What Normal Couples Do On Valentine’s Day:
Prostrate themselves in wanton acts of consumerism at the altar of the goddess Hallmark
What We Do On Valentine’s Day:
Drive ten hours for a Pinfari Zyklon.
A Pinfari Zyklon Richard already had.
A Pinfari Zyklon Richard already had in a park he said he would never visit again in this life because its location halfway between Sydney and Melbourne is awkward and time consuming to reach. Unfortunately for him, he met me. And I’d never been to Australia.
So, let me reiterate this: Instead of doing the hour and a half flight between Sydney and Melbourne like any sane person would do, Richard opted to repeat the ten hour drive between them that he’d done in 2008 just so I could pick up the Pinfari Zyklon along the way. Not some unique B&M or Intamin.
A bog standard, run of the mill, production model Pinfari Zyklon. THAT, folks, is romance.
Not that it was intentional. It’s just how the itinerary played out. Richard and I aren’t the sort of couple to obsess over Valentine’s Day, which is to say I am not the kind of girl to guilt trip Richard into buying me some red and pink colored crap just because the calendar happens to say it’s February 14 and I need to post it to Instagram under delusions that somebody actually gives a shit. Still, though, it seemed a fitting narrative for the day.
A fitting narrative of retribution and payback, that is.
The two years Richard and I spent as a long distance couple meant Valentine’s Day together was never a guarantee, but the year before this one we decided to book a long weekend trip to Orlando because Valentine’s Day fell on the Friday of Presidents’ Day weekend (FYI non-Americans, Presidents’ Day is when we celebrate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays with monster blowout sales at furniture stores).
Richard and I wouldn’t have seen each other since Christmas by that point and our next trip wasn’t until my spring break in March. But a little Valentine’s rendezvous to reinvigorate my senior-capstone-thesis-induced flagging spirits? Well, I did what any rational girl would do: I tried to talk him out of it. February is a foolish month to fly if you’re coming from the East Coast. I have the permanent auditory scarring from hours spent in Southwest’s hold queue to prove it.
Okay, so I didn’t try very hard, it must be said.
“Ten bucks says this flight will be cancelled,” I muttered as my confirmation email from United popped up in my inbox.
My flight was cancelled.
Richard made it to Orlando just fine. I, however, probably supplied enough heat in my seething rage to melt all the snow that covered IAD’s runways, but it was no use. Richard got credit #2000 that weekend. I wrote an annotated bibliography.
But now I was in Australia, and February in Australia means summertime. No snow. No ice. No standing in queues snaking halfway down the terminal waiting to get rebooked by the lone, wretched soul manning the customer service desk. Not this Valentine’s Day. Ohhhhhhh NO, Mother Nature was NOT going to win two years in a row.
Not that she wasn’t above a few threats and intimidation. Our original plan was to have a later start than yesterday, but a look at the weather forecast persuaded us otherwise: one does not fuck about when it says there is a 100% chance of afternoon thunderstorms at a park that is six hours away and for which your boyfriend has made a begrudging effort to work into the itinerary solely for your benefit. As a result, Saturday morning came way too early, and wresting myself from my blanket cocoon was no easy task as my brain and heavy eyelids duked it out:
BRAIN: You should get up. Merimbula. Coaster. Thunderstorms.
HEAVY EYELIDS: No. Too comfortable.
BRAIN: Get up.
HEAVY EYELIDS: You’ve already won this Valentine’s Day. You and Richard are spending it together. You won. Sleep. Sleep more.
BRAIN: You’re not going to convince him to make this drive a third time if the reason you get there too late is your fault.
HEAVY EYELIDS: Isn’t love enough?
I heaved the covers off my shoulder.
When we set off, the sun’s rays were just starting to clear the tops of the lowest buildings. In fact, I wore sunglasses for most of the drive (at least the bits I was awake for). The nagging fear of arriving too late dissipated as we drove past fields of radiant green and an azure ocean flecked with sparkles. The closer we got to Merimbula, however, the more overcast it became. By the time we arrived, the so-called Sapphire Coast was anything but: dull grays had supplanted the rich blues of sea and sky, and the tall trees lining the road made it even gloomier. Still, there wasn’t any rain yet. I had another brief interval of worry that the park might have chosen to remain closed in anticipation of stormy weather, but that faded when I saw the car park entrance was open. I breathed a sigh of relief. There were cars in the lot, there were people, things were looking good—
“Oh no,” I said. “Oh no no no no no.”
