Gold Coast Australia for Families – Part One: Planning for the big trip and what to do

kiwi dream holiday - gold coast family holiday

When we talk to friends and family about holidays, the Gold Coast for families is one of the top locations that enters the conversation.  Maybe it’s the cost of travelling to Australia, the theme parks, the amazing weather or just hearing other peoples’ accounts of the fun they had while on holiday in the Gold Coast.

Over the last year we have been to the Gold Coast three times, and we want to share our top tips for your stay.  It is always a good idea to do some planning so we hope this helps you to plan the best holiday for your family.  Let’s get into it, the Gold Coast family holiday!  Now because there is so much to share about this location, we’ve had to split it up otherwise it would be way too long.  So let’s start by looking at planning and what to do.

kiwi dream holiday - gold coast family holiday
Our most recent holiday in the GC

Where to start

Planning your trip and finding the best deal is where we started.  It often comes down to how you see the world, and what you see as being important.  Are you a deal hunter, a booking guru, or prefer a travel agent?  Each route has its own pros and cons.  We have tried all of them, including a mixture on some trips and in honestly for us, it comes down to time.

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Saving for the big trip is probably the biggest thing, unless you have a lazy few thousand lying around.  Check out our tips for saving your family holiday here but I will tell you our biggest tip right now.  You have to make it a priority that you are going on the holiday if you want to save for the trip.  Figuring out how long it is going to take you to save is going to help you secure a holiday start date.

A major planning factor is based around the time of year you go – the weather, school holidays, and peak periods.

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Well it’s the Gold Coast so it’s generally sunny most of the time and from experience, Summer is hot.  Super hot!  Well compared to the weather here in NZ anyway.  Months we have travelled are February, August and September.  It really comes down to your own preference and what type of weather you prefer.  It was much easier to roam around the theme parks when it wasn’t too hot though.

Summer is from December through to February and temperatures average 21 – 28.4°C (69.8 – 83.1°F).   Autumn starts in March – May with temperatures 18 – 25.7°C (64.4 – 78.2°F).   Winter temperatures average between 12.5 – 21.5°C (54.5 – 70.7°F) through June – August.  Spring starts in September and goes through to November and temperatures range from 16.9 – 25.4°C (62.4 – 77.7°F).

For more info on Gold Coast weather click here

Peekaboo Movie World - gold coast family holiday
Our last trip in August not in a peak period which means a lot less people at Movie World

Peak Periods

The Gold Coast feels busy all the time (this is coming from a rural family remember).  Peak periods are predominantly around school holidays and they are busy from what we’ve seen – in some ways it’s manic.  So if you can book outside of peak periods then we would.  Don’t let us put you off, if you can only go over these dates, we have done it and it is still a lot of fun.  That might even be the way you like it!  There is a real buzz around being around everyone during these peak times, but if you are a little bit like us, a bit of chill factor is good.  So our preferred time is around February.

Gold Coast Chair - gold coast family holiday
Every Gold Coast holiday will generally have a photo on this chair

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So now we’ve got that sorted, we can get into some of our personal favourites when it comes to things to do!

Theme Parks

Our decision to choose to head to the Gold Coast was initially shaped around our sons love of Batman.  So theme parks were naturally at the top of our list.  Is it not for anyone travelling here?!  We had travelled to the GC twice before our first trip as a family and both times we had headed to the theme parks.  Going as a family of course is a different experience – it’s not all about you having fun but what the kids want and can do.  But after many trips a little organisation is a good way to make sure that you make the most of it.

One of the first decisions you have to make is how you will purchase the tickets.  Again we have tried it all, and for us we tend to buy before we arrive.  Most of the times we will use a travel agent for most of our travel.  We also tend to leave some of our decisions to fate, but we will buy at least one theme park pass for the entirety of our stay.  Our normal choice is the Movie World, Sea World, Wet n Wild Pass.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
Rakeiora hanging out with his favourite superhero

So let’s get into the parks and we will share our thoughts.

