TRAVEL REVIEW: Building up to that perfect LEGO mix
I HAVE TO admit being slightly annoyed when LEGOLAND first emerged.
I didn't have anything against LEGO. Far from it. I actually loved the stuff.
Once I’d spent all my pocket money on model kits as a kid I’d spend hours devouring pages of catalogues circling what would follow on my next birthday hit-list.
And then I advanced to LEGO Technic and that magnificent red car which not only boasted front and rear suspension but pop-up headlights, too.
It was so big and spectacular - 900 pieces, apparently - I think it actually cost more than my dad’s Morris Marina. Great days.
However, the problem was I had turned 17 by the day LEGO’s theme park and resort opened at Windsor in 1996.
Why hadn’t anyone dreamt this up when I was seven?
It would be slightly weird if I turned up all wide-eyed, fascinated by reams of the stuff when preparing for my A-levels.
Nevertheless, now, at the age of 40, and with four-year-old and six-year-old kids, I do have the perfect excuse to turn up all wide-eyed and fascinated after all. I did and duly made up for lost time.
Pirates Falls Treasure Quest. Tick. Jolly Rocker. Tick. Mia’s Riding Adventure. Tick. And that was just my wish-list sorted.
Given you need at least a full day to get around LEGOLAND - preferably two - an overnight stay is beneficial.
We stayed at De Vere Beaumont Estate which, being just four miles from the theme park, was an ideal location.
Understandably, given its proximity, the hotel - with its 18th century mansion and Georgian white house - is very child-friendly and the fun begins immediately on arrival.
For Maisie, there is a welcome gift pack full of all things princess with pink pens and fun colouring magazines while, for Henry, a similar bounty but this time with pirates as the theme.
It is a nice touch and immediately has them in the mood for what lies ahead.
The hotel itself offers a hearty breakfast - the full English is well-recommended before a day tackling all LEGOLAND has to offer - and the family rooms are neat and well-proportioned.
There is an adventure playground for any kids who are somehow left with surplus energy to burn off as well as the customary gym and swimming facilities.
Of course, though, the real action is in the theme park itself. But where to begin?
If there just for the day, try and map out your route prioritising the rides (there’s more than 50 to try out) that you really want to experience.
Ninjago World was the big new arrival last year with its flagship ride being
the 4D interactive Ninjago The Ride where riders have to contend with serpents, skeleton warriors and such like.
This year, one of the most popular additions has been LEGO Reef, a digital aquarium that allows families to dive deep under the sea and build colourful sea creatures out of virtual bricks using touch screen technology.
The chance to create your very own virtual LEGO fish before casting them off into the ocean and watching them swim through the interactive floor - even ‘feeding’ them with a touch of a button - is a real delight for kids.
However, my youngest, perhaps unsurprisingly given his love of anything with wheels, was most at home at the LEGO City Driving School.
After watching a short road safety video, he got to choose his own motorised LEGO car and set off on laps around a sizeable track including roundabouts and traffic lights leaving him feeling like the king of the road.
To top it off, at the end, he even got his own Legoland Drivers Licence. It was no surprise we finished up back on that again by the end of the trip.
The spectacular live shows in the harbour area, though, are real must-sees, especially the Pirates Of Skeleton Bay action adventure that offers daring high-tower stunts, swashbuckling swordplay, water cannons and high-speed jet ski chases.
Maisie loved the LEGO Friends version, meeting all the stars after they sung by the waterside.
But my one gripe, as strange as it sounds, was that I expected more actual... LEGO.
Admittedly, as you walk into the park, there are some stunning pieces in Miniland, which, using more than 40 million LEGO bricks, depicts some of the world’s most famous landmarks in exquisite detail.
From Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal and Sydney Harbour Bridge, you can take a tour of the globe in just a few minutes.
But I was hoping to be able to see and marvel at more LEGO structures dotted around as you delved further into the site, intermingled with all the other rides and attractions.
That said, maybe that’s my geeky childhood fascination with it all just coming back to the fore.
Certainly, the real kids definitely had no complaints. And after predictably buying some more LEGO on the way out, everyone left happy.
Park ticket prices/opening
Park opens from March 9 until November 1 2018 (closed on selected midweek days in September and October )
Tickets from Â£32 on selected dates, when booked online at least seven days in advance www.legoland.co.uk or call 0845 373 2640
For details about rooms at De Vere Beaumont Estate contact www.phcompany.com/de-vere/beaumont-estate