For many families, including ours, the Spring school holidays are always marked by a visit to the Royal Melbourne Show (now rebranded as Melbourne Royal Show). Every year I look forward to our annual outing, with its mix of entertainment, agriculture, attractions and food.
The Melbourne Show is returning in 2022 and is running from Thursday 22 September until Sunday 2 October at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
MELBOURNE SHOW TIPS
1. You Must Prepurchase Tickets Online
There is some great news for 2022… kids go FREE. Yes, you read that correctly, kids aged 14 years and under will get free entry! This year you will also get better value from a range of ticket bundles.
To manage capacity tickets must be prepurchased online. I repeat – there are NO TICKETS available at the gate.
It also means don't leave buying your tickets until the last minute – Day 1 was sold out as it was a public holiday.
Also, while kids under 14 years are free, you still must book a $0 ticket for kids 5-14 years when you purchase your adult tickets. Tickets are not required for children four years and under.
You can also get up to 25% discount on ride tickets if you pre-purchase a ride pass.
The good news is that if you purchase your tickets and ride passes after Monday 19 September you will be able to claim 25% back on the Victorian Dining and Entertainment Program if you spend over $40. The rebate is allocated on a first come first serve basis until the funding runs out, so get your application in asap after purchase to avoid missing out on the rebate.
2. Arrive Before Gates Open at 9:30am
The gates open at 9:30am and on Day 1 we find the lines to enter and to find parking are already huge. I would be aiming to arrive by 9am if you want a relaxed start to the day without too much waiting around.
If you are there as the gates open you can walk around and get your bearings, without the crowds and the noise.
Of course, weekends are busier than weekdays so if you have the opportunity to do so I’d recommend going in off-peak times.
3. Enter via Gate 5 if you can
Gate 5 on Langs Road is the best entrance for families with under 5’s. It’s a small entrance and not near the train station so not many people know about it (fewer queues) and it leads right into an area with farmyard animals, the Animal Nursery and rides.
4. Take the train or ride a bike
If at all possible, do not drive or take any form of road transport like a taxi, uber or bus.
I thought I was smart by not driving and choosing to take public transport via bus #472 from Williamstown via Footscray. But Racecourse Road and Langs Road were both jammed for kilometres when we arrived on Day 1 at 9:30am. The traffic on Langs Road was banked up all the way back to Footscray Park, so most people (including us) opted to get off the bus and walk. There were reports of people waiting an hour in the car line to get to parking. Not a great way to start the day!
There’s a train station for Flemington Showgrounds that opens during special events which drops you off right at one of the entrances (not Gate 5 though). The first service starts at 9.10am and you want to be there earlier than that to get on the first or early trains. It's quite a jam with more than usual prams on board, so be kind and patient.
Trams (#57 Maribyrnong tram) also operate in the area.
Better still, ride a bike! In previous years we have cycled right up to Gate 5, parked our bike and strolled in. Riding home is a great way to decompress after the sensory stimulation of the show.
If you decide to drive, show parking is around $20 to $30 and it can be a bit of a hike to get from the car to the entrance. Car parking is available at Flemington Racecourse for $25 a day (parking will not be available at Flemington Racecourse on Saturday 1 October). Epsom Rd carpark is open 8am-8pm, Smithfield Rd carpark is open 9.30am-11pm. Access to the Showgrounds is via the rail underpass. Ascot Vale West Primary School is another popular car parking spot for $25 a day.
There are limited spaces so if you don’t time your arrival carefully (see tip 1) – you either won’t be allowed in the carpark at all or you could be circling in nearby residential streets – and still have to hike to the entrance.
5. Split up to redeem your ride pass
You can save up to 25% when you purchase your Ride Pass online at the same time as purchasing your entry tickets i.e. you cannot purchase them separately. Ride Passes are available in a range of values, and each pass can be shared between more than one person.
You will receive your ride pass as a voucher attached to your e-ticket which must be exchanged at any of the Show Information Booths for your Ride Pass.
The bad news is that there is no secret, short line for any of the Show Information Booths – I went to every single one and they all had long queues!
The good news is that if you're able to, the best thing to do is split up the adults. One adult stands in line to redeem the ride pass, while the other adult takes the kids to look at some of the non-ride attractions, take people to the toilet etc.
If you arrive right on opening time then your first port of call is definitely the ride pass redemption line. Over the course of the day the queue just kept on getting longer, and longer, and longer…
Note the Kids Carnival is best for under 5s, while the Thrill Seekers is for older kids as many rides have height restrictions of 140cm+.
6. Agree on a budget before you go
Budgets can really blow out at the show if you don't agree with your kids beforehand on how many rides/showbags/treats they're allowed.
It doesn't stop the nagging but at least you can consistently refuse if it's not been agreed. After a while, I just say ‘I'm not answering that question' every time a child asks to buy/ride something that isn't pre-agreed.
We always go on the Ferris Wheel as it provides excellent views of the Showgrounds and Melbourne city and is a great way to absorb the atmosphere, colour and lights. We try to ride it as soon as soon as we arrive to avoid the queues.
