Rochelle Gillespie takes her dad and her three kids on a Gold Coast holiday that's all about the little people.
Here's the thing. If you're going to take the kids to Australia's Gold Coast, then obviously you're doing it because you have visions of their little jaws dropping in awe at the region's many theme parks.
So, if that's the case, I figure you might as well commit 100%. Make this a holiday where it's all about the kids.
Here's another thing. If your husband has inconveniently taken a tumble and popped the tendon in his knee requiring surgery and a number of weeks on crutches, you need to find a ring-in. So my dad kindly (and bravely) agreed to step up to the mark and join us for a four-day trip to Surfers Paradise.
More fool me, my travel partner of choice lives in a different city, so the flight itself I had to tackle as a solo parent, although I shared some of those duties with the iPad available to rent on the plane. It was a small technique in distraction that served to save my sanity, as well as that of our fellow travellers.
After meeting Dad off his flight at Gold Coast Airport, we loaded up the rental car and the GPS directed us to the centre of Surfers Paradise and our hotel, Paradise Resort.
Remember how I said if you want a Gold Coast family holiday you might as well go the whole hog, and commit 100% to the kids? Well, from the moment the kids walked into the lobby at Paradise Resort I knew we were on to a winner. There was, without a word of a lie, a shriek of excitement at first sighting of the resort's pool. The kids were pretty stoked too.
If, as in our case, your flight times don't coincide with hotel check-in times, the resort will kindly let you use its pool and other facilities while you wait for your room to be made ready.
To be fair, Paradise Resort is looking a little dated in some parts, and could do with some titivating, (couldn't we all!). But on the plus side, you won't spend your holiday developing extra wrinkles by worrying about the kids wreaking havoc and causing damage to expensive new furniture.
But frankly, there's not much time for the kids to get into mischief. There's too much going on - from hair-braiding to cup cake-making, jelly-eating competitions, outdoor movie nights and dance competitions. There's even a newly opened ice-skating rink. And, of course, a kids' club where you can off-load them for a few hours if "Mummy needs a time-out".
Indeed, there's everything you need to make your stay a little easier, including a mini-mart stocking all the essential items: cereal, ice-blocks, milk, nappies, formula and wine.
Because of the three-hour time difference, we were up pretty early each morning, which meant we could enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast and sometimes a quick swim, before hitting the much-anticipated theme parks.
Cool it, kids
On our first full day on the Gold Coast we headed to Dreamworld with a wish list that included going on the log-ride, holding a koala and visiting Wiggles World.
Right next door to Dreamworld is WhiteWater World and you can get a pass to allow you to go from one to the other. I recommend packing a swimming bag, stashing it in a locker at the main entrance so a few hours later, when energy levels are flagging, you can pick up your gear, and walk next door for a cool-down in the pool.
Indeed, the heat is something to be wary of in summer on the Gold Coast. The theme parks don't let you bring in your own food and water, so be sure to buy a big drink when you arrive, perhaps one of the souvenir cups for which you can get relatively cheap refills throughout the day. One genius idea was to take a spray bottle of water. The kids used it to cool themselves down when they were getting too hot and three-year-old Baxter did a public service spraying the legs of amused passers-by as he was being pushed around in the stroller.
The beauty of having preschoolers is that you're not locked into the school-year calendar. So, if you can, travel outside of the busy school holidays. Not only will you save yourself money but also valuable time because there are fewer people around.
Nowhere are you more grateful for this than when joining a queue for a ride at a theme park.
The longest we had to wait for a ride at Dreamworld was about five minutes. In fact, as soon as we'd had one turn on the Rocky Hollow Log Ride and the Thunder River Rapid Ride, we re-joined the queue and went again!
Needless to say, we ticked off everything on our wish list and then some.
If you do travel during peak times Dreamworld has another trick up its sleeve - the Q4U. This is a small device which lets you book in the time you want to go on a ride, so you can skip the queues.
Dreamworld's preschool area features all the kids' favourite movie characters from Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda to Shrek. Preschool humour is obviously the same the world over. A statue of Shrek sitting in a pool of water held no end of amusement when it let out a little "bottom bubble". Kids, eh?
Something for everyone
Day two and it was off to SeaWorld, just 10 minutes from the hotel. SeaWorld is huge, so be prepared for a lot of walking, although you can hitch a ride on the monorail which does a circuit of the park every 20 minutes.
While Dreamworld has Shrek and the Wiggles, SeaWorld boasts SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer. Catch a show and grab a photo opportunity with one of the characters while they're on walk-about.
But the real stars here are the animals - the seals, sharks, polar bears and, of course, the dolphins.
If you do have older kids with you and budget will allow, I highly recommend booking them in for an Animal Adventure. My older two joined a small group of other kids in the water with a trainer and a dolphin. They got to feed the dolphin, make it do tricks and hold its flippers. Truth be told, the hour-long wait was tough on my three year old, but he's been promised the chance to do it himself when he's a "big boy".
Castaway Bay, on the other hand, was right up his pirate-loving alley. The boys and I got on a boat and shot water at Grandad who was on land and did a remarkably efficient job of getting us absolutely drenched! This is a must-do amusement half-way through the day when the heat gets too much. But you need to take a change of clothes, or be prepared to pay $5 to get (somewhat) dried off by the giant body-dryer.
While the theme parks are probably the drawcard for families heading to the Gold Coast, they do drain your energy as well as your funds. So, it's nice to know there are other cheaper and easier ways to spend a day or two. On our last day I had grand plans of hiring some boogie boards from the hotel and walking five minutes to the beach, or packing a picnic and finding a playground nearby.
And then I realised, as I pulled damp togs on a wiggling preschooler for the umpteenth time, the kids were already in heaven - why go anywhere? Once they were in the pool, getting them out was like trying to get Augustus Gloop a way from Willy Wonka's chocolate river, they were not about to budge.
So on our final day, we swam, we ice-skated, we swam, we played in the adventure playground and we swam some more. We didn't once set foot outside the Paradise Resort complex.
The kids made friends. We ate delicious pizza from the Poolside Café. Darkness fell, the city lights came on and I sat back and enjoyed a piña colada while watching the kids do their best "Moves Like Jagger" during the Wii Dance Competition.
You know, this holiday may have been all about the kids but it was about me too. By watching them having such a good time I got my fill of happy mama moments.
Need to know
* Paradise Resort, www.paradiseresort.com.au, call NZ 0800 424 828
* Dreamworld and WhiteWater World: one-day World Pass to Dreamworld and WhiteWater World AU$89.99 adults, AU$69.99 children, under-threes free, www.dreamworld.com.au.
* Seaworld: one-day pass, AU$82.99 adults, AU$49.99 children, under-threes free, www.seaworld.com.au
Rochelle Gillespie is a mother of three rambunctious water-lovers, one of whom is now promising to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up. Rochelle and her family travelled to the Gold Coast with help from Paradise Resort.