For all my cynicism of this world, I remain stupidly optimistic sometimes. I have high expectations of most things and usually go into new experiences with a sense of almost childlike anticipation and excitement.
And then I get there and my sense of awe and wonder comes crashing in, as only it can to an adult with too many years on the clock and too many times around the proverbial block.
In this case Lego blocks.
How much I have been looking forward to the day when I could spend a whole two days immersed in all things Lego. A once in a lifetime trip to Legoland, Windsor.
It’s my own fault really. For being slightly let down and disappointed I mean. I really should do my research first. However, just like with a new class in September, I don’t like to read the reviews or listen to the hype before I’ve made my mind up on the personalities who stare back at me on September 1st (or 2nd or 3rd or whenever it is the council have set the start of term date for). Besides, everyone’s different so everyone’s experiences will be different. If I’d read all about Legoland before I got there, I would only have the website’s expectations or the reviewers’s expectations lodged in my mind. I’m the same with films. I very rarely read a review before seeing a movie. These days, quite often, I’ll go and see one simply if I like the sound of it, without even knowing much about it. Then I have no expectations and so it follows they can’t be dashed, at least not too much.
BUT, I should have known better than to be optimistic about a place run by the Tussauds group. I’ve been to Alton Towers and Warwick Castle (I actually love Warwick Castle ) and The Sealife Centre and so I know they are all a massive rip off. Overly hyped and extortionately overpriced to squeeze every last dime out of the unsuspecting tourists, so why would I think Legoland would be any different? Because of that stupid optimism I mentioned above.
Problem number one in Britain is this: There is no space. Theme parks (for this essentially is what Legoland is, much to my unfolding disappointment and horror) are basically places whereby you queue to get on a ride for an hour or more to ‘enjoy’ something which lasts essentially for one minute. You queue in this country because a) that’s what we do as facilities are never built to meet demand and b) the theme parks are tiny with very few rides to cater for a relatively massive population plus the million tourists who of course go to these ‘top attractions’ because that’s what’s sold to them on ‘www.whattodoinBritain.com.’*
(*not an actual website.)
And yet we all flock to these places! In our droves. Knowing all this, still us Brits flock there. If there was any reason to suppose mankind has lost the plot, I’d say it was at the dawn of the era of theme parks.
Anyway, I didn’t realise Legoland was a theme park. (Honestly, I am that naive at times.) If I had have done, I’d have probably not agreed to take my 7 year old nephew. (Though perhaps I would have. He’s gone about going for so long. It’s been his dream, and every parent likes to think they can make a child’s dreams come true.) No, I thought Legoland was more of an outdoor museum/activity park where one would spend all day gasping in awe at wonderful Lego Creations as well as take part in workshops run by experts and build your own stuff, with maybe a few rides thrown in on the fringes.
Hmmmmm. What you actually get is a variety of themed Lego ‘lands’ which contain rides and a few Lego related activities thrown around on the fringes. Oh, and if you are stinking rich you can choose to stay at the Legoland official resort hotel, where you will get your own Lego themed room. We would have had to pay £509 for the privilege of one night in the hotel with our two day pass to the park. £509 is half a package holiday abroad for a week. We opted to stay in a Holiday Inn 4 miles up the road. Nevertheless, all in (that’s one day in the park with one day ‘free’ (yeah right), a night in the hotel (with breakfast included and kid’s free evening meal), plus two days parking at the site itself came to just over £200.
As you can imagine I was expecting BIG things. Yes, as we set off my expectations were at an all time high.
Until that is we reached the entrance. We’d had an easy journey down the M40, just two hours, no traffic, one toilet stop and arrived at the entrance bang on schedule at 12pm. My plan was to park up, have lunch and then spend until tea time exploring.
