Monday, 4 June 2012

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, tis off to Legoland we go (or That's 12 Hours Of My Life I Won't See Again)

On Friday 1st June, the boys' school had an INSET day, so, together with a friend and her two children, we headed to Legoland for our semi-regular annual jaunt.  We try never to go in your actual school holidays, because it is busy enough at the best of times, let alone when everybody can travel freely and without incurring the wrath of the unauthorised absence fairy.
And, as we meandered our way through the brightly-coloured plastic brick strewn landscape, it occurred to me that I could probably put together some kind of Top Ten Tips For Surviving Legoland blog post.

So, in a rough chronological order, here they are.

1. Don't pay full price.  Only a dick would spend north of £100 taking two children to Legoland.  Instead, use Tesco Clubcard vouchers, Nectar points, or you can sometimes find deals on Groupon or other voucher websites, or even booking in advance through Legoland's own website - basically, there'll be a deal somewhere.  Use it.  My friend used Tesco Clubcard vouchers (which require a degree of planning and forethought that I seldom display, since you have to send away for them in advance) and I used Nectar points (which only requires a quick swipe of one's Nectar card at the till.  You can pay in multiples of £5.00 for tickets, which meant that I spent £110-worth of points and paid the extortionate additional sum of £1.60 in actual cash).  You will also be charged £2 for the car park, but we needn't have done, because there was nobody checking tickets on the way out (NB I am not suggesting you don't pay it, because the Legoland Police may well be out in force on the day you go and you may be thrown into Legoland Jail for not paying it).

2. Get there early.  There will be a queue to park.  There will be a queue to get into the park.  There will be queues to get into queues if you don't get there early enough.  You will want to eat your own face off with boredom by the time you're through the gates if you don't get there early.  So get there early.  The park opens at 10am and, on the day we were there, it shut at 5pm (though in truth, we didn't leave till - oh, well, I won't spoil the ending for you - you'll just have to read on!).

3. Take a buggy with you.  We had two eight-year-old boys (one my friend's, one mine), a six-year-old boy (mine) and a five-year-old girl (my friend's) between us, none of which has used a pushchair in anger for some time, but we took one with us.  And we piled it high with drinks bottles, cool bags for the picnic, towels and swimmers for the Waterworks, a cuddly toy, a fondue set and three cabbages.  Crackerjack!  Or was it The Generation Game?  We may never care.  You can dump the pushchair before you go on the rides and it will be there when you come back (just don't leave valuables on it, kids).

4. Plan your route.  Preferably, do this in advance, using the interactive Explore Legoland map.  Or, do as we did - wrestle with children who are determined to look at the map upside-down, then all run off in different directions.  One way or the other, you'll settle on your first thing - do this quickly, because the queues (did I tell you of the queues?) will build up swiftly.  Perhaps here I should mention the Q-Bot, a small, hand-held device which you can program to queue for you.  Since it costs between £15 and £70 extra per person, and neither of us had had the foresight to marry or become millionaires, we opted to queue for ourselves.  Take a moment to consider that, had we decided to plump for the £70 per person option, we would have spent a further £420 between us, simply to get on stuff more quickly.  Coo.

We decided that our first thing would be the Spinning Spider, and queued for approximately 20 minutes to get on it.  This ride is a version of Waltzers and a relatively large number of people can ride it at once, meaning the queue tends to move pretty quickly.

Six-year-old boy on Dragon roller coaster
Happy 6yo
The next thing on our list was The Dragon, a roller coaster (relatively tame, no loop-the-loop or anything).  My eight-year-old was determined not to go on it, but I persuaded him to trust me, for I knew he would enjoy it.  Only one of our children was tall enough to ride without an adult with them, my friend's eight-year-old.  Handily, Legoland realises that, having queued once, the last thing you'll want to do is queue again with your other too-short-to-ride-solo child, so lets you stay on and ride with the other child without queuing.  And, yes, my eight-year-old loved it.  As did my six-year-old.

5. Decide what NOT to do.  Don't do the sodding Fire Academy.  You spend an eternity in a queue before getting onto the fire engine, where you then have to work a lever like a crazy person to move the appliance along a track towards a "burning" building, before leaping up and down pressing another lever so your child can aim piss-weak streams of water into the cut-out of a house, then it's back to the fire engine to hammer-and-tongs it back to the start line (which has now become the finish line).  Your children won't be strong enough to help all that much, one or all will complain they haven't had a turn doing some portion of the tedious task and you will start wondering why you didn't have the foresight to bring a hip flask with you.

In the same vein, if you've seen fish before, don't queue for Atlantis Sub Store.  Last year, I spent about two hours queuing for this unutterably dull "voyage" to the bottom of a puddle to look at fish you can see in any local aquarium.  I think there may be a code of silence regarding this "attraction" being not all that attractive in reality and I am expecting the Legoland Police to pounce upon me for mentioning that this is really a pretty crummy experience.

But do go and see the Pirates Of Skeleton Bay Stunt Show though, because it includes the opportunity for your children to spray the performing adults with water, which they will find hilarious.  And stunt pirates tumbling off a lighthouse, which is always good fun, I'm sure you'll agree.  It's on several times a day - we saw the 4pm showing, which was jam-packed.  And do make time for a mooch round Miniland for it is a wonderful spectacle of the astonishingly versatile nature of what are essentially little bits of plastic (does that spoil the magic?  Sorry).

