Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beary Christmas

It's not every day you get invited to a polar bear Christmas party, so when a media release popped into my inbox, the kids and I wasted no time in hot-footing it to the Gold Coast.

(Okay, we hot-footed it into the car, pausing only for me to program the GPS. For once it didn't direct me to the middle of nowhere and insist I had reached my fricking destination!)

And so we made it to Sea World on the Gold Coast in plenty of time to join Queensland's version of The Polar Bear Express.

Yes, a team of about seven handlers had spent several weeks sourcing and wrapping and freezing and flavouring presents for Sea World's resident polar bears.

And you thought wrapping kids' presents was tough!

To help mimic behaviour in the wild, and to bring out instinctive behaviours, the staff had frozen treats like toys and dried fruit in blocks of ice, so the bears would have to work for their special gifts.

Some blocks of ice were covered and flavoured - scents like vanilla and curry are apparently particularly enjoyed by the bears.

Other treats and toys had been wrapped in traditional style presents and boxes.

The handlers explained that unlike most animals, polar bears instinctively know what they can and cannot eat, so will not devour cardboard, paper, tinsel or any other product except food, drink and ice. And so we saw them sniff, paw, and tear their way through the wrappings in order to reach their gifts. Aren't they clever?

There were some 120 different ice-block presents, plus an assortment of other treats like popcorn and balls. (Who knew that polar bears are partial to popcorn?)

Sea World is closed on Christmas Day, so the beary merry Christmas was brought forward for visitors could join in the fun.

On the day itself, various staff will visit and interact with the bears, and treat them to a special Christmas dinner - a 20 kg tuna each!

And it's well-deserved. Sea World’s Polar Bears, Hudson, Nelson and Liya,
are ambassadors for their species and play a vital role in rasing awareness of the effects of global warning.

Research indicates that Polar Bear numbers in the wild are declining, with between 20,000 - 22,000 bears remaining world wide.

For the new year, staff have fingers and toes crossed that 2011 may bring the pitter patter of tiny polar bear paws.

Technically, the boys, Hudson and Nelson are ready, but as far as staff know, they haven't acted on any mating instincts.

Liya is apparently particularly fond of Nelson, so who knows what a year could bring?

Readers, what are you hoping for this Christmas?

Hmm, I wonder what this is?

"Ooh, this one looks interesting!"

"This tinsel is nothing to sniff at! Where's the food?"

"Oh wow, clearly I was a very good bear this year..."

Photos courtesy of Sea World on the Gold Coast


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Genesis: The Magic Spectacular

The highlight of our recent mini-break on the Gold Coast, was three seats in the audience at Genesis: The Magic Spectacular.
The show, headed by Swedish illusionist Joe Labero, is Jupiter's Hotel and Casino's latest attraction.
Joe was once voted the world's Magician Of The Decade, and it's easy to see why.
We weren't allowed to take photos during the performance, but suffice to say, the kids were spellbound.
Weeks later, it's all Mr 9 can talk about, and he's keen to become a magician/illusionist just like Joe.
I have to be honest here, and declare that, for me personally, the show was a tiny bit dated. But I've been lucky enough to travel the world and see shows in places like Las Vegas, so I'm a little bit spoiled.
But there was still plenty to love, and make no mistake, the audience LOVED Joe, and his illusions, and his team.
My kids most of all.
I doubt that there's anything as cool or as polished or as unique as this show anywhere else in Australia, and Joe, quite clearly, rocks it.
The man himself, began his career at the age of 12 when he received a magician’s box from his parents. His magic shows became an essential ingredient for children’s parties and school dances, and he turned  professional and famous just eight years later.
We're certainly lucky to have an entertainer like Joe Labero to share his magic in Australia.
You can get an idea of some of the action here.
 Before the show. The kids liked the creepy dudes who hung around looking erm, creepy.

 H. summons her best scaredy-cat expression, while Mr 9 acts nonplussed

 Please tell me how you took your head off?

The kids with their latest hero.

If you go: Genesis, The Magic Spectacular, is playing at the Jupiter's Hotel And Casino on the Gold Coast. Go here for details.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jupiters Gold Coast Hotel And Casino

Sometimes it's the last minute breaks that are the best.

The kids are used to me doing things at the last hour, and so it was, that I checked my email inbox the other day and saw a great deal via wotif's mystery hotel deal.