Two guys standing at the apex of the lift, poking at something and looking puzzled? That’s a closed coaster, alright. We watched one of them descend the stairs and climb back up with a camera. He began photographing something at the side of the track.
Oh no. Oh no no no no no this was NOT looking good.
“What do we do?” I asked.
“We go in and at least do the Toboggan Run,” answered Richard.
We went in. The Toboggan Run was closed.
(I guess the kangaroo out front should have told me.)
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a special place:
For it is here, amongst these red, plastic pieces of product placement, that I came, I sat, I humpphed, and I moped.
Yea, behold the Chair of Mopiness!
See the spectacular show of sulking and scowling! Marvel at such magnificent moping! Gaze upon that glower, partake in this pageantry of pouting!
(Can you spot any difference in temperament between these two? I can’t.)
Oh yes, how deeply I indulged in that mope session! And I know what you’re thinking, fellow credit whores, for I know you all understand my plight and are most certainly sitting there, staring at your screen, cooing with sympathy and muttering an encouraging phrase or two, perhaps along the lines of: Overreact much?
One closed coaster. That’s all it was. I mean sheesh, you’d have thought I’d never been to Six Flags Over Texas before or something. But to come all that way, only to be faced with the threat of having to do it all over again someday—and on the heels of last night’s failure—well, you know how they say it’s healthy to listen to your inner child now and again? That’s exactly what I did: I put myself in timeout. Actually, a juice box and a nap would have been more helpful (seriously, sleep deprivation does some fucked up shit to my emotions; dear lord you should see me during finals week) but the benefit of isolating myself in the Chair of Mopiness was that I had a direct view of the coaster. And so, while Richard went off to photograph*, I sulked and observed what was going on.
*leave me alone for his personal safety and sanity
And there was stuff going on. The two guys were still at it atop the lift. One went down the stairs and ducked beneath the station for a bit. Later I heard one of them calling out to the other something about a sensor. He asked the other guy to wave his hand in front of something so he could do a test. Whatever it was, they kept working on it.
And this is how my sulking time sprouted my admiration for this park. I want to make it clear that my ire was never directed at Merimbula itself. The only reason Toboggan Run was closed was because it had rained earlier and the slide had to dry before they could reopen it. And while the coaster may have been closed, I could see from the Chair of Mopiness the effort they were making to reopen it. Look at it this way: here was a park facing a dire weather forecast, yet still doing everything they could for those who did show up.
And now, a cross cultural comparison (hey, I did say this blog would have its anthropological moments):
Reopening Attractions Following Rain: Corporate American Parks vs. Merimbula
Corporate American parks: Please continue to remain by this chain and trash can and turn guests away.
Merimbula: Here’s a rag. Here’s a stick. Let’s get this thing open.
The thing that delighted me about this was not so much the ingenuity of the rag on a stick drying procedure.
(Although it was pretty damn charming, to be sure).
No, the thing that delighted me most was the total lack of that corporate “we’ve already pocketed their POP so who cares how long it takes to reopen rides” mentality. I grew up with a Cedar Fair park, and I am all too familiar with the outright absurdity of their policy that everything—everything—shuts down in the rain, even in the lightest of showers, and doesn’t reopen until about four months later.
(Including walkthrough attractions. Last summer at Kings Island, we thought Dinosaurs Alive! might be a good way to pass the time it’d take to reopen attractions following a light afternoon shower…but wait, what’s that? Oh, it’s a guy standing beside a barrier and trash can turning people away!)
Hmmmm, perhaps it’s not fair to do a cross cultural comparison between an alpine slide and a walkthrough attraction.
No bother; here’s Merimbula’s walkthrough dinosaur attraction, only here it’s called Triassic Park, and it’s not an upcharge, and its gates are wide the fuck open because this is a locally owned park whose policies are rooted in common sense, not some farcical corporate philosophy that probably contains the word “synergy” in it somewhere.
And so when Richard showed me that shot following his photographing/avoiding me circuit, I couldn’t help but smile…well, that might be too strong a word, but my spirits lifted. A little.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Maybe. A little.”
“Alright then, come on,” he said, grabbing my hand. “You’re crabby enough without adding hunger on top of it!”
Well, he had me there.