Warner Bros Movie World

Movie World is by far our favourite.  There is lots to keep kids of all ages happy and entertained. For us it was always about the experience that Rakeiora had, and a lot of that was orientated around seeing his favourite superheroes.  So here are a few tips that we think will help you out.

Tip one – If you want to get a photo with one of the superheroes, head straight to the photo store beside Ricks Cafe American & Ricks Bar.  

Grab the list of character appearances for the day.  Otherwise the times and locations is a guessing game that you often end up losing!  We still made it like it was a suprise for Rakeiora, but its how we got some pretty cool snaps with some really cool guys.  This list saved us a lot of running from one end to the other to try and catch Batman or whoever it was, as well as the disappointment when we realised yep, that was them just leaving.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
Bring your dreams to reality

Tip two – Buy a drink refill cup

So this wouldn’t be our norm but you are on holiday right?  Buying a cup refill means that you can use it for the remainder of your visits to Movie World, Sea World or Wet n Wild.  It’s so hot here that you’re going to get thirsty a lot.  We always had our water bottles with us, but by the end of the day they were warm and just weren’t cutting the mustard, so having a cold drink is bliss.  Of course, you then have the souvenir cup to take home at the end, which to be honest I’d rather not!  But, Rakeiora has always like this so when in Rome..

Tip three – Pack a change of clothes

Logical right?  Well we didn’t do it.  Short story here, if it’s hot then the kids may want to cool off under this pretty fun sprinkler.  Take a towel too or you’ll have to buy one, which we did and that wasn’t so bad. So pack wet wipes, swim nappy and all that normal good parenting stuff.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
No hidden cost here, just Batpod awesomeness

Tip Four – Think about going to another theme park first 

This might seem a little left field, but here is the tip.  The lines at Movie World generally seem longer so even if you get there before opening, you’re still waiting a long time.  Our normal now is to head to Sea World first, sort out all our passes and then you can bypass the lines when you head to any other park.  By bypass I mean, you don’t have to stand in the queue and get your tickets sorted there.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
Our first time at Movie World with Rakeiora.

Sea World

When we first went to Sea World, it was just Mama and I and I can remember saying ‘I don’t know if I will come back’.  Our second trip to the GC with family we chose to take the kids to Movie World only.  This was based on our first experience.  On our first trip with Rakeiora we contemplated which theme parks we would go to, and which was appropriate for a two year old.  Going back through the memory bank we decided that we would do Sea World this time, especially seeing as we got a deal to go to three theme parks for 21 days which was cheaper than going to one.  It looks like these are the norm now, so you’ll always get to visit the theme parks that are part of that overall company.  So, all that said, this is our verdict of Sea World.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
Rakeioras first trip on a train at Sea World

Sea World is great for kids

Going back the second time with a child, we actually totally changed our opinion.  Rakeiora loved all the shows and the rides were fun for little ones.  Each time we’ve been back Rakeiora has loved it.  Here are a couple of things we think is worthwhile knowing.

Gold Coast Family Holiday

Nickelodeon Land

This is the kids area that is as the name suggests, all based on characters from Nickelodeon.  There are clearly marked times for shows and appearances of your favourite characters.  At the time of writing this, there are two major shows, Paw Patrol Holiday and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  When we visited the last two times, Dora was the main attraction, which Rakeiora loved and we thought it was really well done too.  Looks like Paw Patrol mania has taken over however!

Gold Coast Family Holiday

The shows are a great way to let your kids get up close and experience some live entertainment with their favourite stars.  The TMNT show is just on a small stage with no seating.  It is one show where it can be worth getting there early and taking a seat up front (on the ground).  On our last trip, because we got there late Rakeiora couldn’t see well because other kids would stand up during the show.  Kids are encouraged to get up and dance, so it’s expected.  But if your kids are like ours and a little younger, you might want to set up somewhere they can see the show.