We had a couple of days free - it's school holidays after all - so I asked them for 10 minutes while I checked the deal out (and booked it). Then, we threw a few things into the car - mainly swimmers and sunscreen - and headed south.

I don't gamble, and with a couple of kids, I knew I wouldn't be able to.  (Children aren't allowed inside Australian casinos, and nor should they be. However, they are allowed inside the hotel parts).

In any case, the restriction didn't bother me, or them. It was the rest, relaxation, and room service that we were after!

And we got it in spades.

After days of almost torrential rain, we lucked into some sunny weather.

The hotel part of the casino has been upgraded since I last visited - probably about ten years or so ago - and the pool has a Las Vegas-esque feel.

I relaxed on a cushioned sun bed as the kids swam, before they talked me into joining them. I'm usually a wimp when it comes to swimming, but the temperature was perfect and I found myself enjoying it just as much as they were.

We also tried out the spas - yes plural - and we shared lunch by the pool. Fish, chips and salad. Mr 9 had the fish, Miss 7 had the chips, and I got the salad. $12 to feed the three of us - bargain!

That night, we took in the Genesis show, Jupiters' latest hit show.

Led by illusionist Joe Labero, it was a little bit old-fashioned by my standards - but hey I'm a jaded journo. In contrast, the audience, and more importantly, my kids, loved it. Mr 9 already wants to be like Joe when he grows up.

We shared room service for dinner, and spent the next morning by the pool. It would have been great if the pool menu had been a little more extensive. My kids (and me too for that matter), would have loved to have breakfast by the pool, and they'd already tried what they wanted to eat the day before.

All too soon, our one night holiday was over and it was time to go home.

The kids are already begging to return and I have to say a HUGE thank you to the team at Jupiters. When Mr 9 left his precious Nintendo DS charger there, the staff located it and posted it straight home.

Nowhere like Queensland hey?


 Taking in the view from our 17th floor room

 The pool soon became our base

 My view, before I decided to join them ...

 Mr 9 loved living large

 Kudos to the chef ...

 A free ride on the monorail to the Oasis Shopping Centre, Broadbeach

 Mr 9 wasn't sure it was safe ...

 But he soon relaxed over an extortionately priced ice-cream with Miss 7

A fellow 'guest'. 'I hope they remembered to do my steak the way I like it'.

 Ready for the Genesis show

 Miss 7 does her best 'scaredy-cat' face, while Mr 9 tries to act cool...

 A little of Missy Through The Looking Glass going on ...
 One, two, three ...Woo hoo!
I'm glad they cleared up the fact that Skinny Dipping Is Not An Option, cos I totally would have been nuding it up ...

Readers, do you find short breaks can be as reviving as longer ones?

Friday, December 3, 2010

School's out for summer ...

My kids finished school this week in a blur of carols, cards, and candy canes.

For our family that means one thing: Christmas holidays! Six long, lovely weeks.

When I was a kid, Christmas holidays meant sucking ice to keep cool, lying on my tummy with the dog and/or cat, and watching cricket with my brothers. In the morning and later afternoon, I playing cricket in the backyard, or tennis out the front with my brothers. Or went biking, yabbying, walking my dog to visit my Nana.

We generally got two weeks away somewhere too. It was never anywhere posh, but it was fun.

For years, we rented a holiday house in Hervey Bay from friends who owned it. It still had an old-fashioned dunny - out-house - sitting under a mango tree. I was always terrified of using the thing, dodging snakes and cane toads and worrying that one would climb up and bite me on the bum! Hervey Bay was the first place I ever tried soft serve ice-cream, and it was often an after dinner treat. It was also the first place I ever used a shower. (We had a bath at home, and showers were considered fancy).

There were sandflies and mosquitos, and long days at the beach. Dad would squeeze the mangos by hand to make home-made mango ice-blocks. I tried not to think about the thunderbox while eating them. The mangos clearly. Obviously, I did not eat thunderboxes.)


In later years, we often caravanned, which was a little piece of hell, given the six of us were sharing a four-berth van. Some years we took the family dog along as well. No air-conditioning, no TV and one father and two brothers meant many stinky, sleepless nights.

