boys yelled “Breaker, breaker, come in Rubber Duckie” to the rest of the toddler truckers. The convoy did a couple of laps around Oscar’s Beach and we were done. Whew. The kids were having a ball, so far. I was perpetually on the lookout for signs of tiredness, hunger, exhaustion and dehydration (we chose the hottest day of the century to wander around an uncovered theme park).
After a few more rides we ended up at Elmo’s Sea Subs (pictured above). Picture the Octopus ride at the Show but much smaller and you’ll sort of get an idea. Little carriages on the end of about eight mechanical arms which go around and around while at the same time going up and down. We climbed into the sub and the ride started. The other subs started floating up into the air while ours remained stubbornly at sea level. I wondered if it was mechanical failure but the coincidence was too great – it broke down just as we got on? Unlikely. Then it hit me – I was too fat! A quick glance at a few of the other parents accompanying their children confirmed they were all at their ideal weight while I was still carrying an extra 10kgs from three rapid-fire pregnancies. Eek! How embarrassing.
As the ride went around and around I could see Nick looking at us and wondering why our little carriage wasn’t flying up and down like the others. By about the third go-around I was crimson with shame. Imagine being so fat that you broke a children’s ride at Sea World! I was already mentally scanning the Psychologist ads in the Yellow Pages (not to mention the dietitians).
When we climbed out of the carriage (in my case, un-wedged my wide load) I forced myself to swallow my embarrassment and speak to the attendant.
“Our ride didn’t go up and down,” I mumbled, still blazingly red in the face and probably looking like I was suffering a stroke.
“Really? It should have,” said the spotty faced, lanky lad who obviously didn’t even understand what a weight problem would be like.
“Nope, it didn’t,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Could it be because I’m too fat?”
What would have been reassuring here was a raucous belly laugh and an instantaneous reassurance from the attendant. Something like, “Oh no, ma’am! It couldn’t possibly be that,” uttered between abating giggles would have been nice.
Instead, I got a serious pause, “Umm, nooo, it wouldn’t be that,” he said slowly, probably wondering why he hadn’t been rostered on to manage the Corkscrew that day. “I’ll call maintenance. In the meantime, would you like another ride?”
“Well, I think that would be nice but maybe just the kids should go on, without me?” I asked, fearful I would break another carriage and convinced the pneumatic gas-lift arm was no match for my blubber butt. Lucky I was at Sea World. At the whale enclosure I’d find my own kind!
“No, they must be accompanied by an adult,” he said firmly. As we mounted the little carriage again and strapped ourselves in, he asked offhandedly, “They pulled the lever, right?”. I stopped. Lever? What lever?
“Ahhhh,” I said. He smiled at me. I looked in the front where the boys were sitting and sure enough, there was a sign next to a lever. “Pull lever to fly”. Ahhhh. As the ride started up he shouted over to us, “Now pull the lever down really hard.” And with that, we were airborne! And I could go back to pretending I was only a couple of kilos shy of supermodel skinny.
Moving on from the scorching humiliation, Bert and Ernie’s Island Holiday stage show (pictured) featured all-singing, all-dancing Elmo, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover and Zoe. I’m not sure what the entertainers are paid but I’m quite certain that it is not enough. The day we were there, as already mentioned, was boiling and inside the stadium add another 10 degrees – easily 35 – 40oC. Sweat was pouring off everyone in the audience and the “stars” of the show were dressed head-to-toe in full costumes, probably 100% polyester. For 20 minutes they sang and danced their way through a very vigorous routine. It would have dropped the spare 10kgs from my frame in one day. The kids absolutely loved the show and for the rest of the holiday were asking “Where’s Elmo?”.
My criticisms of the trip are small.
One problem was not enough shade. Luckily we slathered the kids in sunscreen and they wore hats all day. Waiting in line for rides no cover is provided. It wouldn’t be hard to put small sails over the queuing area and would protect small kids from the belting Queensland sun.
Also, there aren’t enough healthy options for food. I saw one fruit stand and it was selling 600ml Mt Franklin water for $3.50 (which retail at Coles for $1.72). Apples were equally exorbitant. In order to ensure healthy snacks for the kids and to help keep costs down we provided our own lunch and breakfast both days. The last thing you need at the end of an exhausting day is to try and manage a tired child in the midst of a sugar crash. Healthy snacks and plenty of water helped everyone stay on an even keel.
And lastly, the parenting rooms (only two in the entire park) were located at opposite ends of the park and neither of them were near Sesame Street Beach, which would seem to me to be the ideal location for a parenting room.
A weekend at Sea World is not something that happens frequently so we really made sure we enjoyed it. We planned our day and mostly stuck to the plan, although sadly, we did miss the dolphin show because time got away from us on the second morning. The sea lion show was entertaining but not brilliant. We saw the polar bear enclosure but the sole bear was sleeping which wasnâ€™t enthralling for the kids. Surprisingly, Sea World doesn’t offer a feeding time show, at least not that we could determine so there’s no opportunity to see the polar bear(s) moving around unless you happen to get lucky.
One of the biggest hits of the weekend was Shark Bay, which features an underwater viewing room. We saw the predators up close and the boys, including hubby, loved it. The tank was filled with all manner of sea life including rays, colourful fish, and of course sharks.
Throughout the park the staff were very courteous (even when faced with embarrassing “Am I too fat?” questions) and helpful and always seemed to go out of their way to help us. The hotel was equally fantastic. One of the restaurants offers a kids-eat-free deal as long as you eat between 5.30pm and 7pm, which suited us perfectly. We took the kids for a quick swim after dinner before they fell exhausted into bed by 8.30pm.
My tips for planning a weekend away:
1. Travel light: We had one bulky nappy bag filled with a change of clothes for each of the kids, nappies for the younger two, wipes, rubbish bags, water bottles and light snacks. Luckily we were able to strap the bag to the handle of the pram so nobody had to lug it around. Secondly, we were able to fill the basket under the pram with extra things, such as the stills camera and the video camera. Being hands free is important when youâ€™re chasing littlies around.
2. Keep the kids fed and hydrated. And along those lines, make sure you know where the toilets are at all times. Sea World provide you with a map that highlights toilets and it’s quite handy.
3. Tag your kids: Playgro make a plastic bracelet that you put on your kids and it contains information such as your name and phone number should they get lost. It certainly gave me a tiny little bit of peace that in the unlikely event we were separated, someone could return my kids to me.
4. Plenty of little rests. Don’t let them get too worn out or the end of the day will be a nightmare. For us the second day was definitely when the kids hit the wall. They didn’t get anywhere near the same enjoyment as on the first day. A late night combined with no daytime naps for two days tuckered them out.
5. Be flexible: When little bodies have their heart set on something donâ€™t deny them just because you want to get to the shark feeding time. Remember, it’s their holiday too and sometimes you just have to sacrifice a few things for their enjoyment.