All of the rides in Nickelodeon Land are kid friendly.  I think the only questionmark is on the roller coster, which wasn’t Rakeiora’s cup of tea and to be fair, I was dizzy by the end of it too!  Everything else, he was keen to do again and again so we thought it was great.  Most days it was a lot quieter than Movie World which meant that Rakeiora could enjoy all of the rides.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
There isn’t alot of room in this ride if you have to jump on with your little ones. Lucky Mama was enjoying it.

Plan your schedule

Planning your schedule is a great idea.  We really enjoyed heading along to all of the shows that were available at the park.  It’s a great idea to head onto the Sea World site and check out the show timings.  You can check the link here.  We probably enjoyed the shows away from Nickelodeon Land more than the boys to be completely honest.  But hey, you have to have something to please everyone right!

Castaway Bay Adventure Playground

This super cool interactive playground is tucked away at the rear of the park.  We didn’t actually discover it until our second time back.  You really can get lost in the playground, so it’s definitely a ‘Mama or Papa jump in too’ if you have little ones under three.  Rakeiora loved showing us around making sure we knew all the little places within the rope fortress.  Be sure to check this area out.

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So what other Theme Parks should I go to?

There is so much to do in the Gold Coast for families, and there are always deals available to head to numerous theme parks.  Our advice is to figure out what is right for you.  Our decision was based on this – Rakeiora loved Batman, so we chose the theme park deal that meant that we would go to Movie World.  On our last trip we thought about heading to Dreamworld because Shrek was also a character Rakeiora has liked.  In the end we decided we would wait until we went to Singapore to see Shred (look out for that blog post soon).

So we also had a pass for Wet ‘n’ Wild but we didn’t go last time as it was a little chilly and we didn’t think our boys would enjoy it.  But I think it is super important to have options.  We did go here on our second time and it was fun and a nice way to cool off in the pools and water park areas.  If we go back again when it’s hot, we will definitely make use of this ticket.  But from our view, definitely a slightly older kid park.

What else should we do?

Go to the beach

Go figure!  This might sound like a ‘duh’ moment, but we almost didn’t make it during our last trip and it was probably one of our favourite times.  Beaches mean sandcastles, swimming and enjoying nature.  Honestly one of my favourite parts of life.  And the beaches here, well they’re pretty amazing.  Beautiful sand and the water has been pretty warm.  The views speak for themselves.  Loads of safe swim areas set up so be sure to find one of these spots and you’re good to go.  We love too how there are a few shower/was stations set up along the beach so you can rinse off before heading off on your next part of the day.

Gold Coast Family Holiday
Find your own slice of paradise

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

This was one of Rakeiora’s favourites.  Our first time we stopped at Currumbin we decided that we would just drop in for a look to see what it offered on the way to the Airport.  When we arrived we decided to go but there was a difference between ordering online, and ordering at the gate which we weren’t ready to pay so we had lunch and decided we would come back on our next trip.  Here is a link to some of the places we used for tickets  Prices can flucuate so it is best to check when you arrive, or close to your tirp.

On our second trip to the GC we decided it was a must to head along and booked our tickets using the link above.  At the time tickets were only AUD$25.  The experience has a lot of different options and is suited to people who enjoy being around animals.  Blinky Bill is the key character who makes an appearance here, which Rakeiora loved.  The show again, was really well done and very cool how they incorporate their key conservation messages in here.

Gold Coast Family Travel

A big part for Rakeiora was being able to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s local residents – snakes and crocodiles.  These experiences are available with the option of purchasing a photo with them throughout the park at scheduled times.  Photos are also available with koalas but this was prepay.  We did this on our last trip and Mama happily held the koala for our family photo!

The sanctuary is also home to kangaroos, salt water crocodiles and lots of other Australian animals.  There is a night exprience which we did years earlier with family which included a Aborignal show.  Feeding the kangaroos was a highlight of one of our trips.  They are super hungry so they will happily munch on the food you’re offering.  Just don’t let them get their mouth near the paper bag or you’ll lose the whole lot so we found out!

