Build your break: exploring Legoland Windsor ahead of the Dubai park’s opening

About 55 million lego bricks have been used to create the 55 rides and 11 themed areas to explore, from Land of the Vikings and Kingdom of the Pharaohs to Pirate Shores, Duplo Valley and Miniland at Legoland Windsor.
A Lego model of Buckingham Palace at Miniland at Legoland Windsor. Courtesy Legoland Windsor Resort
A Lego model of Buckingham Palace at Miniland at Legoland Windsor. Courtesy Legoland Windsor Resort

What surprises me most about the ­Legoland Windsor Resort is the view of the surrounding countryside. The 150-acre theme park is built on top of a hill, and the vantage point lets you take in the glory of Windsor Castle in the distance. In contrast, the theme park is all irreverence, replete with its own castle – made with Lego, naturally – pirate ships, flying cars, roller coasters and trains. Which is ideal, given that I have brought my two little boys, ages 2 and 4, for what I insist to my wife, who joins us along with our nanny, will be the best day of their lives.

About 55 million Lego bricks have been used to create the 55 rides and 11 themed areas to explore, from Land of the Vikings and Kingdom of the Pharaohs to Pirate Shores, Duplo Valley and Miniland, which is where you can see miniature cities made out of Lego – a personal favourite.

The free guide map is really well thought out and explains which rides are best for which ages.­ Indeed, the whole place is a model of organisation. The layout of the park, spread up and down steep hills, also offers a proper workout, so it’s worth dressing appropriately – you will perspire.

Of late, there has been much excited chatter about theme parks in the UAE, with several set to open over the coming 18 months. The prospect of Legoland Dubai is particularly compelling, because, unlike many of the others set to open, it’s based on existing resorts elsewhere in the world and isn’t a new concept. And it opens soon: October 31.

I logically arrived at the idea that a visit to an existing Legoland should offer insight into what the Dubai experience might be like. Plus, I really needed to find things to do for the children while on holiday in London. There are six Legolands around the world, including ones in Malaysia and Florida. Apart from Dubai, there are parks planned over the next few years in Japan, China and Korea.

The resort in Windsor, just west of London, was the second Legoland to open, in the mid-1990s, after the original in Denmark, which dates from 1968. To be clear, the people who run Legoland Windsor are not the people who actually make Lego – the world’s biggest toy company, even eclipsing Barbie’s parent Mattel – but Merlin Entertainments, who run various attractions, including Alton Towers and the London Eye.

For those flying in from the Arabian Gulf, it’s worth noting ­Heathrow Airport is just 19 kilometres away, which provides plenty of overnight options if the resort’s own Lego-inspired hotel is fully booked or too expensive. Be warned: if you do stay at the resort, your child will forever pester you about why their bedroom back home is so dull in comparison to the rooms, which are themed and filled with Lego.

We pick a day to visit in August, during the school holidays – against well-informed advice, because of the likely crowds. In hindsight, our overall planning could have been better. For example, to and from the park is straightforward by several means of transport, but we take an Uber there, feeling very modern and clever the whole way, for £55 (Dh261). From South ­Kensington, it takes 40 minutes. But we feel stupid later on when there are no Ubers around ­Windsor to return. I call a taxi, which arrives almost immediately, but charges £80 (Dh380) to take us back. The train is reliable and much cheaper; there are also special coaches, for best value.

Another misstep in preparation means at lunchtime we rush to find the nearest place to eat. The bill is an eyebrow-raising £40 (Dh190) for fried chicken for four – my two-year-old brought his own lunch with him. Clever boy.

We arrived at Legoland a little after 10am, when the park opens – plenty of time to avoid the inevitable queues, right? Not quite. There were already several hundred eager families waiting. Showing up a little earlier would have made the start smoother, because by the time we have our tickets, which you get before entering a sort of transit zone called The Beginning, and our Q-Bot – more on this later – it’s an hour later and the children are beginning to get frustrated with all the waiting around in a noisy, bustling environment. To ensure no more delays before having some actual fun, I pay for instant access to the Pirate Falls Treasure Quest ride when offered the option by resort staff. This is essentially a log-flume ride that leaves you wet – and I mean soaking – thanks to the thrilling climactic steep plunge. Don’t wear designer trainers and ripped jeans; do follow the lead of some Japanese visitors and put on a bright yellow mac – especially if, like me, you throw your body in front of your child to stop him from getting a soaking and possibly a cold in the relatively brisk London summer weather. Full-body drying machines, like the ones at Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi, are positioned at the exit of the ride.