Over we went to the front of the park where this lovely old Melbourne tram car served as the snack stand. It may not have been a juice box, but the order of fries I got from it began to restore some semblance of the properly functioning human I sometimes pretend but, let’s be honest, generally fail to be.
And as I came back to life, so too did Merimbula. The park-wide radio started up; the next moment, a voice announced over the PA system that Toboggan Run had reopened. At that, Richard dashed to the ticket stand, dashed back with a ticket and gave a simple command: “Go.”
“No, I’ll wait for y—”
“No, I’ve ridden it before. Go ride before it rains again. I’ll hold onto the fries.”
I so do not deserve him.
And now, our second cross cultural comparison:
Instructions on Piloting Alpine Slides/Coasters: America vs. Merimbula
America: Please sign this waiver, watch this safety video, listen to the same safety warnings repeated again and again in the queue, listen to them still again (and again and again and again) up the lift, and read the safety warning signs posted every ten feet along same.
Merimbula (and basically everywhere else): Don’t be a dumb ass.
As an American, I am used to being babysat. I am used to waiting for instruction, to being treated like a liability. Not that I don’t let out an exasperated sigh and lament that I hail from the place that made it necessary to put “caution: hot” labels on coffee cups. But when that’s what you’re used to, I was surprised to find no one at the head of the line to direct me to a sled. I stood there awkwardly, wondering if I was allowed to step forward and take the next empty sled (which seemed like the commonsensical thing to do but hey, I’ve been scolded at American parks for doing other seemingly commonsensical things like buckling my own restraint). Finally an attendant on the far side of the track waved me forward and told me to hop in the next sled. Like, by myself. Without any assistance or hand holding. Madness!
But it got weirder.
“Have you ever ridden this before?” the ride attendant asked.
“I’ve been on rides similar to this, but not this particular one,” I replied.
“Okay, so you know what you’re doing, you know how to move it and brake it?”
“Okay then!” And he stamped my hand.
Wait, that was it? I thought back to the time I’d given that answer for an alpine coaster—and even explained exactly how to operate the sled to back up my claim—and was still made to watch the five minute safety video, which left me a) determined to lie next time and b) amazed how it was even possible to convey “push means go; pull means stop” with so much verbosity. What was this? First he trusts me to approach an active ride track on my own, then he trusts that I’m telling the truth when I say I’ve ridden one of these before (which, for the record, was true), and now I’m wearing a stamp on my hand as a pledge of responsibility for my actions?
But it got weirder still.
“So since you’ve done these before, do you want a fast ride?”
I am reminded, as I type this, of the recent alpine coaster installations in Pigeon Forge that have automatic braking into every turn (which, ironically, doesn’t seem to enhance safety in any way); how it feels like there’s an invisible, chastising arm forever checking you and holding you back—an arm attached to an entity that does not fully trust you (which is reasonable judgement in a nation that’s brought Trump this far). But a ride attendant timing sled departures so we could go balls out and court disaster if we so desired? I smiled for the first time all afternoon. “Of course!” I answered.
Buying that time, however, came at the cost of acknowledging another disaster: my Philadelphia accent.
As I was quickly learning that Australians are the human equivalent of golden retrievers when it comes to friendliness, it didn’t surprise me when he started conversation and asked where I was from, remarking that he’d place my accent either from the U.S. or Canada (Canada, I am so, so sorry). We got to chatting about the usual stuff—how had my holiday been, how long was I there, where had I visited so far, etc.
“So what did you think of Sydney?” he asked.
“Well, we weren’t there long but I liked what I saw.”
He laughed. “I lived there for fifty years. That’s why I’m here!” (Okay, so maybe the unconditional kindness of a golden retriever wasn’t the best analogy for Australians after all.)
Better stick with the tried and true Australian cast of characters. Luckily, the next part of this tale is getting swallowed by this shark. If that’s not an Australian way to begin an alpine slide, I don’t know what is.
And speaking of sharks, you know how when there are signs on the beach that say to stay out of the water, you stay the hell out of the water? And you know how alpine slides have signs that tell you when to brake, but we tend to ignore them because we’re not called enthusiasses for nothing? Please let this shark be a reminder that you should maybe consider paying attention to those signs now and then.
The difference between an alpine coaster and an alpine slide is whether or not you’re locked to the track. Merimbula’s installation is the latter. As a result, there are no upstop wheels to hold you down if you go max power around a bend.