Forty five minutes later we finally finished our crawl up the long and winding, hilly driveway and passed through the main “priority parking” areas to a field where we were directed in by high viz personnel to our parking space. By this time my bladder was about to burst, my neck was aching and I was pissed off about the fact I’d had to pay £5 for the parking (PER DAY) on top of the entrance fee. This to me is ludicrous: The fact you pay to park in a place you’ve already paid extortionate amounts to get in to. (This happens at Warwick Castle too, though I sort of understand it as visitors to Warwick itself would possibly take advantage of free parking at the castle to get into the town, thereby clogging up the car park for castle visitors. At Legoland I can’t imagine the need as there’s nothing of interest close by enough to warrant the long walk it would entail up and down the drive to get out of the place.) But of course the reason they charge is because they give the option of ‘priority parking. Which basically means if you’ve got more money than sense to splash about, you don’t have to mingle with the riff raff in the field and have such a long walk into the site itself. No you can pay £8 a day and feel utterly smug and superior that it takes you approximately 5 minutes less to walk into the park. I don’t know who’s been more ripped off. Surely it should just be first come first served, but that’s probably the idealist socialist in me speaking.
Anyway, because I was tired, hungry and needed the toilet (to the point I was in actual pain) and knowing I’d now have to trek from the field up to the main park gates (and who knew if we’d have to queue there too), then find toilets I was not in the best of moods and actually said to the 7 year old “It’s probably best you don’t speak to me until I’ve been to the toilet.” Poor kid. He was beyond excited “I can’t believe I’m at the actual Legoland!” he kept saying, jumping up and down with a huge grin on his face. Aaaah, to have no cynicism. How refreshing that would be! I was trying, really trying, to be in awe and wonder with him, but at that moment in time I was ready to write a letter of complaint there and then.
Still at least it wasn’t raining.
Much to my relief, once we did arrive at the gates, all I had to do was scan my pre bought ticket bar code at the turnstile and in we went. Of course the first thing I had to do was find the toilets (much to the chagrin of the little one, though by this time he needed to relieve himself too, so he accepted the pause in exploration).
Naturally, we had to queue. I might have barked something at this point about wishing I was a man, as of course the men’s toilets had no queue. I resited the urge to rant about why they don’t make women’s toilets have more cubicles and half the space of men’s toilets as they only need urinals. Though this applies to all public arenas not just Legoland.
A few minutes later, we were back out in The Beginning part of the park. Ingeniously named because well, it is the beginning of the park. (Makes you wonder where all that Lego imagination disappeared to when they were naming it that.) We passed a packed cafe (called Hill Top cafe as it’s on a hill – really stretching themselves there again), and wound our way down, down, down the path and into Land of The Vikings. We passed the Water Rapids ride where I noted the queue time was 75 minutes and my heart sank again.
As we entered Pirate Shores we found a burger joint to eat, as by this time my imagination was lacking and I just wanted food.
Already it had struck me each ‘land’ was pretty much the same format: Some themed rides (perhaps with some sort of giant Lego structure attached as in the case of The Spinning Spider ride which had a giant Lego spider hanging above it – which was impressive); some form of eatery; some form of ice cream stand; a shop for that theme and some fun fair style stalls for which you of course pay extra to have a go at winning a cuddly toy, but are more likely to come away with a crappy keyring. (The number of children walking around with a huge cuddly toy = zero so those figures speak for themselves I think.) In addition everywhere you turned was somewhere advertising or selling a plastic cup for £7.50 where your child could then refill on fizzy pop ALL DAY. Really? I don’t want my child to fill up on sugary fizzy pop all day and if I did I’d have bought a 2 litre bottle at the supermarket for 55p. Except I wouldn’t.
So to the burger joint. We were served by one of the Legoland staff (all of whom were lovely, friendly, smiley and helpful I must add and maybe why prices are so high – staff need paying after all). Except this one. (I mean that she wasn’t lovely and friendly and smiley, not that she shouldn’t be paid!) She was the first staff member we came across (bearing in mind my mood at this point) and was as monotonous in tone of voice and as welcoming as Morrissey would be to a meat eating Tory. I smiled, ordered our food (a replica of what we both normally eat at McDonalds) and the words “That’s £13.75” nearly sent me running for the Hill Top Cafe at full speed. This is over double what we would pay at McDonalds and to add insult to injury the kid’s meal comes only with a Lego badge rather than a toy! (Though little one was made up!) My own fault again though. I should have packed a picnic. I suddenly realised the £60 spending money I’d budgeted was probably only just about going to cover our food requirements for the couple of days. Ho hum. Smile. Except we had to wait an awful long time for the food so my smile would have looked as fake as the plastic pirate in the doorway. Another customer ordered his food whilst we were stood there and the woman who had served me asked him “Are you enjoying yourselves so far?” in her trademark monotonous saaaaaaaatharn accent. The man replied “Oh er…yes, the kids love it.” A chuckle may have accidentally slipped out of me.