6. Take diversionary activities with you.  Some of the queues (I do apologise, I say "queue" a lot in this blog post.  There's a reason for that - can you guess?) have things to do for children in them, but it is worth taking something to do with you as well, so that you can occupy them.  I must remember this, should I ever go anywhere where queuing is such a large part of the day again.  For this time, I forgot it and I spent a large portion of the day channelling Joyce Grenfell, saying, "Don't climb on that.  Please get down.  Oh, fgs, get off that.  You will fall and hurt yourself.  Yes, I know you want to look in the moat to see the dirty Lego fish, but it is A Long Drop from these crenellations.  Ooh, look at that wizard's cloak made from Lego."  Gingerbread men went down a treat, but you can't feed children biscuits for several hours of the day, because it will mean they get wedged in the fleeting ride at the end of the queue and the fire brigade may need calling.  The best queue was for the Boating School, where you steer a boat through a safari landscape of Lego elephants and polar bears (wearing sunglasses, for some reason).  This was because it had several stations where you could build Lego into towers (though, as a sign somewhat bizarrely warned, not too tall, for health and safety reasons.  I'm unaware of someone being fatally felled by a too-tall Lego tower, but maybe I'm just reading the wrong news stories).
Eight-year-old boy driving Lego car
He's eight. Promise.

7. Get your story straight.  Your children will be asked how old they are by Legoland staff if you take them on the Driving School.  They need to be six, so either make sure they can lie convincingly (and  also ensure that the older ones won't grass up their younger siblings) when they're asked, or take them on the one for little kids next to the big one.  Discretion prevents me from recounting what we did with the five-year-old in our midst.  I will tell you that I went on the Legoland Driving School in Copenhagen Legoland when I was 15.  And the age limit is 13.  Oh, the shame.

8. Take your own drinks.  There are all manner of stalls selling things throughout the park.  You can, for £6, purchase a vat that you can have refilled with fizzy pop as many times as you like at any stall selling drinks, but we went for the cheaper option of bringing water with us, which had the added bonus of ensuring the children weren't off their tits on sugary fizz as we made our way round the park.

9. Eat before you leave.  One child per paying adult eats free in selected restaurants across Legoland after 4pm.  Since it will take you another eon to leave the car park, in nose-to-tail traffic, it is a good idea to wedge your children as full as possible on pizza before you go, to avoid having to either pack a picnic tea as well as lunch, stop en route home or feed them when you get in.  We opted for the pizza/pasta/salad buffet, which was eerily like a Pizza Hut eat-all-you-can experience.  At what worked out at a fiver a head once the free child meals were taken into account, this was very good value indeed, we felt.

10. Buy ice cream last.  You don't have to do this, of course.  You can move swiftly past the kiosk on the way to the car park, to sit in traffic for another hour before you leave Legoland behind.  Or you can eke out the pleasure experience for another 45 minutes by queuing to buy an ice cream, then eating it perched next to sweaty strangers on one of the not-enough benches before trudging back to the car (which will be considerably easier to find than in a crowded car park, because almost everyone will have left by the time you've eaten your Cornetto).  This approach also handily means you can tell the children they can have an ice cream on the way out, so you don't have children eating ice cream in the hottest, waspiest part of the day.  And they won't fill themselves up with it mid-afternoon, meaning they'll still eat their dinner.  Result.

So, there you have it.  My Top Ten Tips For Surviving Legoland.  A quick recap:

1. Don't pay full price.
2. Get there early.
3. Take a buggy with you.
4. Plan your route.
5. Decide what NOT to do.
6. Take diversionary activities with you.
7. Get your story straight.
8. Take drinks with you.
9. Eat before you leave.
10. Buy ice cream last.

I spent £1.60 on entry (using approximately one squillion Nectar points as well), £2 on the car park (which I needn't have done), £3.20 on a bucket of Coke to try to stave off a headache that I developed in the queue for The Dragon (something to do with repeatedly dragging the six-year-old off the ramparts), £15.30 on dinner and £8.40 on ice cream.  Just shy of £30 on a day at Legoland for one adult and two children isn't bad, I don't think.  I can think of things I'd rather have spent it on, but that would be Very Selfish of me.  And the boys had fun, so that's all that matters, right?  Oh, and painkillers finally eased the headache, thanks.

NB - we actually left Legoland at 7.20pm, more than two hours after it officially closes.  We weren't the last to leave by any means.  Approximately an hour of that was queuing for and munching ice cream, and persuading recalcitrant children that their bladders would burst if they didn't visit the lavatory before we got in the car to go home.

Legoland Windsor logo


  1. I remember the queue for the submarine. Sigh...

    But fun was had... wasn't it? lol

  2. Our two loved the Atlantis thing. A lot. But you're right about everything. It just so happens they like looking at fish in puddles. PS there was a long queue.

  3. Mars, yes, I think so!

    Mark, hurrah for children who like fish in puddles! Boo for queues.