Dreamworld review: Is this the best Gold Coast theme park?
Does Dreamworld still deliver a good theme park experience if you're looking for things to do on family holidays to the Gold Coast?
Dreamworld Quick Verdict
Dreamworld has become something of a hidden gem on the Gold Coast, with its relatively low crowds and great mix of rides – especially for younger kids – balancing out its aging exterior and unwelcoming ticketing system.
OUR SCORE: ★★★★
- Location: Dreamworld Pkwy, Coomera, QLD, 4209
- Adult ticket: $115.00 ($105 online)
- Concession ticket: na
- Child's ticket: $105.00 ($95 online)
- Opening times: 10am to 5:00pm in summer
- Highlight: Relatively small queues make it great for families to have lots of rides.
- Family friendly: All ages are catered for, especially younger kids.
- Reviewer: Family of 5 (kids aged 10, 8 and 6)
Pros and Cons
- Relatively small crowds
- Good mix of experiences
- Plenty of food options
- Easy to navigate
- Not much for teenagers and 20-somethings
- Poor WhiteWater World integration
- Some sections dilapidated
- No family ticket option
Oh, Dreamworld. It's been a rough trot. If the PR blow from 4 tragic deaths wasn't bad enough, the Gold Coast's famed theme park was obliged to close its beloved Thunder River Rapids Ride as a result. This drama was then followed by COVID-19. And all while Dreamworld watched its main rival, Village Roadshow, leverage its ownership of Sea World, Warner Bros. Movie World, Wet'n'Wild and Paradise Country to give holiday-makers a compelling, competing package deal.
As a kid of the eighties, I went to Dreamworld at least half a dozen times back in the day and loved it. But as I made my way up the Gold Coast Highway from Surfers Paradise, my 3 children and wife in tow, I wasn't sure if it could live up to those memories in the present day. It was the Easter school holidays, and as I drove past Wet'n'Wild and Movie World, my anxiety only grew. Their parking lots were already jammed full. There were long queues of people at the entrance desperate to get in.
In stark contrast, Dreamworld's car park was a wasteland. The entry queue was barely 10 humans deep. The thought definitely crossed my mind – has Dreamworld succumbed to a nightmare? Had I bet on the wrong horse choosing this theme park for our family adventure?
Or has a period of bad luck made it a hidden gem for those willing to give it a go? Find out in my Dreamworld review.
Where is Dreamworld?
Dreamworld is located about a 15- to 20-minute drive north of Surfers Paradise – at least in the mornings. When you come out at 5pm, the traffic on the Gold Coast Highway is such that it can take up to an hour to get back, so keep that in mind. Parking is plentiful.
Is WhiteWater World part of Dreamworld?
Prior to my arrival, I had assumed that the large WhiteWater World was simply a zone within the larger Dreamworld complex. It is not. In fact, it's a completely separate destination, requiring a separate ticket.
It's not all bad news, however, as upgrading your ticket to include both parks (and the SkyPoint Observation Deck in Surfers Paradise) is only an additional $34. And you have 3-days to use it, so it's not like you have to do half a day of each park.
And indeed, together, it makes for a ticket that is comparable to getting Movie World, Paradise Country and Wet'n'Wild together. I'll go into more detail about this later.
We have done WhiteWater World and it's definitely a fun experience. It's not quite Wet'n'Wild quality in terms of diversity and thrills, but it's close. And the queues are much shorter.
How much does Dreamworld cost?
When I first started going to Dreamworld in the eighties, it was the big ticket in town. The only other alternative was Sea World. Now there are numerous other options, and as mentioned at the top, Dreamworld has been through some rough times. With that in mind, the pricing system is ok, but it's not as good as it should be.
If bought online, a day ticket is $105 for anyone aged over 13 or $95 for kids aged 3 to 13. This is on par with Movie World and Sea World. And for a small increment of $34, you can get WhiteWater World bundled in during the warmer months. By comparison, you can bundle Sea World, Movie World, Paradise Country and Wet'n'Wild together for $169.
Thankfully, in 2023 the ticketting system was changed. Now you don't have to visit White Water World and Dreamworld in the same day, you have 3-days to use both parks. So you get full day at each.
I do think it's rough, however, not having a discounted family ticket. The reality is that if you're taking young kids to any theme park – as I was with a 10-, 8- and 6-year-old – you're heavily compromised. Parents, at best, can alternate not going on rides to watch children while kids often have to wait for each other to finish. Plus my youngest freaked out multiple times at queue end.
A discounted family ticket would acknowledge this fact as well as provide a point of difference.
Can you do Dreamworld and WhiteWater World on the same day?
We had no problems filling out a full day at Dreamworld. If we had bought a WhiteWater World ticket as well, I think we would have been compelled to leave earlier than we would have liked and wouldn't have gotten the best value out of either ticket.
There's a really good mix of rides and experiences at Dreamworld, which definitely favour younger families. There's a decent roller-coaster (The Gold Coaster), a second truly excellent coaster (Steel Taipan) and one of pure speed (Motocoaster). Plus, there are numerous spinning and lifting rides, too, notably The Claw, Pandamonium and The Giant Drop.
That's more or less it for teenagers and twenty-somethings, though. And patrons of those demographics definitely won't find the same breadth of thrills here as they will at Movie World.
But for families with younger kids, there's a lot more. Our kids loved the themed rides such as the Escape from Madagascar coaster, the "soft" mode of the Kung-Fu Panda-inspired Pandamonium, Tail Spin and the spinning Shockwave. The cinematic Sky Voyager is a notable highlight, too, among other staples like bumper cars.
