I think Dreamworld might be a good option and Seaworld. While Dreamworld has a lot of thrill rides, they also have things for younger kids like Wiggles World, animals like tigers, crocodiles, etc., some kids/family rides, etc. Some rides do have height restrictions though. It might be a good idea to check out Dreamworld's Park Map: dreamworld.com.au/Resources/Documents/411111… so you can get a good idea of what to expect, which might help you make up your mind of which theme parks to visit.
Seaworld is another option as well. You focus a lot more on animals like dolphin shows, seals, penguins, stingrays, etc. There's not much in way of rides, but, then again, their rides are family-friendly, so, even the rollercoaster doesn't go very fast at all (unlike those at Dreamworld or Movieworld, for example). You might like to visit Seaworld's Park Map to also get a good idea of what to expect: http://myfun.com.au/big3/Sea-world.aspx
If you want to focus just on animals though, it might be worth visiting Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: www.cws.org.au/ It's not a theme park as such, but, they'll be able to get up close with the animals like koalas, kangaroos, etc. If you give the reviews posted here on TA, it'll give you a good idea of what it's like and whether it's a good option for you and your family.
As awezner mentioned though, there are passes available for the theme parks. If you're going to Seaworld, Movieworld and Wet 'n' Wild, there is a Super Pass that allow you unlimited entry to all three theme parks, which is cheaper than purchasing individual tickets for each one usually, but, it'll depend on your itinerary and what you plan to see/do: http://myfun.com.au/big3/VIP-pass.aspx
As Dreamworld and White Water World are run by a different company, then, they have their own passes (e.g. Holiday Pass( available (whether it's worth purchasing the pass is up to you to decide) as well: dreamworld.com.au/Visitor-Information/Unlimi… which enables you unlimited entry to both for 21 days, or just individual tickets.
It's always a bit cheaper to purchase tickets/passes online, rather than in person at the counters.
Generally, there's no hotel (unless, you're looking at the Sea World Resort) attached to the theme parks. Hotels will generally offer information about the theme parks, assist you in purchasing tickets if you need them to, can help out with transport, etc., but, for the most part, you'll find that hiring a car or taking public transport is the most common way for tourists to reach the theme parks.
The theme parks like Movieworld and Wet 'n' Wild, and especially, Dreamworld, are relatively further away from the more "central/tourist-ey" ares of the Gold Coast like Broadbeach (good area for families), Surfers Paradise, etc. But, you'll notice that most tourists make the journey via car rental or public bus everyday, and no one really lives right next door to the theme parks (unless, you're staying at Sea World, of course!).
Generally, no hotel offers free transport to the theme parks. There are really only a few options:
- Hiring a car: If you are comfortable with driving, hiring a car may be a good option, particularly with a young family as you can go and leave any time you want. There are plenty of good car rental companies around, but, just check around here on the Gold Coast forums for reviews for reputable companies.
- Take public transport: I have stayed in both Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise and taken public transport to all the theme parks with no problems at all. Depending where you stay, the buses are quite easy to use and bus services to the theme parks run quite frequently.
- Gold Coast Tourist Shuttle: www.gcshuttle.com.au/ or other private shuttle companies: The GC Tourist Shuttle offers passes which includes transfers to the theme parks. These are not free, but are part of the total price for the passes you pay. I personally think they are too expensive (because my travels by bus don't usually add up to anywhere close to the total cost of the pass per person), but, a lot of tourists will make use of their transfers, so, it may be a good option to consider. There are also other private shuttle companies like Con-X-ion: con-x-ion.com/bookings/Attractiontransfer.as… (and others too) that offer transfers from your hotel to the theme parks.
Good luck with your planning and have a GREAT time on the Gold Coast! :)
Edited: 27 February 2012, 15:29