It’s that time of the year when thousands of families descend on what used to be Windsor Safari Park but is now nirvana for lovers of brightly coloured construction bricks from Denmark. Kids love Legoland, but as a parent it can be an experience that leaves nerves frayed and wallets emptied.
Here are ten top tips from a veteran of several Battles of Windsor who has survived (barely) to tell the tale.
1. Do NOT pay full price
(UPDATED with pricing as of March 2015.)
Legoland is not cheap. At the time of writing, if you buy tickets on the day you will pay £48 per adult and £43.80 per child (aged 3-15). That means a family of four won’t see much change out of £200 – and that’s before car parking, food and shopping.
However, no one should ever have to pay full price. The Legoland website offers discounts for online booking – currently up to 35%, or a saving of £64 for a family of four.
Better still, if you participate in Tesco’s Clubcard scheme, you can send vouchers off in advance in exchange for a token for a day ticket or an annual pass. That’s a saving of, well, loads. You do the maths.
2. Plan your visit
Invest some time looking at the interactive map on the website. This is useful not only to familiarise yourself with the layout (it’s surprisingly easy to get lost) but also the restrictions on specific rides.
Many rides only permit children above a minimum height, or if they are below a certain height they can only ride if accompanied by an adult. Some can only accommodate two people at a time, which can create challenges if, like me, you have more young children than adults. Plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.
It also helps to try to avoid the most popular rides during the busiest times (typically 11am-3pm). Some rides such as Boating School, Laser Raiders and Viking River Splash can have hour-long queues. It’s best to get one or two of these out of the way early on, and save others for later while you seek out quieter rides during peak period.
If you want to get a feel for what the rides are actually like, videos of many of them are easily found on YouTube.
Finally, if you’re willing to stump up an additional £20 to £75 per person (£5 cheaper if you book online), you can also have a Q-Bot device which allows you to queue-jump. They are extremely expensive, but if you’re only going to visit Legoland once they will allow you to get the most out of your day. Just be prepared for looks of hatred from everyone else when you go straight on to the ride they’ve been queuing for for an hour.
3. Get there early
Gates open at 10am but it’s worth arriving by 9:30. Park, buy your tickets, take your kids to the toilet and then get as close to the front of the queues as you can so you’re ready to go. That means you can jump on to your first ride with minimal waiting – time saved for later.
4. Travel light
It’s worth travelling as light as you can. Legoland’s hilly, and you don’t want to be dragging heavy bags or pushing baby buggies uphill.
There are a few sit-down restaurants and several grab-and-go kiosks but none of them are cheap, and quality and speed are variable.
I recommend avoiding the lunchtime peak altogether. If we don’t bring our own food, I typically buy lunch just before 12 when it’s still quiet. Alternatively, if you can wait until late afternoon, kids eat free from 4pm. (I’ve never come close to managing that.)
If you do bring your own lunch, there aren’t many great spots to eat unless you’re happy to camp on the benches or astroturf surrounding the playground in Duplo Valley, where there’s not much shade. Your best bet is to head for the pirate show arena, but get there well before show times and if it’s a hot day go straight to the steps under the trees on the far side – pretty much everywhere else is in the full glare of the sun.
Finally, if you buy one of the special Lego drinks bottles from a kiosk, that entitles you to free refills throughout the day. They’re not cheap, though!
6. Bring sun cream
Always bring sun cream. Many (but not all) of the rides allow you to queue in the shade, but the park can get very hot very quickly. If you do forget, you can buy cream in the on-site shops.
7. Water, water everywhere
The new water park in Duplo Valley opened a couple of years ago and is one of the park’s biggest draws. Be warned: it’s a real sun-trap.
There are two areas. The lower section is open to all. The upper one, which contains water slides and rides, has some height restrictions and at busy times (basically, any remotely warm day) the amount of time you can spend there will be restricted.
8. Bring distractions
If your kids do become bored of the constant queuing, it pays to have a cache of distractions to keep them happy. Snacks, drinks, smartphones or a notepad and pen add up to more fun and less whining.
9. Consider annual passes
If you’re close enough to Windsor to make regular visits possible, annual passes are a no-brainer. They pay for themselves by your third visit. Plus, depending on what type you go for, they entitle you to discounts on food and shop purchases, free parking and entry into other attractions, all of which add up.
If you only have preschoolers and are happy to avoid weekends and school holidays, there is also a cheaper annual preschool pass which allows you and a child access to the park on weekdays during school terms, when it’s much quieter.
10. It’s a long day for everyone
Finally, if you’re there from open to close it makes for a long and tiring day for everyone, kids and adults alike. Pace yourself, stay out of the sun as much as you can, keep everyone hydrated – something I frequently forget to do – and don’t be surprised if the kids crash by mid-afternoon. (In which case: ice creams!)
Above all, enjoy it. It always amazes me how miserable some adults look by early afternoon. Legoland should be fun for everyone. Hopefully the above tips will help make your day a happier one.