At the end, you can sit down and have lunch in the cafe.  Just be prepared to be fending off these massive long beak birds (can’t remember the name of them) that will confidently swipe your lunch from you!  There are water spray bottles on the table to help keep them away, but we decided to eat inside (although they come in there too) and just eat fast!  All in all, it’s a pretty hilarious way to each lunch we thought, but all part of the experience.  Our verdict we loved it!

Harbour Town

You can’t not go to the Gold Coast and do some shopping right?!  So hitting this place is always on our schedule.  It’s basically an outlet shopping centre so there are loads of good deals to be sought out.  We’e been lucky it seems as we’ve always caught a sale at Adidas and scored 60% off the entire store – hollah!  Bring on sorting out lots of presents in one hit!

It’s all outside too so it’s a nice (albeit sometimes hot) stroll around.  There is a super market and chemist there too so you can grab a few things if you need to.  It has always looked like a lot of locals come here as well and do their regular shopping.

Of course there are food places so when it comes time to re-fuel, there are plenty of options to choose from.  If you need to hire a stroller you can do that too from the customer service centre.  We took advantage of this on our last trip, which worked out really handy and provided some much needed bag storage.

Getting here has always been pretty easy as there is a bus stop right outside, so if you’re catching public transport, it’s not that hard.  We’ve also driven here too and it’s not far off the motorway so driving here was fine as well.  Be sure to block out a good day to satisfy all your bargain shopping needs at Harbour Town.

There are plenty of other shopping spots too as you would expect.  Pacific Fair is one that we also regularly frequent.  It was always such a ‘grand’ mall but now that the renovations are complete, it is very impressive.  Definitely check this place out.  If we ever needed anything, we would always head to Pacific Fair.

Gold Coast Family Holiday

Gold Coast Markets

We love to head along to local markets and one we have always gone to on the Gold Coast is the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets.  Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 4pm, it’s a great way to take in the view and check out some local goods.  Live entertainment help keeps it interesting and if you’re feeling game, you can even have your photo taken with a snake!  Either way, it’s a nice way to end the day either before or after dinner.

Of course there are plenty of other markets around the Gold Coast area.  We have been to Carrara Markets in the past and we remember that being really big so you’d need a good time slot here to get around it all.  However, if you’re keen to find out what other markets there are on the GC, check it out here.

Ripleys Believe it or Not

Now we had always seen this place on Cavill Mall each time we’ve visited but never been too interested about going in.  What caught our eye on on the last trip, was the massive Bumblebee statue near the doorway.  So once Rakeiora had seen this, if we only got to go close up to this, then it was worth the money.  So that’s what we did, we paid and went inside.

The piano staircase was very cool and a great way to enter.  However, unless you’re into this sort of thing, the rest of it we just found pretty weird.  What was worse, was that Rakeiora was actually pretty scared of lots of the statues and creepy looking things in here.  So much so, that we had to rush to get out!  Money well spent – not!

So if you like the weird and the wonderful side of life, then this might be your cup of tea.  If however, you have a child that is anything like ours, where he pretty much thinks all these things are just plain old spooky, then save your money for something else.

Gold Coast for families, to wrap it up…

There are of course many more things to do on the Gold Coast for families, so we’ve really only skimmed the surface of the key attractions we always check out.  Before we had kids Draculas would have made this list for sure, however we haven’t been back there since!  I’m sure we’ll get there again one day however.  Of course you can always head inland and check out some of the more nature based and physical activities that are on offer.  Which I’m sure we will do once the boys are a bit older and especially if we have more time.  To find out more about things to do on the Gold Coast, head to Destination Gold Coast.

Hopefully this has been helpful, and remember to keep an eye out for ‘Part Two’ of our Gold Coast blog where we delve deeper into ‘where to stay’.

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