Theme park survival guide

Splash! Splash!

In addition to our European trips which effectively bookend Isaac’s first school summer holidays, I’ve made the effort to take off a day a week so I can spend some one-to-one time with him. Yesterday was the first such day. It’s fair to say he was looking forward to our day together with more than a little anticipation, not least because I’d promised to take him back to Legoland.

We visit Legoland quite often, as it’s only 50 minutes’ drive away and we have annual passes which mean we don’t have to spend the GDP of a small African country every time we go. I like that: it means we don’t have the pressure of having to get the absolute maximum out of a full day. We can just stay for half a day if we want to, and if we can’t do a ride one day we can always do it next time.

Isaac had been talking about “next Tuesday” almost constantly since we came back from France at the beginning of last week, because it’s not often he gets the chance to go without the additional baggage of his two younger siblings. He carefully planned out exactly which rides he was going to do and in which order, and reminded me on a daily basis of all the things I needed to do to prepare for our day out. (Rolling out of bed, grabbing my wallet and climbing into the car wasn’t good enough, apparently.)

Having gone through the process a few times now, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the key things you need to know to survive a day at Legoland (or indeed any other theme park) during the school holidays. Here are five pearls of (really quite obvious) wisdom:

1. Get there early

Half an hour before the park opens early, ideally.

Legoland opens its gates at 10am, by which time hundreds of eager families are already jostling for position near the front of a growing mob, in an I’m-too-cool-to-force-my-way-to-the-front-oh-I’m-sorry-did-I-just-elbow-you-aside sort of way.

You may laugh, but saving half an hour by being at the front of the queue for your first ride of the day is no small bonus.

2. Be realistic as to what you can achieve

On a busy day at the height of the holidays – when it’s amazing how many other people have had the same idea as you – hour-long queues are standard for the big rides at peak times. This is, basically, about 11am to 3pm, during which time the lines are so long that even the queues have their own queues.

Bring plenty of stuff to distract the kids in long queues – snacks, smartphones, dancing girls (these can be quite difficult to fit into a backpack, though) – and manage their expectations accordingly.

Failing that, pay for one of those Q-Bot queue-jumping devices and be prepared for the looks of absolute hatred you will receive from every other parent (me included) in the main queue. You know the kind of death stare you get after you’ve just trampled on Little Johnny’s favourite toy and then reversed your car over it just to make sure? That.

3. Do other stuff

During busy parts of the day we tend to focus on the smaller, less busy rides and a host of other stuff that doesn’t require a queue. Eating lunch. Finding open play areas. Ice creams (although on a hot day the queue for Cornettos can be almost as long as for the rides themselves).

Failing that, queue with noise-cancelling headphones on or shove dummies in the kids’ mouths. You may get strange looks if your children are teenaged, but hey.

4. Lunch

If you want to travel light and not carry a packed lunch with you, be prepared to need a second mortgage to pay for food and drink.

Queues are long, portions are small, the quality is not so much gourmet as James May, and it will all cost you the GDP of a small African country (again). You’re not so much a captive audience as one which has been waterboarded to within an inch of being happy to pay anything just for a greasy burger that contains 0.7% actual meat.

5. Despite all the above, enjoy it

It’s supposed to be fun. I’m constantly amazed at how many parents I see wearing faces so long and droopy they could have been a clock in one of those Salvador Dali paintings – and that’s on their way *in* to the park, never mind at the end of a tiring day.

Me? I spent most of yesterday doing being little more than being Issac’s bag carrier – most of the things he did were parent-free – but it was worth it just to see him having so much fun and to have him chatting to me so excitedly as we wandered and queued, and in the car going out and back.

More than just fun, these days are an opportunity for us to have a little ‘boy-time’ – and to spend hours straining my credit card in the shop at the end of the day. (For those of you keeping count, that’s now the GDP of three small African countries.) Obviously, most of it is for me rather than him. Lego is wasted on children.

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to next week’s day out already. Even though this week’s one did end up with me rolling around on the floor in Tesco after a shopping trolley tipped over and landed on my foot. (Long story.) Hopefully by then my left foot will no longer be the size of a small African country either.