Dad didn't like Mum and my sister and I going to the loos in the middle of the night, so he had special bucket for us to pee in. It was his job to empty it the next day, which would always make me giggle. I still remember the noise the sound of someone peeing in it made, and I still believe my brothers also used the wee bucket, because sometimes it was almost overflowing by morning!

The upside of caravanning was we got to holiday at great spots. On the esplanade by the Maroochy River. On the beach at Mon Repos beach, where we'd go out late at night to watch the turtles lay their eggs.

Gorgeous. My days were spent swimming, walking the beach, and reading as many books as I could lay my hands on.

The one thing we never get in Queensland for Christmas is snow. (Even though, as a child, I prayed and bargained and wished my hardest for a White Christmas. Let's face it: I still do).

So you can imagine how intrigued I was by an invitation to Warner Bros. Movie World's first ever Christmas Wonderland experience.

Held over eight magical nights at Movie World, the White Christmas events include snow falling on Main Street, a spectacular display of one million fair lights and an enchanting ice-skating show performed by Looney Tunes characters in true Movie World style.

Sadly, I didn't have my kids the night Movie World had their media preview, so we didn't get to review the experience for you.

But my spies tell me Movie World's Christmas Wonderland is awesome. And guess what? The name of Movie World's general manager is Bob White! Love it!
“The Movie World White Christmas event is like nothing we have ever done before," says Mr White. "The park will be transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland with a dazzling Christmas Parade full of colour and light, all under a glistening white snowy sky."

And of course, there will be loads of other family entertainment as well:  Rides, Christmas Carollers, a special Polar Express 4-D screening and of course Santa Claus.

The White Christmas evenings began on Thursday December 9, and continued yesterday, and will continue tonight and tomorrow night. From then on they will run on Thursday 16 December,  Friday 17 December,
Saturday 18 December, and finally Sunday 19 December.
White Christmas tickets are $39.99 for adults, children and pensioners. For the best value theme park pass including one free entry into White Christmas, purchase a VIP Pass* for just $99.99 and receive unlimited entry to Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild until June 30, 2011.

Visit for more details.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pee in a pocket

When you've gotta go, you've gotta go.

There's nothing worse than that awful feeling that you either need to wee or poo, and there is not a loo in sight.

Men have things slightly easier than us girls. Not only do we have to put up with pregnancy and mummy bladders, but we just can't whip out a handy appendage and go anywhere. As men seem to delight in doing, particularly if they've had more than a few drinks.

Have you ever seen those yellow-filled soft drink bottles which litter some of our busiest highways? Legend goes that male truckies and/or other long distance travellers, who don't have time for a wee break, keep an empty soft drink bottle handy, just in case of an emergency.

It seems that our long distance truckers are not always environmentally considerate, as many apparently toss those warm, full bottles, out of the window. Fast and convenient, without needing to make a pit-stop.

And how many times have you passed a car, with two doors open, and a trickle of bodily fluid running down the gutter from it? Yep, that's a child who needed to go Right Then And There And No I Cannot Bake it Mum.

(Only, occasionally it may be a woman with a mummy bladder after a few too many wines ... But I'm not naming names here or I would be in Very Big Trouble indeed.)

If, like so many Australians, you have the need to pee urgently and often, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Pocket Toilet provides a lifeline to those who are regularly caught short.

Designed by Ardern Healthcare, the portaloo in a pocket costs under AUD$10, and is being touted as the perfect Christmas present.

That's because retailer Halfords discovered that last December, sales went up by 250 per cent. Stocking stuffer anyone?

But it's not just drivers who find the Pocket Toilet useful. Apparently, there are always spikes in sales during  music festivals like Glastonbury. And the portable portaloo is great for hikers and trampers, and in fact, anyone who wants to avoid long toilet queues and/or disgusting public loos.

Rest assured, the pocket toilet is said to be very discreet and easily fits into a glove compartment.
And while it's aimed at men "aged between 3 and 103" apparently, it can also be used by the ladies.

I couldn't find anywhere whether the PT (Pocket Toilet) is okay for number twos as well as wees, but Halfords reassures us that the product contains polymers that turn wee into a non-smelly, non-leaky gel. All in a handy plastic bag. Which generally can usually only be used for one wee, and you need to dispose of it later.

A Halfords spokesperson is quoted as saying: 'We want to help our customers stay on the move and enjoy their journeys.'


