NZ Dads travelled to Gold Coast with a three and a half year old. Here are some tips that we wished we’d known beforehand!
Be prepared for the flight
Unless you get the full flight package (with food, movies etc), which with a few kids and yourselves can be quite costly, you are going to need some things to keep the kids occupied and yourself sane during the flight. We packed a backpack for our daughter that had her colouring book and headphones in it, along with some lollies for the flight and lollipops for take off and landing. We also brought a tablet with some movies loaded on it, which is great if you find yourself on a carrier of the airline you have flown with which does not provide in flight entertainment.
Research your destination
Make sure you know where you’re going, and I don’t just mean the destination! Knowing where the supermarkets are is just as important as knowing where the theme parks are. Also, knowing when the best time on the year is to be somewhere is can make or break a trip. Check both the New Zealand and Australian school holiday dates. If you can manage to go for a holiday when there are no school holidays, the theme parks will be quieter, and accommodation with be cheaper.
Know your options for accommodation
There are a few options here. We went with a resort accommodation, which had its pros and cons. The particular resort we stayed at had a childcare facility in it and our package included a 4 hour session at either 11am to 2pm or 4pm to 8pm. Although we did not use this everyday, we did on a couple of occasions. It was great to be able to shoot down to the theme parks and hit the big rides with my wife, rather than taking turns on the days we went with our daughter. Remembering that this is a holiday for you too is important.
The cons with the resort style accommodation is that they don’t have cooking facilities in the rooms, which means eating out breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can pick up some food at the local supermarket for lunch, but in the end your budget will have to be set to include it. The other option is getting an apartment style accommodation. These are more like a home away from home, your not going to have the beds made each day, but you are going to be able to grab some rice bubbles and bread for breakfast which will save you some money. It also means that you don’t have to eat out every night.
Pick the best flight times
When we were planning our trip to the Gold Coast we looked at the times available to fly out and decided we would go for an early flight. This had its pros and cons. The positives were that we got a full day when we arrived, we could familiarise ourselves with the area for the week ahead, and check in and going through customs at the other end were not so busy. The cons were getting up early! This was hard as our daughter is not a morning person, thankfully the excitement of going on her first overseas holiday overrode her usual morning grumpiness.
There was also parking to consider, because we were flying out during the week and had to be at the airport at 5:30am we couldn’t get a lift from anyone, which meant we had to either pay for a shuttle from home to the airport, or pay to park at the airport. We ended up opting to park at the airport, which was easier as we just took our bags out and walked into the terminal. Following that, once we had landed and picked up the car, and headed to the resort to drop off our bags.
The other con in flying early is being there before check in means having to find something for you and your super tired child to do till your room is ready. This can be painful, so weigh it up for yourselves as to whether you want to fly later and not get that full day, or risk the possible challenge of trying to make that extra day worth it.
Choose the right activities for you pre-schoolers
How comfortable is your pre-schooler with rides and waterparks? How about eating out or going to shopping malls? Not all things you want to do will cater to having young children with you, plan ahead and if there are things you or your travelling companions want to do while you are away, maybe work our a schedule to cater so that you can take that time for yourselves to get those things into your trip.
Choose your theme parks wisely
Not all theme parks are equal. Even though there are things for children of all ages and all the theme parks, knowing which theme parks have the most potential entertainment options for you and your young travellers is important. Knowing in advance that you might find yourself strapped in a rather snug fitting seat on a ride that goes up and drops down and bounces around because your daughter is 2cms too short to ride alone is always worth knowing in advance.
Be aware of jet lag, for you and your kids
This coincides with when you fly as well. We found flying in early really hard on our daughter and us. By lunch she was shattered and a real handful, and we weren’t much better. Be aware that if you do choose to fly early maybe take that first day as a low key one, do a bit of sightseeing but don’t think that hitting the theme parks hard on the first day will be anything more than a nightmare.
Prepare for your day out
There are things you will need each day and a little planning goes along way and can save you a fair bit of money. Things to always have on you in Gold Coast include water (you can save a bit of money by buying a couple bottles from the supermarket on the first day and refilling them each night before bed and taking them with you – when you weight up $4 for 2 bottles at the local Coles supermarket to $4.50 each at pretty much every theme park you realise you will spend a lot if you are not prepared), sunblock (very important when staying in Gold Coast, especially when hitting the waterparks) – be vigilant, you can never have enough on especially with young kids and sunburn can ruin a trip, and food. The cost of food at a theme park is just what you expect it to be, and if you have a few kids then this can soak up a lot of your budget. Heading down to the supermarket on the way to the theme parks and grabbing some rolls or muffins can save you a bit of money and you can always grab some chips or something light while you are out.
Stick to your budget
This is so important and really comes down to planning. You need to work out a realistic budget for each day. Now I’m not taking about spending money here, I’m taking about how much money you have set aside for food and transport (This could be either using public or hiring a car). We found that one of the biggest costs in our trip was food. Do your research and get a figure that covers everything for each day, this means things like snack in between, water, and any other extras like coffees for you or hot chocolates for the kids. A good idea is having a little extra money aside and keeping track of how much you are spending each day, this allows you to adjust your spending habits before you run out of money.
Pre-schoolers don’t always need their own meal
This flows from the last tip. We ate out every night as not having cooking facilities made it impossible to cook dinner. Very quickly we realised that our 3 and a half-year-old daughter did not need the $12.95 kids meal every night, even if it did come with a “free” ice cream and drink. The best tip, get an extra plate and give them some of your meal; you are going to find that that most kid’s menus cater for right up till 12 years old and so do the portions. Also, with the money you save on the sharing of your meal, you can take them to many of the awesome ice creameries around Gold Coast, our favourite is Cold Rock, but there are a few you can go to.