Diana Plater finds that despite the cold, Melbourne in winter can be a great - and cheap - experience.
People dressed in black are lining up outside the Tim Burton exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
In a room at the end of the exhibition others sit around tables busily working on their drawings.
A Mariachi band sings songs of joy and suffering and ghoulish dancers, The Newly Deads, a corpse bride and groom and zombie hoppers Hoopnotised, perform celebrations of the dead in the bar upstairs known for the next few months as The Burton Club.
Going on a Thursday night is a fun way to see the show about the whimsical but often dark filmmaker and his movies, whose last film was Alice in Wonderland.
Coming direct from New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) the retrospective showcases 700 examples of his rare and never-seen photos, paintings, drawings, cartoons, puppets, storyboards and costumes, as well as short films and animations.
It's part of the Winter Masterpieces series, a highly successful Victorian government initiative that brings outstanding exhibitions from around the world exclusively to Melbourne.
Last year both the NGV and the Melbourne Museum saw record crowds for their exhibitions on artist Salvador Dali and the ruins of Pompeii.
Since it began in 2004, the first eight exhibitions in this series - The Impressionists, Dutch Masters, Picasso: Love & War, Guggenheim Collection, Pixar, Art Deco, Salvador Dali and Pompei - combined have attracted over more than two million people.
(ACMI and the Museum of Victoria were included in the series, when the government decided to extend the concept to other key Victorian cultural institutions.)
This year the NGV is showing European Masters: Stadel Museum, 19th-20th century with more than 100 works from the Frankfurt museum, which is being renovated.
They include Impressionist and Post Impressionist works, as well as many from German Romanticism, Expressionism and Modernism including ones by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Max Liebermann and Franz von Stuck.
Overall a spokeswoman for the NGV says its Masterpieces exhibition attendances account for about 1.6 million of the two million.
But The Museum's Pompeii and ACMI's Pixar exhibitions last year also did really well.
"Our highest attendance to date was 380,236 for the Impressionists in 2004; followed by Dali with 332,520," the spokeswoman says. "Almost 30 per cent of these visitors were from interstate and overseas.
"And together these exhibitions have brought an economic benefit of over $138 million to the Victorian economy - altogether a great set of figures!"
Another popular exhibition has been Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition at Melbourne Museum, where visitors are given the name and details of one of the passengers who boarded the ship on its maiden voyage in 1912.
You walk through reconstructions of the ship's interior including the grand staircase and First and Third Class cabins, and can view artefacts recovered from the ocean floor.
At the end you can check your passenger's name on a board to see their fate.
It's a moving and fascinating exhibition, where you feel as claustrophobic as those who were trapped on board the ill-fated ship.
The Australian debut of Mary Poppins, the blockbuster musical based on the books by Australian P L Travers and also the Disney film, has also started.
The cast includes Matt Lee, one of the judges from the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, who plays Bert, and Verity Hunt-Ballard as the stern but magical nanny.
If you can't get a ticket for the night you want, turn up at the Box Office at the theatre at 6pm. You might just be in luck as I was.
There's no need to break your budget either on a trip to Melbourne. You can fly Tiger, catch Sky Bus rather than a taxi to and from the airport and stay in affordable accommodation such as the new Citadines Melbourne on Bourke.
The Citadines Apart'hotel (Apart'hotel) serviced residence concept comes from Europe and Asia and combines an apartment with the services of a hotel.
Instead of eating out every night it's possible to cook in the apartments' tiny kitchens. All saves money!
You can get around the city on free city circle trams (and then again with the complicated ticket system on Melbourne's trams most interstaters don't seem to pay for them anyway). Suggestion: all the states should have a system where students can get concession prices for public transport wherever they go.
There are also free exhibits in the NGV and The Arts Centre, and also night tours of the Queen Victoria Markets.
There's also great bars in the CBD, something Melbourne is also famous for. And check the happy hours. On a Friday night we made the most of them at a couple of bars including Eurotrash in Corrs Lane, just around the corner from Her Majesty's Theatre.
Another cute new one is Berlin Bar, next door. It's a celebration of post-modern German culture. It's split in two to represent West and East Berlin as the city once was and serves great cocktails.
But then you could blow the whole budget by going shopping - especially in the trendy Brunswick, Gertrude and Smith Streets in Fitzroy.
Still most stores we visited had sales on. But be careful with weight limits on the way home!
IF YOU GO:
European Masters: Stadel Museum, 19th-20th Century. National Gallery of Victoria. Until October 10. Visit: ngv.vic.gov.au
Tim Burton: The Exhibition, Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Federation Square, Flinders Street, Melbourne. Until October 10. Call (03) 8663 2200 or visit: www.acmi.net.au.
Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition. Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton. Call: 1300-130-152 or visit: http://museumvictoria.com.au/titanic.
Mary Poppins, Her Majesty's Theatre on July 29. www.marypoppinsthemusical.com.au
Tiger Airways: www.tigerairways.com.
Citadines on Bourke 131-135 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Call: 1800- 766-377 or visit: www.citadines.com.au
Skybus tickets are $26 return or $16 one-way. Family tickets are also available. Visit: www.skybus.com.au.
For more information about Melbourne in winter, visitvictoria.com
The writer was a guest of Tiger Airways and Tourism Victoria.