Legoland doesn’t come cheap, but with a bit of planning, it can be the perfect family holiday, says John Carroll.
Her knuckles as white as her little cherub face, Emily (my five-year-old daughter) was protesting.
“I wasn’t scared,” she said after disembarking from her first ever rollercoaster ride.
Will we go on it again so, I asked her. Her pale face contorted at the idea. No thank you, she said, in a polite but you-must-be-off-your-head-daddy response.
Thank God for that. Emily wasn’t aware this was mummy and daddy’s first time on a rollercoaster too. And the worst thing was that we actually got on the ride without even knowing it.
I’ll explain that bit later.
So, with wobbly legs and somersaulting stomachs, we find we have completed the first of so many attractions at the plastic paradise that is Legoland in Windsor, England.
And what a wonderful little world this is for both children and the not so young with some 25m pieces of Lego used here for your pursuit of happiness.
Spread across 150 acres of beautiful countryside, Legoland has 55 interactive rides on offer that would take days to complete.
From water activities to driving school for children where they are meant to learn the rules of the road, Legoland oozes fun for the family.
When you spend more time looking at a map of Legoland than you did trying to navigate your way from Wales to Windsor, you know that this sprawling leisure park is brilliantly bonkers and there is no time to waste.
But, be warned, you will complete little without a Q-bot, a ride reservation device which allows visitors to reserve places in queues.
This extra guarantees you a fast-track onto the rides, in most circumstances within 10 minutes.
Those without were waiting up to an hour for the pleasure — and most of the rides are over within three minutes. Q-bot prices vary from £25-£75.
It is another dip in the wallet but a necessary burden as you could feasibly spend the whole day at Legoland with very little to write home about.
While we did visit on the Easter Bank holiday Friday, you would imagine Legoland is always hopping on a weekend.
So plan carefully and try and aim for a weekday when schools are not on break.
Thankfully, we were able to avail of a ride access pass which is for people with disabilities or special needs and allowed the family to skip the very long queues that snake around the corners of most of these attractions.
It comes at no extra cost and a doctor’s cert is all that is required.
The website, www.Legoland.co.uk has a very clear breakdown of what you need to present on arrival.
Back to the roller coaster ride. It was a freak mistake. Myself and the wife were resigned to drawing straws on who’d have to get on with the kids.
Inside a large towering castle at Knights Kingdom, we found what appeared to be a gentle-looking train that looked a soft enough threat to petrified parents.
This is grand, I thought to myself, as it took off at about two miles an hour, with the only threat being soaked by hidden pipes spitting out water on you.
All nice and gentle. Until I could hear screaming coming from the front.
The brilliant sunshine hit my face when two gigantic doors flung open and we found ourselves barreling across the sky high above thousands of people below.
Back on ground and it’s please don’t let me puke in public prayer time.
After that I decided to skip the Jolly Rocker — a high-swinging pirate galleon at Pirate Shores — where nobody has stopped screaming for the last five minutes.
But if water is your thing you will dive right in here, with loads of splash rides as boats plummet up and down over water at high speed, Pirate Falls Treasure Chest and Viking River Splash were hugely popular attractions that will make you go arrrgh — if not necessarily in a pirate voice.
And the great thing is there are dozens of adult- sized booths where hot air quickly dries you off, sparing you the need to lug around towels and changes of clothing.
As my two children are five and seven, we stuck to more age-appropriate activities, including driving fire trucks and putting out house blazes by pumping hoses. Simple pleasures are often the best.
Other gentle treats included the hot air balloon rides where you get to control the height and speed that suits you and the train ride that explores the whole park and gives you a real appreciation of the magnitude of fun that is on offer here.
And Star Wars fans will find yourselves on another planet here. There is an indoor model display replicating seven of the most famous scenes from the movie franchise — all constructed using 1.5m Lego bricks.
You have got to appreciate the time and talent it takes to put such marvels together.
However, the children particularly loved the driving school where, after a short video tutorial, dozens of wannabe speedsters took to their cars and paid no heed to traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, or basic common decency toward their fellow drivers.
It was carnage. It was great craic and everyone was given a driving cert at the end. God knows how.
Walking, laughing, and exhilaration can lead to hungry stomachs.
There are five restaurants and dozens and dozens of food stalls.
However, we decided to bring our own picnic and were glad — I couldn’t stomach paying some fairly hefty prices for what was mostly junk food.
It would have left quite a bad taste in the mouth after paying for Qbots and, entry and parking fees, before you even reach the gift shops at the end — which cannot be bypassed.
Lego does not come cheap.
So much to do, so plan your journey well, step by step, brick by brick.
We travelled by ferry as guests of Stena Line from Dublin port to Holyhead.
It was a handy, hassle-free voyage and a lot more modern than I had expected.
With good restaurants, cafes, games rooms, children’s clubs, a cinema, and free wifi, we sauntered over the Irish Sea in about two and half hours.
That was the easy bit. Now a further 460km from Wales to Windsor.
It is a long drive but Britain’s motorways are fast and furious and really efficient (just don’t act like the children at driving school).
Why, I was even relaxed driving in the smug knowledge the kids couldn’t escape having a conversation with me for the first time in ages while locked inside the car for the monstrous drive.
Chuck in a McDonalds on the way and we had them eating out of our hands.
You will easily need to fill the petrol tank twice for a round journey so beware of mounting costs.
We stayed a the Hilton hotel in Basingstoke which was a nice, clean, modern accommodation located a short drive from Legoland.
Shattered from the drive on arrival, we collapsed into our comfortable beds and awoke to a nice hotel breakfast.
We hit the road at 9.30am for the 65km journey to Windsor. Traffic was already hugging the roads on approach.
Get up early if you really want to make the most of the day instead of spending a good portion of it playing roundabout roulette with a few tetchy drivers.
What is it with drivers?
From €639, a family of four can enjoy a return Stena Line sailing by car from Dublin or Rosslare, 2 nights’ accommodation in a 4 star hotel and a one day’s entry pass to Legoland.
For further information visit www.stenaline.ie/legoland or call 01 907 5399.
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