10 things you should know about… Legoland Windsor
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Last Friday, half-delirious at spotting some sunshine in half-term week, I descended on Legoland Windsor with my children, mother and half of Southern England. If you’re planning the same this summer, you’d better read my tips…
1.Call Legoland before you leave – and then check again en route – to make sure you can get in. There had been a crash on the M4 in the early morning which meant it took us a whopper 3 hours to get there. Horrendous but not Legoland’s fault. However, it meant we didn’t arrive at the hallowed gates until 1pm, by which time the park was full and people without pre-paid tickets were being turned away. We survived the cull, but plenty didn’t and there were some angry people in overheating cars. Still Legoland’s loss was no doubt Windsor Castle’s gain.
2. Start at the bottom and work your way up
This feels counter intuitive, but if you get there first thing-ish in the morning most people who are walking down stop at the Imagination Centre or the Miniland (above) first, leaving the rides at the bottom fairly free. If you’re planning to leave between 4-5pm, think about getting any gifts from the shop around 3pm before it gets so crammed you can’t move.
3. Make like you’re going to the beach
Bring towels, swimmers, and a change of clothes for the brand new Duplo Valley (above) . This is massive, brilliant play space for young children with loads of water sprays, buckets and splashers so your hopes of keeping your kids out are practically zero. There’s a shop to buy all this stuff right next to the area if you can’t be bothered to bring it yourself, but as you’d expect, there’s a hefty mark up. If it’s not a sunny day, there’s Brickville dry adventure play area as well with a healthy mix of pink castles and dinosaur climbs.
3. Stay late
If your energy levels can cope with a whole day of Legoland, stick around past the mass exodus. By 5ish the crowds had dropped off, the kids had a second wind after a muffin and apple juice in the top cafe behind the Lego shop. (BTW, with a large outdoor seating area and proper coffee, it’s probably one of the better cafes in the park.) At the end of the day, we managed to get on a whole bunch of rides we’d previously walked past because of the 30-60 minute waiting time. We loved the Spinning Spider (above) and the Longboat Invader and my personal favourite, the gentle Fairy Tale boat ride.
4. Plan your visit
As usual, my haphazard approach to life in general meant that I totally forgot about the Atlantis bit of the park – it’s supposed to be utterly brilliant with the under water ridde that takes you in with the fishies. There was the entire section of older kids’ rides that were ignored too, but Legoland is so vast these days it’s almost impossible to do it all in one day. It’s quite tempting to have a go in the fabulous-looking Lego hotel next time and really give the place a hammering.
We did make it to the newish Star Wars model area though. All three of my children (including my daughter) seem to be Star Wars nuts and thought they were going to pass out with excitement when they saw life size Darth Vader (or as Cass likes to call him ‘Dark Fader’) and Luke Skywalker. Really, it’s just a whole load of plastic (I know, spoken like a true Lego fan) with some atmospheric music and flashing lights but even I had to admit it was all good fun.
5. Bring your own food and water
I know this sounds a bit of a faff and possibly a bit tight, but the one area of Legoland that I was really frustrated by was the food. It’s really awful 0 Kentucky Fried Chicken that’s been incinerated since 7am and crappy canteen fare. If Legoland was transplanted to Italy, there’s no way they’d serve this stuff. I’m not suggesting polenta chips (although….!), but we need more choice than this. OK, rant over. Next!
6.Get out your GCSE Geography crammer book before you go.
Walking breezily amongst the model cities in Miniland, posing questions for my kids and OK, I admit it, showing off a bit, I quickly came a-cropper. Turns out Bruges was actually Brussels and that Edinburgh stone looks rather similar to Welsh slate. Who knew?!
7. Believe the estimated waiting times.
8. Don’t ignore the free activities
After 3 hours in a traffic jam on the way to Legoland, none of us felt much like queuing, so we started off with the free activities, more relaxing then waiting for rides and relatively tourist free. Free sites include the Duplo play areas/fountains, the Lego ‘Build’n’Test’ areas, Miniland, the Amazing Mazes (above), the Rat Trap and the Explorers Institute. Plus the free puppet shows in the DUPLO theatre and the stunt shows in the Lego City Harbour.
9. Don’t think about the money. That way madness lies. For a family of 5 for a day, with food and drink, presents and tickets, there’s very little change for £300. But what I love about Legoland is how inclusive it is – it’s a real family experience, somehow offering pleasure to all ages, and perhaps feels a bit more innocent than some of the more garish thrill-seeker parks.
10. Continue your quest for knowledge
Life is too short to spend much more time analysing a theme park – I’m going slightly loony doing this! – but if you really want to swot up on every aspect of Legoland, check out a useful unofficial guide to surviving Legoland Windsor here and wallow in the plastic paradise.