We packed up our bags and left them outside our rooms for the bag pull this morning at 7am and then enjoyed our last buffet breakfast at the Pullman. We really enjoyed the rooms and laid back nature of the hotel. It was so nice to have a two bedroom apartment to stay in, complete with laundry, and we enjoyed our giant balcony and pool view. Adventures by Disney also covered our wifi expenses, which would have otherwise been pretty high for our family of four with 2 devices each.
We spotted a few wallabies in the fields on the way to the airport, and then we checked in for our flight at the Cairns airport. We are flying JetStar for this flight, and this is a bare-bones airline where you have to purchase even the soft drinks. ABD told us in advance that they will cover the cost of one drink for each of us.
We flew from Cairns airport to the the Gold Coast airport. Upon arrival in the Gold Coast we had another bus drive to our hotel, the Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast. We made a short stop along the way at Point Danger for bathrooms and to stretch our legs, and we got our first view of some of the Gold Coast’s beautiful beaches. We arrived at our hotel mid-afternoon, and the hotel had been kind enough to ensure that at least one room per family was ready to check-in. In this hotel our family of 4 had two adjoining rooms, one with a king bed and the other with 2 queens. Both rooms had a view of the hotel’s courtyard filled with palm trees and an extensive water feature. I did ask for availability for an ocean view since it seemed a shame to be oceanfront and not have that view, but the hotel said all of the rooms were filled.
We didn’t have any group activities scheduled for the rest of the day, so we opted to explore the Marina Mirage shopping center which was easily accessible from the hotel via a pedestrian bridge. Since it was December 23, Christmas shopping was still in full gear, but the mall wasn’t very full at all. We stopped at Ace Wasabi’s sushi restaurant which had the revolving conveyer belt that my kids enjoyed. Then my girls and I explored the retail clothing stores while my husband went back to the room. We found some swimwear and dresses for all of us. Witchery, Blue Illusion and Sunburn were our favorite shops.
With just a little daylight left, my daughters and I went down to the pool after our shopping excursion. By the time we made it there it was around 6pm and we found out that the pool closed at 7pm. I had been hoping to check out the swim-up bar, but that had closed already. We enjoyed it until it closed–I especially enjoyed watching the small parrots playing in the palm trees above us. Before heading back to the room, I took a walk over to the beach (which is adjacent to the hotel) to enjoy the sunset colors. It was a beautiful view, but I got my first mosquito bites of the trip there.
Our trip itinerary original had us scheduled to go to Byron Bay this day, but due to the Christmas holiday the guides had to make some adjustments to our schedule, and so they took us on our Mt. Tamborine excursion instead. ABD describes the experience as taking a 4WD vehicle up to Mt. Tamborine to look for wildlife. In reality, the vehicle is a 4WD minibus (with our group of 16 including the guides, we barely fit on the bus, with one of the guides sitting up front with the driver). Our first stop on the excursion was to Coombabah Lakelands where we were looking to spot kangaroos and koalas in the wild. We got off the bus and walked a short trail where we did spot many kangaroos, and we were able to get quite close to them. It was definitely the highlight of the day, being able to see them interacting together in the fields. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot the elusive koalas.
After the stop at the park we headed up Mt Tamborine, first on the regular roads, and then on a very bumpy and steep dirt road that was the reason for needing the 4WD. We were still on the lookout for koalas, but with the nature of the bus, not everyone had a great window view, and it was hard to spot anything. Some of the folks on the trip had a hard time with the rocky drive, and several of the kids started to melt down during the ride, especially the two youngest. We had to move around seat configurations a couple of times to reduce the meltdowns, and in the end our guide Kacey came to the rescue and went to the back row to keep the kids happy and entertained, and I took her place in the front seat. This actually worked our great for me, as the new view was great, and I found it less bumpy up there as well. We stopped at the top to take in the view, and then headed back down to the paved roads.
Our next stop was quaint place called The Manor where we were treated to a special morning tea. We had the choice of tea, coffee, or cocoa and they had Australian-style scones with jam and clotted cream. The place was beautifully decorated for Christmas and we enjoyed the setting quite a bit.
Our second hiking outing of the day was through the rainforest to the waterfalls. Along the way our bus driver, who was also our nature guide for the day, told us a little more about the plants in the rainforest, including the terrifying gympie-gympie, which we encountered right to the side of our trail. Google it… it will be enough to keep you from straying off the beaten path in an Australian rainforest! We got some photos by the iconic waterfalls, and then headed back up the trail.
