Gold Reef City Hotel guests check in. The theme park offers entertainment for the family.
'Let's do the Runaway Train!”

And then they broke out into a light jog, backs still drenched from the super-soaker that is the Log Ride. These, mind you, were two grown men, happily blanketed in the euphoria of a second childhood as they skipped off to enjoy their next adrenalin fix.

Theme parks can do that to you. Even if you aren't an adrenalin junkie, and you couldn't get me on something like the Anaconda for love nor money, there's just something about the experience that brings a smile to your face. Maybe it's because there's so much to do, all the stresses of the adult world just seem to disappear.

The theme park is a full-day commitment, and it's only when you've dedicated the time to having some fun that you start to realise just how much you needed it. And so, naively thinking it would be all thrill and no spill, I settled into a circular dingy for a go at the Raging River Rapids.

A few minutes later, soaked, and with a rather unflattering picture of what could never be described as my finest hour, I set off in search of some ice cream. Perhaps I should have given Gold Reef's newest ride, the High Flying Maverick, a whirl for a spin-dry.

I've walked through Gold Reef City's replica of a mining town many times before, without realising that they offered hotel accommodation. We stayed in a family suite, featuring two single beds for the kids and a king-sized bed in the master bedroom. The rooms were quite big compared to many hotel rooms, and were smart and functional in design, with extra blankets and air con on offer to counter the lack of carpeting. Winter is coming, after all. The beds were comfortable, although we were so tired from the day's activities that we probably would have fallen asleep on the floor.

How often does one stay in a hotel only to have to fight the shower settings for half an hour? There's the one in the bath that must be hell for a tall person and always seems aimed at your neck. Some shoot out water with a ballistic velocity, while others tease you with a trickle. You'll feel like Goldilocks trying to getting everything just right, and by then you'll have used up a lot of the towels mopping up the mess on the floor.

But here, underneath a shower head the size of a dinner plate, time just seemed to stand still. It was the perfect end to a busy day.

We had kicked off our Gold Reef experience at The Barnyard. I had expected a pretty lean crowd for the lunchtime showing of We Are The Champions, an ode to the rock and pop ballads of yesteryear, with some Pink thrown in to offset all the nostalgia, but the place was, to quote Simple Minds, Alive and Kicking. After enjoying the selection of crowd-pleasers and the vision that was probably the sexiest Tina Turner impersonator ever to take the stage, we later took in some supper at Vigour & Verve, which used to be News Cafe. The fare was decidedly good, with the lamb chops and the sticky ribs finger-licking fabulous.

We then took in a movie and were set on doing some ten-pin bowling had we not let time slip away from us.

I've been to Gold Reef many times before, both the casino and the theme park, but staying here turned it into a totally new experience. It felt as if I'd escaped the city, something so desperately needed considering the pressures of our working lives, and yet I barely spent any time commuting. 

Casinos, with good reason, don't always have the most family-friendly reputation, although most try in some way to cater for those who aren't swayed by slot machines. But with shows constantly playing at the Lyric Theatre (Tumi Morake was doing her thing the night I was there), not forgetting The Barnyard, as well as movies, games, the Science Museum, the Apartheid Museum, and of course the theme park, a stay at the Gold Reef Theme Park Hotel is highly recommended.

For bookings, call 011 248 5700, or e-mail [email protected]