Monday 1 October 2012

Legoland Windsor Review

My little man turns 9 this week and where better to take him for a birthday treat than Legoland, Windsor? Not many places come as high on his hit list as Legoland; we have had a whole week of chattering away, him planning what ride he will do first and by all accounts his friends are green with envy at what he is up to this weekend.

So was it worth the build up? Yes most definitely, not only did JJ (age 9) have a wonderful time, his 5 year old twin sisters were in their element too.
I asked them all to share with me what the best part of our day at Legoland was and this is what I got told –
JJ – ‘It is definitely the Lego miniland with all the buildings, cities and other interesting stuff made out of Lego. They used nearly 40 million bricks Mum, can you believe it?’. It makes me smile that there are all these high tech rides and there is my little man true to his love of Lego and in awe of all the wonderful Lego creations.
Miss E – ‘I loved the Fire Engine ride mummy, when me and Daddy did it we won and I squirted the most water’. I knew this would be her answer as she insisted on riding this twice and I made dh do it the second time as it certainly gives you an arm work-out, all that pumping action!
Miss M – ‘The pirate show was really great mummy, they were like gymnasts and they could swim too. I want to do that when I am grown-up’. Miss M was of course referring to the Pirates of Skelton bay show that features during the day. It was lovely to sit in the panto style capers.
Dh – ‘It was just good to have a whole day out as a family and to see the kids have such a great time’.
A good mix in there and my favourite part was different again. I loved the 4D theatre shows at the Imagination Theatre so much so that I took the kids in twice to see different showings.