Driving through the area surrounding Mt. Tamborine, with little old-fashioned styled towns and farms was scenic and we spotted more kangaroos in the fields, as well as our first wild cockatoo. Our lunch was at a camping spot, where our food was cooked at an outdoor barbie. We had the option of fish or steak and I opted for fish since we had eaten a lot of steak on the trip so far. The fish was tasty, and the guests who had the steak said they think it was one of the best of the trip. The sides were picnic-style macaroni and potato salad and the desert was a selection of fruits. Behind the covered picnic area there was a creek, and some of the teenagers waded in. The guides had mentioned that we would have a swimming opportunity so while we all had our swimsuits, I don’t think anyone got wet enough to need the suits. Water shoes were helpful, though, since the creek bottom was rocky.
After returning to the hotel, the group didn’t have any more scheduled activities for the day. After the meltdowns earlier in the day, I think this was a wise choice on the part of the trip designers. Since it was Christmas Eve, I wanted to get my girls in their newly-purchased summery Christmas dresses and get some family “Merry Christmas from the sunny Gold Coast” photos on the beach. I asked one of our fellow guests to meet up with us at about 6:30, which is the “golden hour” right after the sun set, and she got some photos of us by the water.
After our short photoshoot, we heeded the advice of our guides and opted to head into the downtown area of Surfer’s Paradise. It’s not walkable from the hotel, so we had to try out hand at Australian Uber for the first time in the trip. I wish we hadn’t waited so long to try it! We ended up with great, friendly drivers in both directions, and it was a fun way to get to talk with some more local folks. It only cost $12 each way for all 4 of us.
We were shocked at how busy the shopping district of Surfer’s Paradise was on Christmas Eve. Not only were the shops and restaurants all open, they had a tent market going by the beach with extra shopping opportunities. There was even a Santa in board shorts and elves on stilts, but we arrived a little late to catch those. We grabbed a quick dinner at a Mexican-style restaurant. While it felt a little odd having Mexican down under, it was interesting to see how they do it a little differently here. Australians love their potatoes so much, fries were an option instead of chips in the nachos, and you can get a side of fries with the burritos.
After enjoying being part of the hustle and bustle downtown, we rode back to the hotel, where we were pleasantly surprised at how the Sheraton made their guests try to feel as much at home as possible for the holiday. They had a table with milk, cookies, and carrots for the children to take back to their rooms for Santa and his reindeer. They also delivered chocolate Santas and crackers to each room. We had an early morning ahead of us for the final day of our tour, so we got to bed early.
The last day of our tour fell on Christmas Day. We mad to meet up with the group early in the morning as we had a 90 minute bus ride ahead of us to Byron Bay. We were originally scheduled to do ocean kayaking, but due to the water conditions they moved us to river kayaking on the salty waters of the Brunswick Heads River. My moody pre-teen paired up with our wonderful guide, Suzanne; my daughter and I took a kayak, and my husband paid up with the college-aged son from another family from the group, and we paddled along the river, to where it meets the ocean. We had a little snack at the beach, and walked over to the ocean. There were many locals at the river beach also kayaking and picnicking. We felt like we were part of an Australian tradition of celebrating their warm Christmases outdoors.
After kayaking we headed to the town at Byron Bay, which had a surprising amount of things open for a major holiday. Most of the fast food options and souvenir shops were open, and our group had a special lunch arranged at the balcony bar. The meal was a set menu that was served family-style. The options were a little fancy for some of the kids, so the guides brought in a pizza to make sure everyone had something to eat. We all sat at one long table and enjoyed a leisurely lunch together as a group.
After lunch we drop up to the Byron Bay Lighthouse. It was very crowded up there, and hot in the sun. We got a nice view of the water from above, and took some photos at the easternmost point of mainland Australia. From what I understand this would have been a good spot for whale viewing during another season, but no whales there this time of year.
After our drive back to the hotel we had some spare time before meeting up with the group again for our farewell dinner. My girls took one last opportunity to go to the pool, but their visit was cut short by a thunderstorm that rolled in. Luckily our dinner that night was right at the hotel, so we didn’t have to worry about going out in the storm. Our group had the hotel’s Oyster Bar reserved for the evening, and our guides set up a “photo booth” with various holiday and Australia-themed props by the Christmas tree. We had a lovely Christmas dinner all together again for the last time, and everyone enjoyed sharing their favorite parts of the trip. We also did a white elephant exchange of gifts we had purchased for that purpose during the trip.
Our flight departed Brisbane at 7:30am, so we to leave the hotel at 5am to get to the airport in time. Our guides greeted us in the lobby in the morning, and had packaged breakfasts ready for us to take along. We had such a lovely experience both my girls were on the verge of tears as we said goodbye to the guides. On the drive to the airport we were treated with a double rainbow right after sunrise. Another unforgettable Adventures by Disney trip.
This trip review is from our Adventures by Disney Australia trip. I book my ABD trips through Archer Luxury Travel. My camera for this trip was the Fuji X-T20 with with the 100-400mm lens for wildlife and the 18-55mm kit lens for around town (as well as my trusty iphone 7).
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Categories: Adventures by Disney