Legoland: What's it really like to visit Denmark's top theme park?
Short breaks in Europe
Billund is the home of Lego, but for visitors to the Danish town there's a little more to it than that, says Warren Chrismas.
It's at least 32 degrees Celsius on a late afternoon at Legoland in Billund, Denmark, home of the legendary plastic brick empire.
My wife and three boys are queuing for the Mini Boats ride for the third time today, while I selflessly guard the pushchair (not strictly necessary, if I'm honest).
Beside me is a man, probably in his 50s, completely laid out on a bench with a cap over his face. I don't know who he is but, my goodness, I know exactly how he feels.
We've spent almost seven solid hours dashing from ride to ride, only really stopping for a late lunch. And, of course, our kids have absolutely loved every minute of it.
Between them, they've driven a fire engine, sailed inside a secret cave, taken a ride on Duplo train, fired water cannons at pirate ships, watched a 4D mini-movie, climbed a lighthouse, ridden on a dragon roller coaster, gained a 'licence' at the Seat Driving School and... well, loads more I've forgotten in a blur.
By any measure, this has been a grand day out - and we've spent relatively little of it queuing. With the final boat ride done, we retreat to Hotel Legoland where we have a Kingdom-themed room (above, other options include Pirates, Friends and Ninjago).
Waking up next to the image of beaming, yellow-faced knight is a stark reminder that you're on a kids' holiday. The rooms are covered with elaborate decals, and feature various brick-based furnishings and creations - in this case, burning torches on the wall, and a model owl and rat.
I imagine relatively few guests here are on their honeymoon.
We start the new day by toasting our middle son's fourth birthday with a bottle of 'fizz' - well, a non-alcoholic strawberry drink which comes as part of the birthday package, along with a gift (a neat Legoland train) and card. The room itself has been transformed with bunting, balloons and special bedding. At around £47/€54 extra, the package isn't cheap, but Dylan is made to feel pretty special.
Guests at the hotel are entitled to two days' access to Legoland, so after making the most of the expansive buffet breakfast, we make the short walk down corridors, ready to enter the park bang on 10am.
Feeling a little like we are on a mad trolley dash, we sprint to the 4D ride in the new Ninjago World, and then onto Lloyd's Laser Maze, in which you have to step through red laser beams, Mission Impossible-style.
We manage to go twice, before queues begin to form. By midday, we've been on 10 rides and attractions, but it's time to drag ourselves away to go to Lalandia, a popular, Center Parcs-style resort which is literally just across the road.
We have day-tickets for the Aquadome, Scandinavia's largest waterpark - and, after a frantic day and a half at Legoland, it proves to be a welcome change of pace and scene.
Alex and Dylan, our two youngest, enjoy splashing around in the toddlers' pool and bravely going down 20ft slides with little intervention, allowing us adults to take turns on the numerous water rides, including the exhilarating wild river (apparently the longest in Europe). After trying some of the rides himself, seven-year-old Oscar seems content going round and around the lazy river.
Sitting in the toddlers' pool, I note how friendly and smiley everyone seems. And then remember that I'd put a bright yellow inflatable ring on my head.
Tired and hungry after a marathon six hours in the Aquadome, we head to nearby restaurant, Ristorante il Bambino. It's part of the same complex at Lalandia, which also features bowling lanes and a softplay area. Above us is an artificial sky with clouds painted on the ceiling. Our fatigued kids find this a little confusing.
Not for the first time on the trip, conversation with my wife turns to the cost of food and drink. There's no denying that it can be expensive in Denmark, but our buffet dinner here is a semi-reasonable £24/€27 for adults and £10/€11.50 for kids.
Drinks are pricey though - a 'medium' Coke is a whopping £4.70/€5.40.
There aren't dozens of bar and restaurant options in Billund. This is a small residential town with just 6,000 or so inhabitants, not a bustling city. The Lego HQ and factory dominates the area, but apparently, even most of its employees commute in from somewhere else.
Just 15 miles away (and served by a local bus route) is Givskud Zoo and an adjacent hostel, which is a great option if you're looking to keep down the cost of your stay.
Givskud is actually part zoo, part safari and part dinosaur park. Our kids enjoy driving among lions, elephants and giraffes, watching gorillas being fed, petting goats, getting up close to lemurs and then walking among 40 life-sized dinosaur models.
"It's nice to see dinosaurs in their natural habitat," remarks Oscar. Rather than the oppressive captivity of the Natural History Museum, presumably.
Together, Legoland, Lalandia and Givskud Zoo form a triumvirate of hugely compelling attractions around Billund (combo tickets for all three are available). They're so close together, you don't really need a hire car but, of course, it's great having the option to explore.
We spend our final night at the popular Ribe Byferie holiday village, about an hour's drive from Billund. Ribe is Denmark's oldest town and extremely picturesque, with a beautiful cobbled centre, and gorgeous shops and restaurants.
Our kids are a little young to appreciate local Viking history, but enjoy staying up to follow the town's night watchman, as he gives a tour of the area and tells stories of yore.
If we'd had the time, we would have loved to explore Ribe on bicycle and maybe even try canoeing but, sitting at the swish Billund airport, we reflect on what has been a fun-filled, action-packed few days.
The kids, meanwhile, are eyeing up the airport's solitary toy shop. It only sells one brand of toy. No prizes for guessing what it is.
Warren Chrismas was a guest of VisitDenmark (visitdenmark.co.uk) and LEGOLAND Billund Resort (legolandbillundresort.dk/en). Hotel LEGOLAND offers family rooms from £103/€118 B&B (based on four people).
Danhostel Givskud Zoo (danhostel.com) offers family-friendly rooms from £67/€77 (based on four people sharing).
Ribe Byferie Resort has self-catering holiday homes from £106/€121 (four people). Hotel apartments cost from £194/€222 B&B (four people). The holiday homes and hotel apartments grant free access to a series of communal facilities.
There are no direct flights from Ireland to Billund, but BA, SAS, Lufthansa and others offer connecting, one-stop options.
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