And this old dog was pleased to see the Vintage Cars still in existence, the only ride I remember from when I was a kid.
For the very small, a large kiddy section offers a lot to do. Again, many of these little rides are DreamWorks themed (Puss in Boots, Shrek etc), but there's also plenty from ABC hits like Giggle and Hoot, Play School, Bananas in Pyjamas and The Wiggles.
As mentioned, we happily spent a full day bouncing between the rides, and only our 6-year-old required convincing to make the most of it.
There's a huge chunk of Dreamworld that's handed over to experiences rather than rides. Some of these simply involve actors in the streets running through skits, or iconic mascots appearing every now and again for photos. There was a bigger Madagascar show for young kids. To be honest, I expected to see a lot more of this kind of entertainment, but perhaps that's one element still rebounding after COVID-19.
More notable are the animals, which are not just seen but fed and patted in some instances. There's a large tiger area complete with a show as well as other animal encounters you can organise. Hold a koala, feed a tiger – that kind of thing. As a family that has been to the likes of Dubbo Zoo, Monarto Safari Park and the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, we didn't spend too much time here.
But it's still a nice place to head for a break from the rides, and it offers a similar experience to what you get from Paradise Country within the Dreamworld ticket price.
The Dreamworld Map
If you're focused on rides over experiences, Dreamworld is pretty easy to get around. All the major rides and eateries exist within a circular loop. Navigating between them was far easier and more accessible than either Sea World or Movie World. I was far more willing to let my oldest run off without me as a result.
Once you start getting into some of the experiences, you can expect to do a bit more walking. The tiger and native animal exhibits, in particular, are a fair hike away from the main action.
This isn't helped by the loss of the old train that used to take patrons around to the backside of the theme park. It's listed on the site as temporarily unavailable, but I saw little to suggest it's ever coming back. The train track was broken and overgrown.
Indeed, once you get deeper into the park, the scars of Dreamworld's tough times begin to show through. The remnants of the Gold Rush Country zone, home of the river rapid rides, brings great sadness. The shearing shed is literally falling down and covered in vines. While the train tracks, as mentioned, have been left to rot.
Elements like this stand as a stark reminder that Dreamworld is in a rebuilding phase.
What is the crowd like at Dreamworld?
As you may have gathered from the above, Dreamworld isn't without its flaws. But it's not crowded, which means you get to make the most of what is available. Yes, I was there at Easter and not the middle of the summer, but it was still school holidays. And to that point, our friends who had gone to Movie World the day beforehand left because they waited 3 hours for one ride.
By comparison, at Dreamworld, I never queued for longer than 10 minutes to ride the Steel Taipan, which is a genuine roller-coaster as good as any I've come across. One of the kids with us rode it 10 times in a row. The longest I queued was around 40 minutes, and I think that was mostly down to poor timing. Later in the day, I walked straight onto it.
So, while I'd definitely call Movie World the better theme park in terms of the quality of each experience and the entertainment on offer, I'd choose Dreamworld. Why? Because I got to go on every ride. And some of them 2, 3 and even 4 times. At Movie World, I had to work very hard to get on only some of the rides.
I attended Dreamworld in the last week of the Easter school holidays, just days before it enters its "off season." As a result, and possibly because of lingering COVID-19 restrictions, a number of the eateries were closed. In their place, however, was a street style operation with a huge range of food options operating out of mobile stalls. These were inspired by a host of cultural backgrounds, too – from hotdogs and gözleme to sushi and gelato.
You're never far away from easily accessing something to eat and drink.
But it's not cheap. I bought 5 drinks, 3 adult burger and chips meals and 2 kid meals, and I was in for over $110. Yikes! But they did taste good and the portion sizes were more than enough to get us through the day.
Tips: How to make the most of Dreamworld and WhiteWater World
There's a common approach I saw most visitors taking at Dreamworld. Most families seemed to go to Dreamworld first, then retire to WhiteWater World in the afternoon. Which makes sense, right? You want to get all hot and sweaty first, then swim during the hottest part of the day second. And you don't want to get wet and then have to dry off to do the rides.
But the reality is, when I looked down upon WhiteWater World from the roller-coasters through the first half of the day, it was basically empty. No queues. Then in the afternoon, it looked much busier, while Dreamworld become the emptier space. Suddenly you were looping on rides without any crowd resistance at all.
As such, the hack is to reverse the popular approach. If you do WhiteWater World in the morning and then go to Dreamworld in the afternoon, I believe you'll really maximise the amount of time you spend actually riding versus queuing.
Is Dreamworld any good?
Dreamworld isn't the powerhouse theme park experience I remember from my childhood. It's lost some of that wonder and magic. But it has survived a tough run and has come out the other side as a savvy option for young families looking for a memorable experience during a Gold Coast holiday.
There's a good variety of genuinely fun rides here, even if they do err on the side of younger kids. And while the experiences may be a bit harder to get to and aren't overly attractive, they do offer depth to your day.
The big result, however, is the crowd. It's so much more manageable than the rival theme parks and you spend far less time queuing and far less time trying to squeeze through a sea of people to get from A to B. It turns Dreamworld into something of a hidden gem. And if this iconic theme park can be a bit more forgiving with its ticketing system and the way it integrates WhiteWater World, I'm sure it can return to the heights of its heyday in the future.
Disclaimer: I was invited to review Dreamworld as a guest of Destination Gold Coast. Opinions and photographs are my own. All editorial content is created independently by Finder.
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