That means you are your own lifeguard. It is up to you to not make a dumb ass (or possibly a dead ass) of yourself when you take those turns. In this layout, there were so many tight, banked turns I lost count, but in every one of them I felt vulnerable, knowing that if I hit them too recklessly I might replace the Chair of Mopiness with the Hospital Bed of Mopiness—and it would all be my fault. That element of danger lends a special sort of thrill to alpine slides.
It also lends a little more power to that voice in your head whose job is to prevent you from winning a Darwin award. And so I braked. A little :)
I subsequently learned that Richard took the turns a bit more, shall we say, energetically. He didn’t wipe out.
But I’d wager he was relieved when the cable lift took over control at the end of the course.
I was too, but it wasn’t so much the relief of having made it to the end in one piece as it was the relief that at least our long drive had been worth something.
My primary targets for Merimbula were the coaster and Toboggan Run. Now that I had checked one of them off, now that the drive had not been in vain, I felt better. Not better enough that I didn’t feel like a garbage human being to find that Richard (despite the threat of more rain) had waited patiently to ride until after he’d handed back the fries. But better enough that I was ready to put on my big girl panties and properly explore Merimbula. (It probably also helped that racing through a green and gray blur of hillside and sky worked wonders for waking me up, particularly when I had nothing but own brain to decide if my health insurance policy wanted to enter a committed relationship with the sharp stones and splintery sticks on the ground.)
And so, even though we are well into this trip report, let’s make a proper entrance.
Merimbula’s Magic Mountain opened in November 1983. It is locally owned and operated…
…has free admission…
…protects the intelligent lot who wish not to inhale fetid, carcinogenic clouds…
…and provides free birth control by reminding you of every film you’ve seen about demonic children.
But if you can overlook the fact that many of their signs look like they were inspired by Snapchat filters…
…(at least they went with something besides the dog filter)…
…it is a lovely park.
According to their website, their first attraction was this pair of waterslides. Subsequent expansion brought in a diverse collection of rides that leads me to define Merimbula as a deluxe FEC. It’s not an amusement park as I’d think of the term in the traditional sense, meaning that it’s not a ride-heavy park. The usual cast of characters—carousel, Ferris wheel, Scrambler, funhouse, kiddie umbrella circle rides, etc.—is absent. While it does have the alpine slide and a coaster that is certainly a step up from the usual (and often pathetic, at least for adults) FEC fare, many of its offerings resonate with those found at your basic FEC.
For example, this giant inflatable.
And mini golf.
And go karts.
But when I say Merimbula feels like a deluxe FEC, it’s not just because the attractions are outdoors in the fresh air as opposed to inside some crowded, neon-carpeted arcade pulsating with the steady cannonade of video racing games and the singsong bleeping of redemption games (in other words, the kind of environment that slowly drains my will to live). It’s because they’ve gone above and beyond the norm for the FEC genre, both in how they’ve capitalized on their outdoor location to offer a wider and more interesting variety of attractions and in the effort they’ve devoted to presentation.
For instance, they could have just plopped these stumps along this pathway and left it at that. Nothing wrong with a few stumps au naturel. Believe me, I am all about the au naturel look. Life’s too short to spend failing to imitate, however hilariously, YouTube contouring tutorials. But no, Merimbula decided that even stumps deserve the Sephora treatment now and again.
Hell, even their welcome clown’s smoky eye is better than I could ever do.
And they could have consigned this old woman to live in a frayed and moth-eaten advertisement for Odor-Eaters, but instead they gave her a boot fit for a Thanksgiving centerpiece (look, let’s just say we don’t go for sophisticated in my family).
As for maximizing the potential of their outdoor setting, Merimbula offers an amphitheater via the Rocka House stage.
The outdoor go kart track is educational because it simulates a real road, complete with real life Australian road perils such as policemen and emus.
And then there’s their latest addition, Tree Climb Challenge, which takes your standard ropes course and stretches it across most of the park, using the trees to anchor its various components, which include…
…obstacle courses (high wires, rope bridges, etc.)…
…and zip lines.
Ropes courses are by no means a novelty at FECs, but they are usually compact, occupying only a small footprint. Merimbula, on the other hand, gives you an hour and a half to complete Tree Climb Challenge, which ought to tell you something. There are three courses in total. You have the option of trying all three or you can repeat a particular course as many times as you want if you happen to really like it/don’t want to get too creative in making a monkey out of yourself.