And there, my friends is the summation of Legoland. Kids love it. Adults walk around generally looking extremely pained (probably due to bladder needs, excessive queuing they’d not even tolerate at the local post office, and the thought they will probably need to visit their bank at the end of the whole experience to beg the bank manager for a remortgage on the house which will of course entail standing in yet another queue). Yes, the adults I encountered all looked generally harassed and miserable and as such found myself being eternally grateful it was just me and the little one as (aside from the sky high price of everything), there were no squabbles with siblings to sort out, or arguments about which part to visit next, or when to eat, etc, etc… From some of the things I saw and conversations I overheard, I’m pretty sure a trip to Legoland could well be grounds for divorce between married couples. If divorce wasn’t so expensive that is, because by the time said married couple get home, they’re no doubt near to bankruptcy.
Once lunch was eaten we explored the park, deciding that we did not wish to spend what was left of our day queuing for rides. We planned instead to study the map and make a plan of action for day two. In the meantime we visited Miniland. Miniland is more what I expected Legoland to be about. I.e there was Lego. Lego models of famous landmarks such as The Eiffel Tower and Tower Bridge, the Gherkin Building, Edinburgh Castle, Cape Canaveral and many many more, all built to such minute detail just from Lego.
I was happy at this point. And awe inspired at last. There seemed to be a point to being here. The disappointment of a rocket countdown resulting in nothing more than a rumbling noise made me roll my eyes, as well as a few other expostulations from those surrounding me of “Was that it?“, but all in all how could we expect anything less when it’s a mere £49 a ticket per person? (Honestly, no sarcasm there at all, nope; none.) Obviously little Babbacombe model village can stretch to pyrotechnics, but not the mighty Legoland. Hmmmm….
In Knights Kingdom we stopped at a small covered stall where for £3.50 you could make and take home your own Lego parrot or kangaroo. Little one opted for the parrot (good choice) and actually it meant he was doing something, and, as Lego is notoriously expensive, I thought £3.50 for that was reasonable. More reasonable than anything else I’d seen at any rate.
We took a ride on the Hill Top train back to The Beginning just for the heck of going on a train ride. There, as you step off, is a sweet shop. Little man didn’t want an ice-cream (average price £2.50), but wanted some sweets instead. Pick and mix was either £4.50 for a smallish cup or £7.50 for a larger plastic container. We opted for jelly beans which you could dispense yourself from a very complicated contraption for the pauperish sum of £2.50. I also realised he’d need a drink so he got a Capri Sun for £1.50. I decided I could wait until back at the hotel for a drink, as at least it would be free. So far, three hours in and we’d spent £21.25 and that was with me being ‘frugal’.
We then entered the Star Wars Miniland exhibition which was also awesome. Just some amazing sculptures of all the main characters made entirely from Lego, and a moving, light up Millennium Falcon as well as scenes from Hoth, Geonosis and Naboo.
Of course at the end was a shop dedicated to all things Lego Star Wars, which we browsed around, yet didn’t buy. The thing is, you can, in this day and age, get all this stuff on the Internet at a fraction of the price. Even foreign tourists have no real reason to purchase this stuff here, yet I saw many people carrying bags of large boxes of Lego sets.
We decided to end our afternoon, before driving to the hotel in Slough, with a ride on the Viking Rapids as the queue was much smaller and it keeps moving. Little one said the pods (as he called the ride’s boats) should have had long boat carvings extending out of them. Yes! See, kids should so design these things, not adults! We debated whether to get a poncho to protect us from the deluge we were bound to get, but at £3.50 EACH (for a thin scrap of plastic) we decided against that. We are tough enough to take a bit of water. Plus the machine was broken so that settled that. It was the best way to end the day. The 7 year old (not the most adventurous or daring child in the world) loved the ride and neither of us minded getting soaked before we headed back to the hotel.
By the end of day one I was in a much better mood. We grabbed a map and planned the rides we wanted to go on the next day.