Review of the park
Car parking – we had an easy drive into the park at about 10.15am on a Saturday, the journey from the M3 was easy and well signed and pretty uneventful. On arrival at the park we saw that it is £2 to park your car and I have to say this feels a bit cheeky given the entrance costs.  You can also take the option to pay £8 and park practically on the door step to the park entrance.  I was a little concerned about exiting the park and if it would take us ages but the flow was good and at 5.45pm we left 15 minutes before closing in a steady but moving stream of cars.
Park Entrance – It didn’t actually take too long to get into the park, the queues moved steadily and the staff were very attentive and happy to help. JJ was given a badge as it was his birthday and this is a nice touch.
Toilet and baby change facilities – There were loads of facilities across the park and I found the high standard consistent. It was such a nice surprise to find large cubicles that myself and my 2 girls could fit in with no issues. There were plenty of baby change and disabled facilities too. You can see that Legoland has geared up for the family market as there were the smaller child seats on many of the toilets and also toddler seats strapped to the walls with restraining straps. There were also lockers outside the toilets so you could easily stow things and not have to worry about returning to your car.
Also convenient is the baby care centre located in the Lego City area which has private facilities for breast or bottle feeding and of course there is baby change facilities there too.
Drinking water – Outside of most of the toilet areas were drinking fountains and you could refill bottles using these. I also asked for a refill in one of the catering outlets and this was provided with no questions asked. I always think it is really important to be able to get a drink of water in these kind of amusement parks when things can be more expensive.
Catering facilities – Again there are plenty of catering outlets across the park and there is variety in what you can order – burger and chips, eat all you like buffets, various wraps, sandwiches and baguettes, jacket potatoes, BBQ’s and loads more. Snacks were available around every corner and as expected nothing was cheap but I do feel the buffet restaurants were reasonable at £9.95 for an adult and £5.95 for a child all you can eat. And if you fancy a later lunch/ early dinner then one kid can eat free with each adult after 3pm in the buffet restaurants.
We took our own picnic with us but bought drinks on site, a 750ml water was £2.20, capri sun was £1.50 and small carton milk was £1. JJ also had a little birthday treat in the form of a waffle on a stick with chocolate sauce, which cost £2.25.
In the Pit Stop cafe and City Walk restaurant there are dedicated baby feeding stations with microwaves and bottle warmers for customers to use.
Pic-nic areas – Some areas had been designated as pic-nic areas but in truth there are plenty of green areas where you can sit down as a family or large group and enjoy your sandwiches. We sat in the Duplo theatre in between shows and this was really convenient with lots of benches (and under cover too).
Help for families – There were wrist bands available in guest services so you could record your number in case of losing a child, this is great but I would not say they were not publicised as much as I might have liked. I did see there was facility for families with children under the height restrictions to share going on rides with older kids but just to queue once which is good.
Legoland staff – I can honestly say that all the staff I came into contact with were good. They genuinely appeared to be enjoying their jobs and were happy to engage with the kids. The man manning the junior driving school and the guy in the discovery centre were particularly excellent but even the catering staff were happy to serve and had smiles on their faces. Now you do not find that everywhere!
The park itself – is in the most beautiful setting, nestled into the Berkshire countryside. It is built into a step hill and there is a lot of walking to do but because of all the wonderful Lego creations dotted about it does not feel like hard work and there is always a mix of steps, ramps and other modes of moving about such as cable cars and slides/ rides.
Fun for the very young – The park in Duplo Land was really good and my girls had a lot of fun playing in there. Had the weather been nicer we could have tried out the water splash area but not on a cold September’s day, although there were some braver than us and sporting swim costumes. The Duplo puppet theatre is great too and really engages the younger children; we caught the end of the Three Little Pigs and have previously watched shows here when JJ was much younger. Another area that my girls always liked when they were younger was the building rooms in the imagination centre, were you can use extra-large foam lego bricks to build.
Fun for toddlers – As well as those things mentioned above toddlers will also get a lot of fun from some of the low key rides like Digger challenge and Desert Chase.
Fun for primary school kids – Practically everything on the park is geared for this age group. There is nothing that JJ deemed too babyish to have a go at. Some of our favourites were the Fire Engine ride, Driving schools (both the older and younger versions) and the 4D lego shows.
Fun for teenagers – Obviously I do not have any teenagers yet but I did see plenty of young teenagers on the park. I suspect the older teens were all off seeking more thrills at places such as Chessington but the younger teens seemed to be enjoying all the same rides as such, such as the Skyrider, Atlantis submarine and Pharaoh's Quest.
Fun for families – One of the things I like about Legoland is that the rides suit all the family and meet the needs of lots of different age groups. When we have been to other theme parks we have split up and gone on different rides but here at Legoland there is plenty we are all able to do together and have great fun on. Rides such as the Viking River, Legoland train and Dragons Apprentice.
Fun for adults – As you walk round you even see couples together and without any children. I expect they are enjoying the beautiful surroundings and Lego miniland, there was some seriously professional looking camera equipment taking pictures of the amazing Lego creations, such as working trains, cable cars and launching rockets.
On-site hotel - This year Legoland have opened a new hotel on site and I must say it looks fantastic. I recall reading some excellent reviews at the time and it really does look the business. A nice little extra is that as a hotel guest you get to access the park an hour before the general public. Queue jumping at its best!
Queues – Ahh yes the queues, I think this is the fear of most people visiting a theme park; will they stand in a queue all day long? Yes and no is the quick answer!  There are queues for everything, it is to be expected but in general the waiting times were less than I expected. Here are some examples of our wait times –
  • Fire Engine ride – 30 minutes
  • Balloon ride – 20 minutes
  • Young driving school – 10 minutes
  • Older driving school – 25 minutes
  • Duplo train – 5 minutes
  • 4D imagination theatre – seen twice, 15 minutes and walked straight in
  • Atlantis submarine – 90 minutes
  • Skyrider – 45 minutes
Q-Bot – Heard of a Q-bot before me?  No I had not either, they are little electronic devices that you can buy to accompany you on your visit to Legoland and they give you a place in a virtual queue for the ride you want to go on (22 are included in the price). You can only reserve your place one ride at a time but it means you never have to stand in any of the queues that can take an hour or so.  Sounds really good doesn’t it?  The snag is the price. A regular Q-Bot will cost you £15 and the time you will wait to jump on the ride will reflect the actual time of that queue, you will also have to pay extra if you want to add on Atlantis submarine and/or the boating school. The Q-Bot express will cost you £40 per person and that means you have a 75% less wait time than someone in the regular queue (again you have to pay for the add on’s if you want them). But the crème de la crème of all Q-Bots is the Q-bot Ultimate which reduces queue waiting time by 95% meaning you can practically walk straight onto any ride you want to and it will set you back £70 per person (yes really!).
The cost – Legoland like all other big theme parks is by no means cheap to get into. If we had booked online, 7 days in advance then we would save 25% on the on-the-day prices and the cost for 2 adults and 3 children would have been over £150. Wow, we could never justify that kind of money, when we have come before I have always traded in my Tesco deals vouchers and managed to come that way or you can find many great buy one get one free deals if you search the internet or look out for coupons.
Children under 3 years of age do go free, so get in the visit while your kids are still young and if you want to go on a weekday and have a toddler there is a really good deal available. The cost is just £23.50 for a parent and their toddlers up until 30th October 2012.
Generally you can get away without spending any extra money on the park, if you do want to start doing some of the optional paid extras the kind of cost you are looking at is £7 for face painting, £3 for the climbing wall, £8 for a photo magnet or keyring souvenir from a ride and between £8 - £10to hire a Lego buggy (more grown up version of a pushchair) so that little legs can have a rest. We managed to avoid all these things and still have a great time. I just find it is important to set boundaries with your kids from the start of the day.
Shopping at Legoland – I won’t lie to you the main shop get absolutely manic at the end of the day; we had to work hard not to lose our kids in there! There are nine different stores on the park, some specialise in Lego, others clothes, others cuddly toys and so on.  There is a good variety and you can buy things that cost just £5 or £7 and are good quality but also at the other end of the spectrum you can buy Lego sets for £80 or £100 too.
Our Verdict –
  • Quality and variety of rides – 10/10
  • Low key fun, such as walks, parks, splash lands, shows – 10/10
  • Suitability for families with kids of mixed ages – 10/10
  • Value for money – 5/10 if you pay the full price, far higher if you find yourself a deal!
  • Catering facilities – 7/10
  • The park as a whole – 8/10
We had  superb day and will definitely return again in the future.

Disclosure:  We attended Legoland with press tickets for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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