Note the most popular, high-quality showbags are now $32 each and most rides are $10 each, with some being $8 and others being $15.
7. What to see for free at the Melbourne Show
The show offers lots of included activities with the entry fee, so it's possible to spend the whole day at the show on a tight budget.
In my experience the lines can be long for the Animal Nursery, where you get to feed and pet farm animals, so head there first.
The Animal Nursery is located near Gate 5 and the setup seems more light-filled and less hectic than in previous years. Please keep in mind that the livestock and animal industry is being very cautious about the risks of Foot and Mouth disease at the moment so there might be different rules in place for 2022 in relation to how close you can get to the animals.
You have to pay a small amount for animal feed if they are allowing it this year.
Afterwards, there are more farm animals to view in the outdoor Animal Farmyard. Sit under the shade of the beautiful blossom trees and watch the animals go about their business.
Other free animal-related activities are inside the Livestock Pavilion where you can watch events like sheep shearing demonstrations and outdoor animal demonstrations happen all day all over the site.
We always enjoy admiring the handiwork inside the Spotlight Makers Pavilion.
8. Where to eat at the Melbourne Show
If you're on a tight budget then BYO food and drinks. I always BYO snacks but like to buy something to eat at the show as well. Just don't take glass or eskies into the show; bags are checked on entry.
In previous years we headed to Eat Street for the famous cheese toasties and the Woolworths Fresh Food Pavilion contains some artisan, gourmet producers inside.
In 2022 there were so many people, everywhere, that we just ate where we could find somewhere with short queues.
But here are some of the fun snacks we've had in previous years!
9. Dress in bright colours and take a photo
One of my enduring memories is visiting once visiting the show on a cool and blustery day, so I have to buy an emergency onesie for Baby 2.0 (who is optimistically sporting a T-shirt and shorts).
Turns out the dino outfit is a godsend for finding him amongst the crowds! If you don't have kids that you can restrain in a pram then dress them in bright colours or headwear so you can spot them when they inevitably walk towards some new temptation.
I also recommend giving your child a wristband or lanyard where you can write your name and phone number (or write it on their hand or arm).
Readers have also suggested the following advice for lost kids:
- ‘I have my son, 3, a card with his name and my phone number on it and put it in his pocket. I told him that if he gets lost to go up to a grown-up and give them the card. We got separated for 2 mins at the animal nursery, and when I found him he had the card in his hand about to approach an adult for help.'
- ‘The most important thing for going to the show with kids (in addition to the wristbands) is to photograph them, in the clothes they are wearing on the day before you go. If you lose them, report to the “pie in the sky”, and show the photos. The photos are sent to the control room and on to security at all the gates. This is the advice from the safety manager of the Showgrounds.'
10. Bring a water bottle, snacks and sunscreen
Walking around the showgrounds is hot and thirsty work, and you don’t want to keep buying bottled water.
Bring a bottle to refill from the many free drinking fountains and maybe some healthy snacks too.
And of course, be sun smart. Wear a hat and put on some sunscreen so you have the stamina to enjoy the attractions.
11. Use the Quiet Space if you need
On Level 1 of the Spotlight Makers Pavilion you'll find a quiet space facilities by ONCALL Group Australia for people with sensory processing issues.
There is comfortable seating, sensory-sensitive lighting, calming jellyfish lamps, weighted animals, sensory tents and more thanks to Sensory Oasis for Kids. The room is also manned by fully trained support workers from 9:30am-7:30pm daily.
Also the show is very noisy even for those without sensory issues, so packing some ear muffs or headphones can help alleviate the stress. I carry around a pair of noise-cancelling Airpods everywhere I go, whether for me or for the kids.
12. Don't expect to stay the whole day
The showgrounds are big, busy, noisy and really over-stimulating for everyone after a while, especially in the sun.
In previous years we last about 2.5-3 hours, and in 2019 with a 6yo and an 8yo in tow, we stay for a record 4.5 hours. In 2022 the crowds and noise really got too much for the 9yo and 11yo so we stayed about 2.5 hours.
In my view, pushing a pram through noisy crowds is no fun for anyone and in many places e.g. the Animal Nursery you have to park your pram. So personally I don't think the show is a great place to take babies or toddlers.
You can get a pass out.
13. Showbag management
Plan what showbags you're going to buy (if any) by checking them out online beforehand.
In 2019, the Showbag Pavilion is attached to the main indoor food area Eat Street, so it's harder to avoid than when it was in a separate building. So we agree with the kids that they can buy one showbag only and preferably not one full of plastic junk.
So Lady AB ends up with the Bubble Tea showbag and Baby 2.0 gets the Pokemon showbag. Each of the showbags is $32 (!) but at least there are some practical items in there such as a backpack, drink bottle, pens and writing sets.
I recommend buying your showbags at the end of your visit or hiring a $2 locker in the public stand (a good midway point between all the attractions) so you’re not hauling stuff around everywhere.
Note also that while the crowds are much smaller towards the end of the show period, popular showbags do sell out.