Now one thing I’d discovered whilst wandering around on day one was this mystical thing called Q bot. I’d worked out (because remember I’d not read the website beforehand), that this was some sort of queue hopping privilege. I guessed maybe only certain Merlin pass holders were entitled to jump the queues, but a stand in Adventure Land (possibly the least lived up to name of location next to Imagination Centre) told me, that no, this was something anyone could buy. At a price of course. £20 allows you access to jumping three queues on your day visit I believe. You can pay either £35 or £75 for upgraded versions of this. Wow. When you’ve already paid £49 into a place where, essentially, all there is to do is go on rides, they expect even more from the rich kids who can afford this luxury whilst the rest of us languish in shuffling forward hell for most of our time.
Needless to say, I did not purchase a Q bot pass. My one course dinner (nice as it was) and one glass of wine at the hotel had amounted to £20, so I had £15 of my original £60 budget left knowing there was still lunch to buy on day two and I’d promised the little one he could build mini figures and get a rubbish Lego Chima foam sword he’d had his eye on since visiting Kingdom Of the Pharaohs land.
Anyway, day two dawned and we drove to the park, but as we arrived there for just after 10am, we breezed in quite easily with no queues of traffic up the drive, and we were able to park in the first of the car parks reserved for the proletariat, which was not a field but a rough gravelly affair. The kind of in-between option of the field for latecomers and the tarmacked priority parking for the posh.
We’d planned to go on the boats on the lake in the Lego City part of the park. This is where you can drive your very own Lego boat around a lake. Little one opted this over the drive your own Lego car around a track option as I could go on that with him. These two rides seem to be most popular (I’d imagine due to the age range of kids Lego is aimed at), and so I said choose one rather than both as knew queuing would be a long experience for both. Despite the ride being at the far end of the park, and us heading straight there at the start of the day the queue was already right out to the entrance of the ride, so a 30 minute wait seemed likely, and I was right. The queue moved along at a good pace though as, like the Rapids, it’s a continuous ride where as boats come back in more get sent off. We had a lot of fun, me being sprayed with water by a huge Lego elephant right in the face! I wasn’t allowed to steer of course, more the pity as little one’s steering skills need some work, especially when he cut up another family as we headed back in to the end stretch!
Following this we went immediately onto Dino Safari. Being a ride for smaller kids it’s not so popular and so queuing was only 10 minutes. Again, another continuous ride as the safari Jeeps move around on a track (much like in Jurassic Park!), so of course that was great fun, spotting all the giant Lego dinosaurs and a few prehistoric Lego plants.
Once we got off The Dino Safari, little one said “Can we buy our photo of us on the ride?” You know how they take those photos as you go round? £10 each. TEN POUNDS. Not on your life. How does anyone afford it? Oh, but they do! That’s the amazing thing. (Or You can pay £30 for a photo package. I didn’t even delve into how many you’d be allowed. Four, tops I’d say, and given you probably only get on 4 rides in total, not exactly a bargain is it?)
Anyway, after that, we popped back on the Hill Top train to go to the shop to build some mini figures. Again, this was less expensive than I thought it would be. You get to build three minifigures for £4.99 and put them in a box to take home. There are a selection of heads, hairs, hats, bodies and legs to choose from, though, disappointingly, no accessories for your mini fig. I think Legoland could include that, as it would make it even better value for money and more fun. Whilst in there we purchased the foam sword lusted after by little one for £6.99 and an Emmett figure and ‘piece of resistance’ from the Lego movie for £2.99. Again that was quite reasonably priced given that mini figs on their own retail at £2.50.
We then headed to The Hill Top cafe for lunch, (much against my better judgement), as this seemed to be the only food outlet which sold sandwiches as oppose to burgers or pasta or pizza. “Ooh,” I thought, “this should be cheaper.” *Cough, Cough.
Little one had a kid’s lunch box. This is one of those cardboard affairs, much like you get a Happy Meal in or you can get at motorway service stations, or in fact in most places these days. They choose a sandwich, a bag of crisps, a drink and a bag of dried fruit (why not fresh I don’t know). It comes with another Legoland badge. Woo hoo! Then I had a sandwich, a banana, a small pot of strawberries and a small bottle of water.