But seriously, wouldn't this be great for those long summer car journeys or treks through our national parks where we only want to leave behind our footprints?

Not to mention the perfect present for someone who has everything. (Except for a powerful bladder).

Still I wouldn't know whether to be offended or pleased if someone gave me a PT for Christmas...


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Halloween Carnival, Manly, part two

And so it's time to share part two of our day at the Halloween Carnival at Manly, Brisbane.
The stalls featured a weird and wonderful collection of products for sale.

Including this witch, who is sitting on a toilet while eating an ice-cream. If you push a button she cackles madly and her eyes go red. Yes, the kids did want one, and yes, I said no!

Then there were elegant stalls, like this one which featured handmade jewellery, bags and funny little scary monster balls which the kids loved.

Trick or treat bags and carved pumpkins were everywhere ...

A bonding moment with their bonanza of toys

It was a hot day, so Miss 7 enjoyed a snow cone. Thankfully, she didn't choose this flavour, which is wrong on so many levels.

This was a monster of a jumping castle!

The laughing clowns. Every child a winner (of some useless crap).

The Manly Halloween Carnival was one of the more unusual public events we've been to.
Readers, have you been to any interesting days out lately?


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halloween Carnival, Manly (Part One)

I have never celebrated Halloween in Australia.
In previous years, there have been times when the kids have pestered me to buy a pumpkin and carve it, dress them up, and let them go trick or treating.
And each time, I've said no, because it's not an Aussie tradition.
But this year, we discovered that the Wynnum-Manly area of Brisbane celebrates Halloween every single year.
Always suckers for a good marketing campaign, the kids saw the ads on television and pestered me to go.
And when the Halloween Carnival Day dawned fine and clear, and with no better plan in place, I agreed to take them.  (Note: It wasn't on actual Halloween, but the day before - which was even better as kids got to celebrate twice!)
We got there soon after the celebrations began, which meant many stalls were still setting up and/or were trying to entice customers.
Which meant the kids had a better chance than average of taking home a prize. (And I managed to find a free parking space within walking distance of the event. For The Win!)
Sideshow Alley, Halloween style. I'm not sure about the No Losers promise though ...

Mr 9 was stoked to win a penguin from one of the stalls, outclassing adults in the same category. (The first person to get an Elmo to the top of a pole was the winner. Not even touching what is wrong with all that. Because, well, look! My boy got a penguin!)
My 9 very generously gave Miss 7 his points from the fishing stall, to add to hers. That meant she got a pick from the Big Toys Section. She chose a husky dog.
(And can I say how proud I am on Mr 9 that he did that? They both could have had a reasonably-sized pink or blue dinosaur each, but he wanted his sister to get a good prize too, so did a deal with gum-chewing Carnie. That is a huge achievement for Mr 9, who, as an Aspie, used to struggle with showing his feelings or acknowledging those of others.
An Unlucky Dip. Love it!

When Miss 7 managed to get a husky of her own, Mr 9 was slightly regretting his grand gesture ...

Usually we'd visit the region for sights like these....

Miss 7 was entranced by the creepy hand lollie basket
Then it was Mr 9's turn to get grabbed whilst grabbing a lollie

Did you celebrate Halloween this year?  (MTC)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spring fever

