A freelance writer and father of two, I am interested in almost anything the ever-changing city of Brisbane has to offer. When I am not seeking the kid-friendly and affordable, I am tracking the home-grown and the unique... Come and discover with me!
Published November 30th 2011
The international-class go-karting facility at Kingston Park Raceway has been in operation for over fourteen years, but although I had long been familiar with their TV advertisements, I had yet to visit. This was partly due to the location—Kingston is well outside my usual weekend stomping grounds—and, I admit, partly due to long-held but ill-informed preconceptions.
Firstly, I imagined that such a maintenance-and-fuel-intensive activity had to be too expensive for any but the idle rich or ultra-committed rev-heads. Secondly, I envisaged the place as perpetually swarming with the aforementioned rev-heads who, apart from reeking of testosterone and petrol fumes, would immediately recognise me for the mechanically-challenged cruiser that I undoubtedly am and take great delight in running me off the track. Finally, I reasoned that if even the TV ads were loud and fast enough to have me ducking under the couch and scrambling for the mute button, then the live experience might well shatter my few remaining nerves beyond all repair.
I confess that, had I not spawned a son obsessed with every form of fast-moving wheeled conveyance imaginable, I might have died happily without ever experiencing the pastime of go-karting. But as my beloved boy graduated from walker to push-car to bike to skateboard, the father-son bonding potential of unleashing our inner bogans together became more and more obvious.
I found myself taking longer and longer peeks at the TV ads, eventually emerging from my hiding place beneath the couch and paying real attention. Finally, when my son was invited to the Raceway for a friend's birthday party a couple of weekends ago, I surprised myself by jumping at the chance to accompany him. I can now report, dear reader, that I am glad I did, and that the experience I had at the Kingston Park Raceway impressed me enough to strongly consider hosting my son's next birthday there. (Please note that this review does not attempt to cover the Adult Areas of the Raceway, although the larger go-karts did look ridiculously fun to drive. Here I will focus only on the GoZone Kids Party experience).
Parents with children over five will no doubt be familiar with the strange mix of agony and delight which accompanies the organising of birthday celebrations for their not-so-little-any-more darlings. We love them and want to celebrate their special day in fine style, but doing so without destroying budgets, homes and partnerships can present a real challenge.
To add to the confusion, the list of things for which our kids are simply way too cool grows as fast as they do. Games which once thrilled—pass the parcel, musical chairs, treasure-hunts—are now liable to see our children ostracised from the school shelter-shed the following Monday; and surveying the wreckage left after a play-date with even one of our child's friends, the thought of hosting any more than three of them at a time is enough to render the most stoic parent catatonic for days.
I imagine that I am similar to many Brisbane parents in having made a gradual progression, in terms of party venue, from backyard to public park to some form of organised activity as far away from regular civilisation as possible. Movie outings, theme parks and amusement facilities all count as such destinations in my book.
Some of these options are admittedly on the expensive side, but the cost to benefit ratio is something I can live with more often than not. If I can relax with my kids on these special days then we are more likely to all be able to share in the good memories later, and for that I am willing to consider paying a little extra.
A GoZone Party is unlikely to be the cheapest you have ever hosted. The most basic package available for five to ten year-olds will cost you $177.50, which is the total for the minimum booking of five drivers, at $30 entry each, plus the $5.50 yearly membership required upon registration. Although this price secures you two hours of unlimited karting on the Rookie Karts, and unlimited entry to the Ekka-standard Gee Whizz, Scrambler and Astro-Karts amusement rides, it comes before presents, food, cake, or any of the available upgrades.
This basic cost increases with the age of the participants. Assuming nobody in your party already has a membership, two hours on Formula Karts for eleven to thirteen year-olds will cost you $45.50 a head, while two hours on the Predator Karts for fourteen to sixteen year-olds sets you back $63.50 per driver. Meal options at the Pitstop Cafe begin at $5.50, Loot Bags are $5 each, ice-cream cakes are available for $15.90 and souvenir trophies are $15.95 each. And if you can avoid being stung for at least a few bucks' worth of credit in the Arcade Games Room, then please contact me via Weekend Notes and let me know how you did it.
So much for the damage, which, as a budget-conscious parent myself, I feel duty-bound to offer up-front for the reader's consideration. After my recent experience at Kingston Park Raceway, however—and assuming your child is the kind likely to enjoy the activity of karting in the first place—it is now my firm opinion that you will come away from a GoZone Party feeling that your money has been well-spent.
The main reason for my opinion is having observed the quality of the experience itself. As I watched my son strap into a Rookie Kart in preparation for his first lap, I realised that this was the first time he had independently operated a vehicle powered by something other than gravity or his own legs.
The Rookie Karts are far from rocket-boosted; however as I watched my son zip around the track, it also occurred to me that the kind of speed he had now maintained for several minutes had previously only been available to him in bursts of several seconds. After seeing the expression on his face as he took the helmet off after that first ride, I found my eyes wandering towards the big kids' track—and could that have been a faint sense of yearning I felt, deep within? When I looked back, I could see the youngsters' obvious delight mirrored in the face of every parent there. The excitement was infectious, and this, more than any other single reason, began to convince me that the birthday family were indeed getting their money's worth.
At the same time, my preconceived ideas about mindless rev-heads were exposed for the silly fantasies that they were by the professionalism of the Raceway staff. From registration counter to cafe to trackside, the workers at Kingston Park were friendly, efficient and vigilant. Those running the party displayed skill and patience in managing a group of ten excited boys aged between seven and nine, and seemed genuinely committed to making the day as special as they could for all the kids in their charge.
The grounds were clean and well-maintained, and safety standards, also, seemed to be of the first quality. The amusement rides looked immaculate and operated efficiently, while rules for the karting track were clearly stated and rigorously, yet calmly, enforced. The ratio of staff to patrons was reassuring, and contributed in no small way to the friendly feeling which pervaded every aspect of the Raceway's activities. Quite simply, in the midst of all this fast and furious fun, I found it easy to relax—as did the other parents in the group with me.
Perhaps the single most impressive piece of evidence supporting the Raceway's claim to be "international standard" was the fact that almost every kart started on the first or second pull of the rip-cord—with the one exception that I saw on the day being fixed in under a minute with a simple tweak of a screwdriver. Considering the dozens of small vehicles racing around the tracks day after day, this fact represents an impressive commitment to maintenance, and speaks of a wealth of expertise working behind the scenes.
Refreshing, also, was the absence of the dollar-gouging so often seen in other recreational facilities of this nature. What you want to pay for, you pay for, and nothing else. The rides and attractions advertised as free in the website are exactly that—free; and if you want to stay with a basic package you are not treated as inferior. While the food at the Pitstop Cafe is of a high standard, and while my son was indeed impressed with the contents of his Loot Bag, parents are welcome to bring their own food and drinks, their own cake, and their own party bags if they wish. When the time came to light the candles and sing at the birthday boy, we were left to relax and celebrate as we saw fit in a comfortable, spacious shaded area.
My two hours at the Kingston Park Raceway felt less like a party than a pleasant break, during which I was able to relax, secure in the knowledge that my son was thoroughly enjoying himself with friends. Of all the compliments I could offer the Kingston Park Raceway's GoZone Party facilities, this is perhaps the one which will make it seem most attractive to my fellow parents. If, like me, you are no longer willing to risk your home or your mental health for the sake of a birthday celebration, you may well want to check this option out.