Monday 20 October 2014

Trip to Legoland makes for a real blockbuster holiday

Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30

One of the fun rides at Legoland Windsor
Nick Webb and his son Ed in Legoland, Windsor

Legoland is absolutely awesome. I spent the weekend at Legoland Windsor with my youngest kid, Ed, and had an absolute blast. We'll be talking about this for years.

The Legoland Windsor theme park and hotel is a half hour trip away from London's Heathrow airport. We left Dublin at 9am and were on the first ride before lunchtime. Merlin Entertainments, the vast private equity owned company that runs Legoland, is a sharp operator. It's the firm behind Madam Tussauds, Alton Towers, Sealife and the London Eye... as well as the wonderful sounding Gardaland. Merlin runs six Legolands around the world, so it has it refined down to a tee. This is a very slick operation.

There are 55 rides in the 150 plus acres of rolling parkland that makes up Legoland Windsor. There's a lot of Lego too. Some 25m pieces were used for the construction of some of the attractions. The giant Lego constructions, ranging from animatronic Dragons to Star Wars characters and Mexican bandidos, are really quite spectacular.

The theme park is pitched at three to 12 year old kids. Ed is six and a bit and it was absolutely spot on for him. I'm not so sure that my 12 or 13 year old would have had quite as much fun. Ed spent the weekend giggling, roaring with laughter, shrieking in horror and generally charging about. It was just the most fun.

There are plenty of trains and the like, but the real attractions are the rides. Legoland is divided up into different territories, with specially themed rides. There's Vikings, Knights, Star Wars, Atlantis, Sciencey bits and Egyptian stuff. Legoland has also splashed the cash to create a whole new Pirate shores part of the park.

The best rides, in no particular order, are: the Pirate Falls Treasure Chest, a gentle drift along in a boat that suddenly gets very wet. The Dragon Roller coaster. The Viking River Splash. The Jolly Rocker, Raft river racer and the Spinning Spider were as much fun as you can have entirely sober. None of them are particularly scary or challenging, which is good because I'm a complete wuss at Funderland. The Laser Raider was the ride we did the most. Maybe about seven times. It's like a ghost train with laser guns. You get to shoot stuff. What's not to like.

The best activity is beside the Viking River Splash, where you get to operate giant water pistols that squirt the poor unfortunates riding in the boats as they float past you. I found that bald guys or passersby were the most fun to squirt. Ed was more egalitarian in his squirting.

Other highlights include the submarine trip in Atlantis, which takes you underwater into a giant aquarium with real life sharks, manta rays and other nifty and exotic sea creatures. This was really cool as we hadn't expected much more than a few tired goldfish.

Kids also get to drive around a streetscape in small electric cars in the driving school, which is one of the most popular rides. We also enjoyed the boating school.

For the late afternoon crash, there are quieter activities including a 3-D movie theatre, which shows short movies with a couple of little surprises. The Hero Factory and Discovery Zones are where you go to get your hands on the plastic bricks. There's buckets of the stuff in there and you sit around on small tables making monsters or cars. All very therapeutic.

Definitely bring some swimming togs. There's a pool in the hotel and a bit of a play zone with slides and squirty things. The Duplo Zone also has an epic water playground. The weather was absolutely terrific, so the swimming togs were a must. You'll definitely get wet at Legoland, so bring a change of clothes or two.

The Legoland Q-Bot is one of life's better inventions. It allows you to dodge the plebs in the main queue and get on popular rides in a couple of minutes. There are a variety of different priced Q-Bots, giving access to the rides. We were given a special queue dodging pass for the two days. But before we activated it, we decided to join the masses in a queue for Laser Raider. We spent almost an hour. Probably a good idea to have the flappy bird game or the like on your phone for queues.

The nosh at the Lego hotel hits the spot. It's a buffet designed with kids in mind – plenty of pizza, chips, sausages and even Lego shaped chips. Grown-up food ranges from a carvery to more exotic casseroles. To be honest, we didn't look to see if there were any vegetables, salads or bits of fruit. The highlight of the dining experience was the Mister Whippy machine. A useful discovery was the fact that you can fill a giant paper cup with whipped ice cream to the brim three times without getting sick. And that's just for adults.

Another useful discovery was the Hilltop cafe near the day tripper entrance to the park. It had the best coffee by far. We ate breakfast and dinner at the hotel but survived on hotdogs, crisps and fizzy drinks for lunch. And funny flavoured popcorn. And icepops.

The Lego Hotel is not the kind of place you'd go to with a hangover. It's bright, garish and plasticky.

We stayed in a Pirate themed room, which had lots of treasure chests, stripy bed linen and a skull and crossbones theme. My bed was jolly comfortable. Ed slept in the bunk beds and seemed happy enough with them.

The hotel has a number of treasure hunt puzzles with prizes of Lego toys, small ones, for those prepared to put in the legwork. We copied our answers from another contestant, which is a far simpler way of getting free stuff.

For those who don't cheat on tests, there are plenty of shops to buy Lego clothes, box sets and other trinkets. Lego isn't cheap. But it is awesome.

The park is open until Monday, November 3, 2014 (closed on selected midweek days in May, September, October and November)

Tickets cost in advance online, from €42.70 for adults, from €37.77 for children (free for under threes) and from €160.91 for families (2 adults + 2 children)

www.legoland.co.uk/en/Book/ or call 0845 373 2640

LEGO themed LEGOLAND Hotel

Prices: themed family rooms (2 adults/ 2 children) available from €300.42 low season or from €409.88 high season

Hotel price includes breakfast and Park tickets for two days plus early bird access to selected rides in the Park (special rates available for LEGOLAND Annual Pass Holders and Merlin Annual Pass Holders)

www.legoland.co.uk/hotel/shortbreak/

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