Spring is one of my favourite times to live in Queensland.
It's warm enough to go sleeveless at night or head to the beach, but not so hot that you melt everytime you go outside.  (Or inside if you're not fortunate enough to have air-conditioning.)
The risk of skin cancer isn't quite as high as in summer. In fact, with my fair skin and freckles, I find it too hot to swim in summer, unless it's before dawn or after sunset.
True, we've had way more rain and storms than in previous years, which points to a hot and stormy summer. (Can you believe that just a few short years ago we were in the grip of a drought!)
Spring is the perfect time of year to take off on a sunny day and head to one of our famous beaches or national parks.
If you're lucky, a spring getaway is awesome, because hotels and resorts offer bargain rates and packages before the summer peak period hits.
Take this one: The Atlantis Marcoola is a family-friendly Sunshine Coast resort, just an hour or two from Brisbane, depending on where you live.
This is one of my favourite beaches in Queensland. It's beautiful, quite wild, and usually there are plenty of quiet spaces even on weekends and holidays.
We stayed at the resort a few years ago, and it was awesome. It was out of season, and the manager kindly upgraded us to an apartment with an ocean view at no extra charge.
The rooms and suites were gorgeous and spacious, and we could have quite happily moved in there. There were free beach toys for the kids, not to mention a playground, lagoon pool, toddler pool, spa, tennis court, half-court basketball court, and free balls. (Tee hee, I just wrote free balls.)
There was free broadband wifi, a fitness area, and Austar as well.
Even better, the Atlantis Marcoola is right on the beach, which means no scary roads to cross with the kids. And there's a really long walkway where they can ride their scooters, bikes or skate to their hearts' content.
Like many other resorts, the Atlantis Marcoola is offering some great spring specials for those who need a break before the Silly Season mayhem begins. And apparently, the facilities have been refurbished since we last holidayed there.
The best thing about the Sunshine Coast is that so much of it is free!
You can look for koalas while walking in the Noosa National Park, swim under a waterfall then shop for arts and crafts in the hinterland, learn to surf, throw in a fishing line, or just roam the beach looking for shells and crabs.
Of course, there are loads of day spas for those who need pampering, and adventure sports for those who feel the need for an adrenalin rush.
Or you can just do what we usually do: Read, swim, spa, shop and eat far too much delicious food!
Readers, what do you love about Spring?
PhotobucketMarcoola Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nowhere like ... New York

I'm a Sagittarius, so I love to travel.
Having kids and a limited budget has kind of clipped my wings a little, but I can't wait for the day when I can jump on a plane, boat, car or train and travel to my hearts' content.
Some of my travel dreams include:
- A trip to Bangkok with a girlfriend so we can catch up with a very dear school friend who lives there. Oh and also so we can shop!
- A holiday in Samoa where we had the best family holiday ever about a year ago. The Samoans were so lovely, especially to the kids, and the country is just gorgeous. Not to mention extremely good value.
- New Zealand. I lived there for about 18 months, but saw very little of the country outside of Auckland, and I just fell in love with the place.
- A trip to the snow with the kids. Either in Australia, Japan, Europe, Canada, America or New Zealand.
- A trip to Cairns, where I have another dear friend, and where I spent many happy years when I was a young journalist.
- Back to Europe to see friends and family in England and Germany.
- Across to Western Australia, to visit my brother and his family and to explore the rest of the state. It's been a long-time dream to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia.
- I'd love to spend a summer in Greece, Turkey, France or Germany, writing, eating and lazing on the beach.
- A trip to Las Vegas, a city I've been to several times (and I don't even gamble, I just love it), and where another very dear friend lives. We used to have Saturday Movie Nights, eat chocolate, read magazines and have fun. I'd love another Movie Night with her!
And finally, this press release came across my desk this morning (okay, in my email inbox. Does anyone actually mail press releases anymore?)

Shop Til You Drop Package - from Doubletree hotels in New York City!

Visit the Big Apple and shop til you drop. This Bloomingdales Shop Til You Drop Package includes overnight stay ONLY at Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square or Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel PLUS the following items upon check-in:

- $50 Bloomingdales gift card.

- 15% Bloomingdales savings certificate.

- Complimentary Bloomingdales signature gift and package delivery from Bloomingdales to your hotel (on purchases of $250 or more).

- 10% Macy's savings certificate.
- 10% off at NHL Store.

- South Street Seaports savings packet.

- Complimentary champagne toast at Thalassa Restaurant.

- 20% off 50 or 80 minute spa treatment at Equinox (14 Wall Street location only).

- $15 off of Top Button's Walking Shopping Tour.
- 15% off at City Crab and Seafood Restaurant.

You can book Bloomingdales Shop Til You Drop Package by visiting

Sigh. Would that not be the ultimate girlie holiday?
I visited New York many years ago on a backpackers' budget, so didn't actually get to shop till I dropped! And we stayed in New Jersey (can you imagine?), because it was cheaper, and took public transport into the Big Apple each day.
Though I did have fun, and even went to the top of the World Trade Centre, which is sadly no longer there.
It would lovely to return to New York and this time do it in style.
A girl can dream I guess ...)

So readers, what would be your ultimate holiday?

 Pretty H. embraces the tropical life in Samoa.

C. swimming with turtles in Samoa