Thinking about it now, I panicked, and didn’t need to pay extra to get straight on the ride, because as soon as we head into the park proper, with its gorgeous countryside surroundings and many playgrounds on show, my children morph back into two happily excited, sweet little boys. It soon feels like it will be the adventure I had promised.

My four-year-old son had the most fun on Legoland Windsor’s signature ride The Dragon, which is a kid-friendly but thrilling roller coaster in, as the name suggests, the shape of a dragon. Part of the magical Knights Kingdom – the aforementioned Lego castle – The Dragon is filled with speedy twists and turns. The Jolly ­Rocker swing-boat ride actually looks quite scary, so I avoid it, but my wife and eldest boy aren’t chickens like me, and love it.

My youngest enjoys the train rides tremendously – both big- and small-scale are on offer – and refuses to get off the tiny train. Like a little hostage-taker, he’s determined to stay to the bitter end. I finally claw his fingers off the carriage door. The good (and bad) news for parents is that there will be a similar ride in ­Legoland Dubai’s Duplo Valley zone.

We don’t brave the splash area at Windsor because of the ­English weather. But it looks like a lot of fun, albeit much smaller in scale compared to the separate Legoland Water Park in Dubai – a unique feature for the UAE resort.

Given the UAE’s climate, the 60-million-brick Dubai Legoland – operated by Dubai Parks and ­Resorts – will be a mix of indoor and outdoor attractions, and ­Jebel Ali’s surrounding dunes will be the backdrop. The indoor/outdoor mix means it’s open all year round, while Windsor closes during some of the winter months.

The Q-Bot devices – called Q-Fast at Legoland Dubai – are definitely worth the cost. At rising price levels, offering increasing speeds of access, they allow you to skip the queues. Effectively, we have both experiences, because we split up: my wife takes our four-year-old and the Q-Bot (on my phone, thanks to an app option on offer), while the younger one comes with me and our nanny, sans Q-Bot. My wife and eldest son sweep through six or seven rides in the time we manage two. The highest level of Q-Bot allows you to stack up pre-booked rides, meaning you never have to wait. My son has four goes in succession on The Dragon thanks to the Q-Bot. The Dragon will also be on offer in the Dubai park, as will its younger sibling, The Dragon’s Apprentice, which is a touch tamer, but still a good laugh.

At Windsor, there’s enough to keep the children entertained for a whole day, but don’t be shy to make your own fun, too. I pose with a number of mascots without the children, just to make them (the mascots, not the children) feel uncomfortable, and WhatsApp the pictures to my friends. You can’t put a price on that kind of juvenile fun.

By 5pm, both children are spent, having had their fill of thrills and play during almost six hours. That’s more than enough time to get the most out of the resort, but still have the energy to get them bathed and into bed without collapsing ourselves.

The tips

Definitely get a Q-Bot – or Q-Fast in Dubai. It’s not cheap, but guarantees the experience.

There’s no need for extra upgrades on the day. Resist the temptation to splurge on add-ons offered once you’re inside the park.

There are almost as many food options on offer in Dubai as there in Windsor – hotel restaurant, burgers, pizza, chicken etc – so don’t get too hungry and end up having to grab something from the nearest outlet. Put some thought ahead of time into where to get lunch at the park.

The rides

Top rides at Legoland Windsor that will be at Legoland Dubai:

Atlantic Submarine Voyage –a fully immersing underwater experience with exotic sea life.

The Dragon – part of The Knights Kingdom in Windsor and the Kingdoms zone in Dubai; a scaled roller-coaster thrill.

Duplo Valley – a playground including a train ride that my youngest son refused to get off.

malrawi@thenational.ae

Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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