Sunday 24 March 2019

Legoland UK: Everything Is Awesome (if you follow these Top 10 tips)

Family Holidays

The highlights of Legoland really depend on your age - and while the children love the theme park rides and activities, parents tend to prefer the joys of an on-site hotel
The highlights of Legoland really depend on your age - and while the children love the theme park rides and activities, parents tend to prefer the joys of an on-site hotel
Benjamin and Marty show their delight at visiting Legoland Windsor
The hotel in Legoland Windsor

Susan Jane White

Legoland is not just for kids. I applaud any excuse to canter around a children's park like a caffeinated Pokemon and be considered normal. I think you will too.

That's not to say I was looking forward to the long sweaty queues, explosive meltdowns and fast food that like to accompany theme park holidays. Steady on! It was closer to a stomach-churning mixture of fear and pleasant hysteria. There isn't even an emoji that understands me. Maybe you do?

While California likes to boast the best Legoland party, we have a number of kickass hosts to choose from across Europe without submitting to a 12-hour flight - Germany, Denmark and the UK.

Based on the assumption that my braincells would feel like an upside down creme caramel by lunchtime on day one, I chose the English-speaking country.

Legoland Windsor runs across 150 acres of parkland just 20 minutes outside Heathrow. Inside the hive you'll find over 80 million Lego bricks, a cartoon-style hotel, toddler-themed water park, around 60 rides and attractions, and a monumental Lego store.

Wahey! It's the new Croagh Patrick for guilt-ridden Irish parents, looking for absolution. (No emoji for that either).

Benjamin and Marty show their delight at visiting Legoland Windsor
Benjamin and Marty show their delight at visiting Legoland Windsor

My sons Benjamin (seven) and Marty (five) saved up all their pocket money to buy the plane tickets. This was a big deal, which took over two years for completion. On the morning of our departure, I thought they would self-combust with excitement.

So naturally, our holiday began with my youngest taking 90 photographs of his nose in the airport, clogging up my photo library and disabling storage with unprecedented speed. I've read about these moments in child psychologist Steve Biddulph's books. But I never thought they'd actually happen.

Mary Poppins would be proud. I had 650g of dark chocolate and a Spotify playlist compiled for such an occasion, including Enya's Orinoco Flow and Guns N'Roses Don't Cry (see Top Tips). As I was zoning out with my solar plexus chakra, Aer Lingus staff were incredible with my little ones, cracking jokes and sneaking them high fives. It was probably the most enjoyable flight I've ever been on, enhanced by the self-induced chocolate coma.

We stayed just one night at the plastic-fantastic Legoland Windsor Hotel nestled in the corner of the park. It comes complete with low ceilings and patterned carpets to help absorb the sonic airwaves that a gaggle of toddlers can simultaneously create. Clever, I guess, as well as aesthetically bold. The best surprise was arriving at our balloon-filled room to celebrate Benjamin's birthday. Every room gets a treasure hunt too, complete with a map, puzzles, a code-breaking safe and a little Lego gift each. Nice touch.

The highlights of Legoland really depends on your age. I loved the ease and comfort of an on-site hotel (yo, I'm turning 40), and making silly Lego mini figures of my friends. I chose Wonder Woman's hair and undies, with Batgirl's onesie. I've never looked better. Marty went for an aspirational Eminem vibe, backwards Lego cap and tiny legs to demonstrate his age. Dad looked somewhere between Disco Cop and a Jurassic Park tour guide. Instagram went wild.

The seven-year-old thrived on the simple pleasures of choosing what to do, and holding the Legoland map in his hands as if it were the winning Wonka ticket. He was happy as long as our feet kept moving. Being the eldest, Benjamin loved having his own money to spend, squirrelled away over the past two years of emptying the dishwasher and giving mummy foot massages. (Kidding! Mostly). He even wanted to pay for the taxi from the airport with the air of a newly-minted oil baron.

