Wet'n'Wild patrons unhappy with high prices

It was touted as the ''the biggest and best water theme park ever built'' but if Wet'n'Wild Sydney has made a splash over summer, it's been the wrong kind of splash.

The $120 million theme park towering over the M4 at Prospect has been beset with problems since its December 12 opening, culminating in the cancellation of a heavily promoted New Year's Eve party.

Wet'n'Wild is the latest to join the bumpy ride that is the lot of Sydney theme parks, a long tradition started by Luna Park which rivals Dame Nellie Melba in the comeback stakes.

Opened in 1935, Luna Park closed after the Ghost Train fire which killed six children and one adult in 1979. It reopened in 1982, closed again six years later, reopening again in 1995 before shutting up shop 13 months later following noise complaints from its Milsons Point neighbours. After yet another redevelopment, it re-opened in 2004 and has continued operating since.

At least Luna Park is still running, unlike Australia's Wonderland which opened in 1985 before closing almost two decades later due to unsustainable losses. At the time the Malaysian owners blamed the theme park's poor financial performance on September 11, the Bali bombings, the collapse of insurance giant HIH, the SARS virus, bird flu, the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of Ansett Australia, the Iraq War and the 2003 bushfires.

Chances are, such events won't repeat themselves but last week western Sydney councillor Tony Bleasdale articulated fears that Wet'nWild could go down the same path as Australia's Wonderland unless its owners, Village Roadshow Theme Parks, listen to what their patrons are saying.

The cancellation of the New Year's Eve party was the latest in a number of hiccups.

Eight days after the park officially opened, a thunderstorm forced its closure, affecting about 10,000 people. The following day, several rides broke down due to a problem in a pumping room, and for at least three days over the Christmas period the park has reached capacity and visitors were turned away.

What most visitors have been complaining about is the cost. The season passes, costing between $99.99 and $124.99, have sold out, leaving only day passes which cost between $54.99 and $69.99.

Bleasdale, who sits on Blacktown City Council, believes it's just not economically viable for most families.

''If you're taking three or four children to Wet'n'Wild Sydney, you won't take home much change from $300,'' he said.

''They need to offer discounted family passes. It's a great thing for western Sydney but at the end of the day - if they're not careful - it could end up like Wonderland. What undid them was the pricing structure. A lot of people are saying to me they've been once and won't go back again.''

Along with the ticket cost, visitors have griped about price-gouging on food, lockers and parking.

Blacktown resident Sandra Tangata-Toa paid $380 for a gold season pass for her family in November but told Fairfax Media she was unlikely to renew her commitment next year.

''I think the park is great but there are a lot of hidden costs, like the $10 charge for using the lockers,'' she said.

But Wet'n'Wild's managers are confident the venue will escape the fate of its theme park predecessors.

"We're happy with how the park is running,'' Wet'n'Wild spokesman Darrin Davies said last week. ''It was our perception that greater Sydney has been looking for a park of this nature.'' The closures due to full capacity and the sold-out season passes indeed point to issues of supply rather than demand.


The cancellation of the New Year's Eve party was the latest in a number of hiccups for Wet'n'Wild.

The cancellation of the New Year's Eve party was the latest in a number of hiccups for Wet'n'Wild.


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