For many families, including ours, the Spring school holidays are always marked by a visit to the Royal Melbourne Show (22 September – 2 October 2018). Every year I look forward to our annual outing, with its mix of entertainment, agriculture, attractions and food.
I have been visiting the Melbourne Show with Lady AB (and later, Baby 2.0) since she was 4 years old. Here are 11 tips for tackling the show especially if you have kids under 5.
1. Prepurchase your tickets for the best prices
RACV members who pre-purchase their tickets online can get 30% off door prices if they purchase before show opens then 20% off the door prices if they purchase during the show period.
Non-RACV members can get a 20% discount if they buy their tickets online before the show opens. There’s no discount after the show opens.
You can also get up to 30% discount on ride tickets if you buy before the show opens.
And of course, pre-purchasing tickets saves lining up at the gates when you arrive.
2. Arrive at 9:30am
The gates open at 9:30am and the CWA Cafe and Animal Farmyard are open at that time, with other pavilions opening at 10am and some rides already operating. If you arrive at 9:30am you can walk around and get your bearings, without the crowds and the noise. Note that the CWA Cafe will have a long (inefficient) line at 9:30am but the scones are worth it!
Of course, weekends are busier than weekdays so if you have the opportunity go 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 5s. 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 the children’s area.
It’s also about as far away from the Showbag Pavilion as you can get if you’re trying to avoid temptation.
4. Take public transport or ride a bike
If you don’t fancy parking and schlepping go by public transport.
There’s a train station for Flemington Showgrounds that opens during special events which drops you off right at one of the entrances. Trams (#57 Maribyrnong tram) and buses (#404 from Footscray #472 from Williamstown via Footscray) also operate in the area.
Better still, ride a bike! We cycle right up to the Gate 6, park our bike and stroll in. Riding home is a great way to decompress after the sensory stimulation of the show.
If you decide to drive show parking is $25 and it can be a bit of a hike to get from the car to the entrance. There are also 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. Obviously arriving for 9:30am will help.
5. Agree a budget before you go
Budgets can really blow out at the show if you don’t agree with your kids beforehand how many rides/showbags/treats etc 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 Giant Sky Wheel (despite an exorbitant $9 ticket, $32 for 4 people) 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 before the official opening time of 10am to avoid the queues.
6. Start at the Animal Nursery
Lines can be long for the Animal Nursery, where you get to feed and pet farm animals, so head there first. You have to pay $2 for feed and there are hay bales to climb up and sit on to watch the action if your children (like Lady AB) get freaked out by being too close to animals.
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 Farmhouse where you can plant a seedling and watch dairy cow milking and sheep shearing demonstrations.
For more energetic kids there’s a whole Kids Carnival.
7. Eat at Woolworths Fresh Food Pavilion and/or the Winning Tastes Pavilion
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 into the show, bags are checked on entry.
The Woolworths Fresh Food Pavilion is the midrange food offering, though you’ll still find some artisan, gourmet producers inside.
The famous $3 cheese toasties are still around but the milk is no longer – it’s now $5 for a toastie and a bottle of water. The pavilion is also next to the equestrian arena so you can grab and go and watch the equine action.
The Winning Tastes Pavilion is the gourmet food offering with bars near the kids area and also home to the Masterchef kitchen.
Some of the food can be very expensive – eg in previous years fish and chips were $16 and fish tacos were 2 for $16.
Look out for That’s Amore’s $15 spaghetti with four cheeses! It comes straight out of the Grana Padano wheel and certain to fill your tummy!
The Winning Tastes stage is a good place to sit down with your food away from the noise and crowds while watching cooking demonstrations.
This year there is a new premium outdoor area The Meadow. There are a few food stalls and bars in the area and lawn games such as giant jenga, Connect4 and bean bag toss for the kids.
8. Dress in bright colours and take a photo
- ‘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 if 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.’
9. Bring a water bottle
Walking around the showgrounds is thirsty work and you don’t want to keep buying bottled water. Bring a bottle to refill and maybe some healthy snacks too.
10. Avoid taking babies or a pram
The showgrounds are big, busy and really over-stimulating after a while, especially in the sun. Each year we last about 2.5-3 hours. Pushing a pram through crowds is no fun and at many places eg the Animal Nursery, the shows at the Farmhouse, you have to park your pram.
11. Showbag management
Plan what showbags you’re going to buy (if any) by checking them out online beforehand.
When you get to the show either buy your showbags at the end or hire a 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.
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What are your tips for enjoying the Royal Melbourne Show?