On the ground at Dreamworld

Patrick Poke

It’s been about five months since the horrible tragedy at Dreamworld (owned by Ardent Leisure Group) claimed the lives of four Australians. I recently visited Dreamworld on holidays, but as a believer in the Peter Lynch philosophy, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to have a look at how the park is holding up from an investor’s perspective. I hope to return later in the year for an updated view.

Key points:

  • Visitor numbers appear low, though this is traditionally the off-season so this is somewhat expected.
  • The old and worn-out food court has been closed, in its place is a brand-new Lego Store – the only Lego Certified Store in Australia.
  • New food options are a major improvement. It was a refreshing surprise to get a quality coffee at a theme park.
  • Updated Tiger Island is a significant improvement allowing a much closer look at the tigers.

On our first visit on Wednesday, there was heavy rain in the morning; combined with being mid-week and in the middle of the school term, it was understandably quiet. The car park was close to empty at 10:40 am (pictured below), and the rides were often running with less than half the seats filled. At one stage, we were told that we needed to wait for more riders for the perennially popular Tower of Terror II as the ride needed a minimum of seven riders to run.

On Saturday at 11 am, in sunny weather, the park was considerably busier (pictured below). Though clearly far from capacity. By the time we left on Saturday, the car park had filled further, but significant free capacity remained.

Discounting appeared to be in full force as season passes were available for less than the cost of a standard day’s entry. At one local shopping mall, a tour promoter was offering two-for-one entry for day passes.

Most major rides were open, with just the Wipeout down for scheduled maintenance of the Big 9 Thrill Rides. The family favourite, Tiger Island, has recently undergone extensive upgrades, with the remaining construction zone to the side suggesting there are further improvements to come. The changes allow visitors to get much closer to the action, and the clear-sided swimming pool allows a unique under-the-water perspective. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this seemed to be the most popular attraction of the day.

In Australia’s first Lego Certified Store, visitors to the park as well as external shoppers are able to access one of Australia’s largest Lego collections, with almost five tonnes of Lego on display. Even on the quiet Wednesday morning, there were 50+ people in the store, and on Saturday it was busy all day. One staff member told us of a two-hour long entry line on opening day, with some fans even camping out overnight.

The food and drink options, long one of Dreamworld’s major failings, have clearly become a big focus for management. The old food court, which resembled a school canteen both in atmosphere and food offerings, has been closed to make way for the Lego Store. A Jelly Belly store is due to open up next door soon. Other new food options included a modern café with the standard fare of cakes, salads, and sandwiches – but most importantly, good quality barista made coffee! Other new options included a noodle bar at Tiger Island and a modern burger store at the Hot Wheels coaster.

It was interesting to note on the visitor survey the question; ‘Did you visit the Dreamworld Corroboree?’ Though this part of the park appears to be aimed at international visitors more than locals, it’s never seemed to be the most popular of attractions. This is just speculation, but I can’t help but wonder if the Corroboree could be due for redevelopment.

Conclusion

Despite the previously-announced falls in visitor numbers, the park appears to be well maintained, and recent upgrades bode well for the future. It will no doubt take some time for visitor numbers to recover fully, but absent any findings of negligence by Dreamworld staff or management; history would suggest that they will come back eventually.

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Disclaimer: The author owns shares in Ardent Leisure Group. The article is for background information only, it is not intended to express an investment case for or against Ardent Leisure Group. Always consult a licenced investment advisor before making any investment decisions.


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Christian Toime

Thanks for the scuttlebutt ! It's always good to hear (and see) what's happening on the ground.

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