The cost? £14.25. His lunch box was £5.50, so for my chicken salad sandwich, some fruit and some water I was charged £8.75. EIGHT POUNDS AND SEVENTY FIVE PENCE, people. I can’t even…. Loaf of bread? 75p. Punnet of strawberries? £1.50. Chicken deli slice? 40p approx. A banana? 20p. Water? Free. So essentially I paid about quadruple what that would have cost me to make myself. And then some I should think.
Note to the now wise: TAKE YOUR OWN FOOD.
The cafe also sold an alternative kids lunch meal ‘deal’ for £7.50. Which was basically the same as the one my little one had but with a blue plastic Lego brick lunch box instead of the cardboard box. The two women on the table next to us had three kids with them and they each had one. That’s a total of £22.50 for three kid’s lunches! That’s a quarter of my weekly shopping bill! I know its’ crude to talk about money and make judgements on people’s spending, but WOW. My eyes water just thinking about it.
Next, we ambled on down to Imagination Centre, an area we had omitted to visit on day one. There we could go in a room and build Lego stuff using our imagination. “The only thing holding you back is your imagination.” Or lack of decent Lego pieces. We have better stuff in the bedroom at home than they provided here. Disappointing again really, considering this should be the sort of place where kids say WOW! at every turn. Instead the room really only had what we call the chunkies, that’s the very basic pieces. Anyway, we sat, uninspired for a while, and the best I came up with was to make the word Legoland whilst the little one made his name!
It comes to something if Imagination Centre inspires the exact opposite! Still, it was nice and relaxed and we enjoyed ourselves as a rest after lunch. There are other attractions in Imagination Centre including a 4d cinema, a Lego Ninjago training centre and an X box gaming centre, though I’m not entirely sure how these inspire imagination. Anyway, little one showed no interest in these other things, other than the cinema, but the Lego Chima film wasn’t on until 2:30 and as we had to make our way back up the motorway at 3, it was a choice between that or the Rapids again which he desperately wanted to go on. I guess better initial planning on my part would have being wise and meant we got more for our money, but I’ve already admonished myself on that score at the start of this post so I won’t go on.
We then had a go on Spinning Spider ride, for which there was a half hour queue, to be spun around for one, possibly two minutes. Chatted to a nice family in the queue and little one made a friend who was the same age and it passed the time queuing more quickly. Finally, we headed back to the Rapids for the final ride of the day. This time, we got absolutely drenched (still not paying £3.50 x 2 for some plastic even though the machine was now working!) But we loved it again, and went back up the hill laughing about how soaking wet we were. We wandered back into the Star Wars exhibit to have one more look as it was so thoroughly awesome, before we headed back to the car and I did a good impression of a contortionist to change my underwear and jeans under the cover of my cardi. I’m not entirely sure I’d have coped with a squelchy bum all the way home!
The rain held off until we got onto the M4, so we were lucky with that. Yes, us Brits don’t mind getting a drenching on a water ride, but show us a bit of rain and we run for cover as though our very lives depended on it!
So everything is awesome?
Well, if you: a) do your research, b) accept that you are essentially going to a theme park and will spend hours in queues, c) understand you are going to be surrounded by whiny, squabbling, sugar filled kids and grumpy parents, and d) give up your fortnight holiday in the Seychells for the next few years, Legoland is awesome and you’ll have a great time! The staff were all (that one I mentioned excepted) really nice.
My advice though is this: Take your own food and drink, get there for opening time and leave at 7pm (to take advantage of smaller queues and free meals for kids) and you’ll have a blast. There is a great deal to do if your kids like rides especially.
Oh and if you don’t have kids, it’s probably not worth your bother other than to see the Lego exhibits, (as rides are not thrill seeking ones especially as it’s aimed at kids). Also see if you can go in quieter none peak times and use vouchers with a buy one get one adult in free voucher so you can split the cost.
Would I go again? Yeah…I would. For all that, me and the little one did have a good time and he has great memories, as I managed to put a lid on most of my cynicism in front of him, hence the explosion on the blog!
Tussauds Group are still rip off merchants though. I’m not changing my mind on that!
End note: I feel as though I should have the Trademark logo throughout this post, as I think I’ve name dropped so many companies.
And whereas I’ve probably not advertised Legoland or Tussauds attractions to their fullest, I think McDonalds and Lego itself might have come across fairly well!