In the gift shop you’ll find plenty of Tree Climb Challenge souvenirs, such as this t-shirt and painful awareness of muscles you never knew you had. The latter even comes with a free existential crisis in which to ponder your unstoppable march toward bodily decrepitude and death.
All in all, Merimbula has a little bit of everything.
Well, except a working coaster.
Following a round of photos, Richard and I walked back to thy Hallowed Chair of Mopiness to see what was going on with Diamond Python. Richard had asked about it when he bought Toboggan Run tickets and learned the coaster was down due to a minor electrical issue. The ticket seller, however, was confident it would reopen: she had just received word over her radio that it was fixed and now it was just a matter of finding a ride operator.
I was less confident. The station was vacant, and I thought I heard thunder in the distance. The ticket seller had also reassured Richard the coaster operated in the rain—well, “most times, at least!” she had chirped. Somehow I didn’t think a raging thunderstorm constituted a “most times” situation.
So you could say we were a little tense. We had already been there two hours. There was still a four hour drive ahead of us (which we’d agreed I would do, except four hours was a Google estimate, which surely did not take into account the “Megan is driving for the first time ever on the left side of the road run away run away now” factor). A dinner stop would be necessary. We’d spent the last couple days operating on a sleep deficit. At what point does rationality kick in and make you abort?
Well, we’re coaster enthusiasts, so obviously that’s a rhetorical question.
As it happened, one of the guys from earlier materialized and began poking around an electrical box. Then he pulled out a fuchsia notebook and proceeded to write a dissertation about the issue, or at least that’s what I assumed given how long he was at it. All I know is that with every passing minute, I saw my chances of riding this coaster drift ever further away, as though carried on the pre-storm breezes ominously rustling through the trees. At last he jumped off the station platform. The only part of him we could see from where we were standing was his arm, which was tugging at something. Then a buzzing noise started up. Was that the compressor? My heart leapt. Few things are sweeter to an enthusiast’s ear than a closed coaster’s compressor finally coming to life (well, except for maybe the call that the buffet line is open). Come on, I was thinking. Start ‘er up, start ‘er up, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, get back out here!
And he did get back out there.
With a leaf blower.
He was—he was—
Oh my god.
He was blowing leaves. He was blowing the goddamn leaves. There was the coaster, fixed, ready, waiting. There I was, having heart palpitations over the threat of losing to Mother Nature for a second year in a row. I felt like I was in that scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark’s entire family is entreating him to open the Christmas bonus envelope. Just open the freaking thing! I wanted to yell.
But nope. Got to tidy the yard first.
And it was at that moment I realized: Merimbula, I love you. Okay, so the leaf blowing was probably necessary to clear the lift motor of any debris. But the guy didn’t stop there. No, he was determined to clear the entire area. Which he did, slowly.
Like, really slowly.
In fact, he went about it not at all unlike a former neighbor of mine, who would invariably choose a windy day for breaking out the leaf blower, which brought my mom and I to our knees laughing uproariously when the leaves came blowing right back at him, and then laughing harder still as he continued, unhurried and steadfast in his futile task.
At Merimbula, I was laughing again. It was all I could do, caught in this entanglement of impatience and adoration for a park that insisted on cleaning up their attractions down to the landscaping before opening them. We’d made it past the stand at the top of the lift looking confused bit, past the tinkering and diagnosing the problem bit, past the fixing of the problem bit. A ride op had been sent for. That credit was now so damn close, yet here we were, thwarted by some leaves.
So, was this whole experience going to end with a one year subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club? Who would emerge victorious in this year’s Megan v. Mother Nature Valentine’s Day showdown?
As Richard muttered in exasperation about Leaf Man’s devotion to preparing the scene for a Better Homes and Gardens shoot, the star of the show finally arrived: a ride operator. We watched as he walked up the queue ramp and entered the station. Tentatively, we followed. The barrier blocking the entrance was gone now, but he was fiddling with something and his back was to us as we approached the station. Was there still a final kink or two to sort? I quietly ventured up the ramp (I mean, I could have just called out to ask the guy directly but then, like, he might have sensed I was one of those desperate coaster enthusiasts) (haha just kidding, the truth is that I sound like a rheumatic seagull when I yell). He turned around. Smiled. Moment of truth.
