SHRIEKING and shouting and lots of people under two foot running amok is not your typical hotel reception experience. But then neither is a giant smoke-puffing dragon, pits of Lego that you can swim in (if you so desire) and giant square-headed characters rolling around the premises.
The Legoland Hotel, which opened slap bang in the middle of the Windsor theme park earlier this year, does not hold back: from the very moment you step under the arches of the giant green dragon, you are thrust headlong into a noisy, dazzlingly bright, multi-coloured world. Children are not only welcome: they’re an essential here. And the delights of the hotel and the theme park it sits within are firmly marketed at their mini target customers.
Having finally heard our room number after asking the receptionist to repeat it twice, we dragged our one- and three-year-olds reluctantly away from that day’s model making contest – a horse – into the lifts. Not any old lift, of course, but one in which cartoon voices told us over a loud-speaker that we were travelling through time. In our case, that was to the land of adventure.
Our Indiana Jones-style themed room came complete with maps and a quiz to discover the secret treasure once we’d counted up the scorpions, lizards and spiders and worked out the combination for the treasure chest (it took three recounts – who knew there was a scorpion hiding under the bed – but it was worth it. Inside were two Lego prizes, one for each child. A nice touch for my son – who’d just turned three – was a birthday card with a Lego badge).
And then an unexpected treat for us: the kids essentially had their very own room, separated from ours by the bathroom meaning we, for once, didn’t have to spend the hours post 7pm whispering in the semi-darkness. Their room had a giant box of Lego, their own TV, bunk-beds and a travel-cot – already conveniently made up for my daughter.
Having explored the room, it was time to venture out into the real point of the stay – Legoland itself. And one of the most attractive elements of a stay at the hotel became clear – we simply walked through a gate, flashed our tickets and we were right in the middle of the park. No queues and no car parking hassle.
Knowing we were staying overnight and thus had another day in the park included in our ticket also took the pressure off trying to cram it all into one day. And there is plenty to cram in. We ambled around at a pace that suited us, and still squeezed in a safari train ride, driving Lego cars, putting out fires after driving a fire engine, going underwater in submarine and even a sneaky fast rollercoaster for mum and dad while the kids, who were too short, were looked after by a friendly attendant.
With us and the kids shattered by the end, it was great to just walk 10 minutes back to our room, and know we didn’t face a long drive back. And with hungry, tired kids verging on meltdown, it was mightily convenient to have the onsite Bricks restaurant right there.
Having suffered many a stressful meal trying to shush a noisy child, or stop them rampaging round the restaurant as other diners looked on in dismay, dinner at Bricks was a huge relief.
The tablecloths were giant colouring pads, they had a buffet at child height so they could help themselves to whatever they wanted from the selection on offer, which included Lego-shaped chips, and the restaurant played a constant, deafening soundtrack of clattering plates and Lego cartoon characters making inane chatter. Your child could be having a tantrum of nuclear proportions and it would be impossible to hear.
Every so often a giant Lego man came wobbling by, handing out hugs and posing for photos.
The food itself was Harvester-esque, and my head was beginning to throb, but the children really did have a ball – being able to help themselves to their own ice-cream and toppings was a big hit. And it was great to be able to relax about the mess, let them run off and play on the giant Lego castle just by the side of the restaurant and not have to worry about table etiquette.
After a night’s sleep we were ready – just about – to do it all again. Breakfast was also buffet-style in the Bricks restaurant, with the bottomless coffee a welcome addition. We also managed a quick splash in the pirate pool – lots of firing cannons to spray water at each other, and a shallow depth which made it safe to splash about in, before heading through our special gate to get back directly into the park.
As hotel guests we were able to access the park half an hour before the rest of the world and got a sneaky dinosaur safari ride in before 10am. We were surprised to find out how much ground we still had to cover – whole lands we hadn’t been to. My children saw their first 3D film, complete with steam and water spraying out over the audience, and my son went on his first rollercoaster. On rides that my daughter was too small for, we took it in turns to take my son and sometimes took him a second time so we both got to experience it. Another plus – many of the rides have buckets of Lego for you to play with while queuing, which makes the wait go much faster.
For a theme park squarely aimed at younger customers – I would say 12 is probably the oldest child who would enjoy the rides – my husband and I found a surprising amount to enjoy ourselves. The scale and intricacy of the Lego models everywhere you look is pretty staggering. The miniature village that encompasses Europe – little Lego windmills and cows as well as Big Ben and the London eye – are truly impressive even to jaded adult eyes.
Having planned on an earlier getaway to beat the traffic, we were surprised to find ourselves there right until the park closed on the second day – and we still didn’t do it all. There’s a lot to take in.
It was good to go through our special gate again into the hotel. Located right by the main exit for the park, it meant we could avoid the hoards of people leaving and exit almost immediately onto the motorway.
Walking under the puffing dragon again to our car, and driving out into the real world felt, I must admit, rather freeing. It was a relief to escape the sheer Lego-ness of it all. I felt like I’d been trapped in a multi-coloured bubble for the past two days, and it was refreshing to see the grey granite of the motorway and be back amid the undoubtedly duller, but calmer normal world again.
But then, just as I was breathing slowly out, my son, almost asleep in the back seat, said: “Can we come back again tomorrow, mummy?”