The hotel in Legoland Windsor
The hotel in Legoland Windsor

And as long as my five-year-old was lording it up in a hired buggy, he remained relatively sprightly. Rather surprisingly, he preferred to watch Benjamin enjoy the attractions and rides than to take part himself. The outdoor stunt show mesmerised both of my boys, which gave me breathing space for a fag. (Kidding! Mostly).

Look, it wasn't all tulips and fizz bombs. By 3pm on the first day, it felt like I had been in battle with a combine harvester.

The queues for the cafes are gobsmacking, and if you're lucky enough to nail a table you will undoubtedly be unlucky enough to sample their menu.

It was typical fast food. I managed to pack a few lame vegan nut bars from my emergency fanny bag, infuriating all the unprepared mothers within a 20-mile radius.

To recharge, we repaired to our hotel and love bombed its indoor water arena. Hotel guests are able to soothe their aching limbs in the toddler pools, while children water-pistol the staff. Bliss.

I'm not going to tell you which rides you'll enjoy more than others. That's just nonsense. I can, however, help equip your day with a swathe of golden tips I wish I had before nose-diving into 48 hours of Lego abyss. Ready?

Top 10 Tips

* Only consider visiting off-peak (Monday-Friday) unless you think sanity is overrated.

* Hire a double buggy for £15 (€17). My eldest pushed me around in it, after my tantrums subsided.

* Don't get the Legoland App - your kids will resent you being absorbed by a smartphone. It's not appropriate, in my opinion. (Mainly because you'll lose the pesky rascals as soon as you take your eyes off them).

* Measure your child's height in advance, and check online which rides are suitable. It's also worth having a stash of surprises in your handbag if your child is too small for some of the rides and his expectations are suddenly mangled. Grab a few packets of mini Lego figures for £2.50 (€3) at the park entrance.

* Don't bother packing stuff for every conceivable eventuality. You can buy spare socks, togs, towels and clothes on site at regular high street prices. The Legoland Hotel even sells Calpol, paracetamol, nappies and Sudocrem. Just bring food, and...

*... bring tissues. Lots of them. My scarf doubled up as a snot rag. I even sacrificed a sock at one stage (no further comment).

÷ Loki's Labrynth is like an adult comfort blanket in the middle of all the madness. Your children are guaranteed to get lost in this maze for at least 30 celestial minutes.

* Have an emergency Spotify list on your iPhone, when something tripwires your patience. It will help save your family photo album.

* Don't mention the cinema. Or the biggest Lego store in Europe. Code Red.

* You can bag a great deal online if you wait for the next one to pop up on (assuming you're not under a ticking toddler time bomb).

All that being said, don't even think about missing Pirate Falls or Laser Raiders. Oh and getting your own Lego Driver's Licence at the L-School. Just saying.

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Saddle up for fun

Mia’s Riding Adventure is a fast-spinning, hair-raising ride on a Lego Friends plastic pony. My seven-year-old looked like he could vaporise with happiness. Tiny queue too.

Skip the queues

Kids and queues go together like lemon and milk. For £20pp you can get your mitts on a queue-skipping gadget called a Q-Bot. I would have imploded without one. Definitely my top attraction.

Get there

The hotel in Legoland Windsor

Legoland Windsor is a 20-minute taxi ride from Heathrow Airport. Direct flights from Cork and Dublin are available with Aer Lingus and Ryanair. Book six months in advance for amazing budget deals with both airlines.

Prices for a one-night stay in Legoland range from €390-€800, for a family room for five. This includes park entry, indoor waterslide access and a treasure hunt for the younglings with Lego prizes. You will also be given access to the park 30 minutes before it opens to the public every morning. Yahtzee!

Legoland Windsor is opening a Castle Hotel this summer - this is where you want to be. Ask for a room on the top floor, where the acoustics are kinder to your melatonin. Lower levels are noisier, with families bouncing in rooms overhead.

Susan Jane White is a regular columnist for the Sunday Independent's LIFE Magazine, a cookbook author, and mother of two high-speed vandals

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