“Come on in!”
What I was thinking: ::Cheering level: Stephen Colbert studio audience on the Obama episode::
What I said: “Thank you!”
What he said: “I noticed you were waiting awhile; thanks for being patient.”
What he was thinking*: Get a load of these lamewad desperate coaster enthusiasts!
What Richard said: “‘Patient’ might be too a strong word.”
I shot Richard a Look. Patient or not, at least they eventually got it open.
And boy, was it worth the wait, because Diamond Python was the goddamn best Pinfari I’d ever been on. You might think that’s not saying terribly much—kind of like saying periodontal surgery is your favorite kind of invasive dental procedure—but hear me out.
So we got into the car, which, after such a long wait, was already more satisfying in and of itself than most Pinfaris (not to mention that a motionless Pinfari car tends to be infinitely more enjoyable than a moving one, but anyway). The ride op gave the usual spiel—hang onto the grab bar, the brakes come on strong at the end, do you enthusiast types know how ridiculous you are, etc.—and off we went.
(Leaf Man had by this time moved to the coaster’s perimeter, in case you were wondering.)
Up the lift we went…
…past the troublemaker that started it all…
…around the bend, down the first drop, around the next bend. So far, so good. So far, so…well, not very remarkable. In other words, so far, so normal.
We crested the second drop, went down, came back up…
…and then POP!
How surprised were we that a Pinfari Zyklon had ejector airtime? Well, Richard and I squealed, which means absolutely nothing on my end (I mean, I get that excited when Cracker Barrel rolls out their campfire chicken every summer; it really doesn’t take much), but if you’ve met Richard, that should give you an idea of how startled—and delighted—we were at finding our asses clearing the seat by…I’m not sure how many inches, but surely the angle of my knees was greater than ninety degrees (you should really try that chicken if you haven’t, by the way). It’s not that airtime on these is unheard of. Usually, though, Zyklons/Galaxis are tame and predictable; if your bum does depart the seat, it’s not going to travel very far. To have a spot of airtime so aggressive we were on our way to standing was therefore on the level of, say, getting something that actually resembles food from a United economy meal. There was even one more surprise pop near the end of the ride. It wasn’t as strong as the first one, so I suppose I could describe that one as getting something edible for the snack portion of United’s economy catering service, but if I keep relating my honest experience with such outright impossible scenarios, you won’t believe me.
Suffice it to say Diamond Python exceeded my expectations and then some. It ticked all the boxes of your typical Zyklon: it was smooth, pleasant and overall good fun. Normally, these traits are like the consolation prize for a ride that lacks any real thrills (kind of like the flowers Richard had sent me last year to make up for our cheerless Valentine’s Day). Today, they joined forces with…well, actual forces.
And if that’s not enough reason to walk down the exit ramp with my arms held triumphantly in the air like Muhammad Ali, I don’t know what is. Well, except for maybe another ride. Which we did, of course. The ride op invited us and surely it would have been rude to say no. I figured there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it back to this place anyway and Richard swears he means it this time when he says he’s not making this pilgrimage again (psssst, Merimbula! That’s your cue to add a B&M!). Besides, I was in such a beneficent mood, kindly returning the favor of that certain special one finger salute Mother Nature had gifted me last year. But first, we had to buy another pair of tickets, so off I went.
Ticket Sales: Corporate Parks vs. Merimbula
Corporate Parks: The forecast is taking a turn for the worse and lots of rides will probably close soon, so quickquickquick, hand over your money! BTW, no rainchecks or refunds.
Merimbula: The forecast doesn’t look good and rides are starting to close, so we recommend you come another time rather than risk wasting your money.
When I got to the ticket booth, the woman behind the desk was going against every corporate philosophy I’d ever witnessed by talking a couple who’d just arrived out of buying unlimited wristbands. She warned the forecast was almost certainly going to interrupt ride operations (some errant raindrops had already closed down Toboggan Run again) and that the rides would be closing for the day soon, anyway. She suggested they return the next day, when the forecast looked much better. Now I ask you: what kind of business dissuades customers from giving them money? What kind of place cares that much about their customers getting value for their dollar that they actively seek to prevent those dollars from going to waste? When I think back to some of my recent park experiences, it is heartening to find smaller parks like Merimbula who realize that profit does not always correlate with customer satisfaction. I am not kidding when I say that, given the choice, I’d choose to spend an afternoon at a place like Merimbula with its lone, run of the mill Pinfari Zyklon instead of dealing with the extortion and hostility of a place like Six Flags New England just for the sake of a few rides on Wicked Cyclone.
Don’t believe me? How about if I tell you that the single ride op manning Diamond Python managed the entire operation—loading, monitoring when the car on the track had reached the block in order to dispatch the next one, pushing that car out of the station, running to meet you at the unloading point, and then doing it all again and again for all three cars running—not only efficiently, but with a smile and friendly chat to boot?
Last time at SFNE, the four to five person Wicked Cyclone team took about five minutes to dispatch a train (perhaps this was because they were down a pair of hands thanks to the crew member they kept posted at the entrance to yell at guests who tried to pick their own row?).
How Merimbula makes me feel
How corporate, profiteering parks make me feel
(In case you’re wondering, this is an exhibit of a mammoth trapped in a tar pit, taken from Merimbula’s Triassic Park attraction (remember? The one that isn’t an upcharge and doesn’t close for asinine reasons?) I learned from this exhibit that those poor mammoths were sometimes eaten alive by sabre toothed tigers as they sank. If that’s not an accurate metaphor of the money and sanity gouging despondency of some of those larger parks, I don’t know what is.) (And no, I don’t know why a creature that didn’t appear until millions of years after the Triassic period is part of this attraction, but I figure if I can use it to show the difference between this Magic Mountain and a certain Tragic Mountain in California, then its inclusion is more than justified.)
And, speaking of…
…whose entry gate font is totally dissimilar from other audiovisual presentations pertaining to dinosaurs, such as those from the Jurassic period, we took a gander in there before heading out.
You’re probably wondering to yourself about now, besides the usual question of how I can ramble on for so long in these trip reports (believe me, that question’s mutual), if I have anything negative to say about Merimbula. Well, I do.
Triassic Park failed to offer an acceptable Dinosaurs to Shirtless Jeff Goldblum ratio.
What fun could this possibly be without the quips and glistening chest of Dr. Ian Malcolm?
I’m sure you’ll understand what a huge disappointment that was.
In the end, though, I couldn’t complain. Not just because I almost forever destroyed my ability to complain when I nearly got us killed within five minutes of driving on the left side of the road for the first time (now in my defense, it was in a multilane roundabout, and being American automatically predisposes me to halt all logical decision making when it comes to those things). And not just because I’m obviously being sarcastic (which I feel the need to clarify in today’s environment of my generation bending so far over to show off how butthurt they are by everything on the Internet that sarcasm sails right over their heads).
It’s because the day could hardly have gone any better. I mean, yeah, okay, I could have done without the Chair of Mopiness part, but I will own up to that as my own doing. But, unlike some self-entitled enthusiasses out there who rant, object, bitch, bellyache and leave vehement, embittered yowlings on social media platforms when they don’t get their way, my quiet sulking opened my receptors to notice a truly lovely park. Future travelers, Merimbula’s Magic Mountain is well worth a visit. You simply can’t go wrong with its pleasant atmosphere, delightful staff, surprisingly excellent coaster, and such thorough lawn and leaf care demonstrations.
I was also flying high because our risky endeavor paid off. We gave ourselves one shot to get a credit in a park so far removed from everything on a continent so far removed from everything, and we managed it despite such a discouraging start.
But most satisfying of all was that Richard and I finally, finally got to spend a Valentine’s Day together. I know I said I couldn’t be arsed about Valentine’s Day, and I stand by that. Frankly, I don’t think I would have even noticed the date if it hadn’t been for the previous year’s fiasco. But that disastrous weekend, during which I eventually boycotted Facebook because I was too disgusted by all the photos of lovey dovey couples, stuck with me. It was one thing to be down a boyfriend, but to lose the most critical component of my procrastination routine, too? Unforgivable.
Spending the day together at a terrific park wasn’t the only thing that made our Valentine’s Day special, though. The fact that Richard went so far out of his way just for me—the fact that he went all the way to Australia, only to repeat a ridiculously time consuming drive that he’d sworn never do again but did anyway, solely for my benefit—well, that’s true love in the coaster enthusiast world.
How could I not feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have landed someone who got me this rare diamond for Valentine’s Day?
Which reminds me, I’d better go and humblebrag about that on Instagram.