Legoland Windsor — like the toy it is named after — is a hands-on experience.
“The great attraction of Legoland Windsor,” says park spokesman Ben Egan, “is that it’s geared toward families with young children. So it’s not in competition with other theme parks. It offers something different.
“In addition, the children know the Lego models and the Lego brand from playing with them at home and want to see the full-scale working models.”
Children can ride cars and boats, trains and balloons. They can raft down the Pirate Falls or ride the Dragon roller coaster. They can enjoy fairground rides and mazes, shows and movies, adventure playgrounds and interactive games.
And they can do them all surrounded by buildings, moving animals and smiling people made out of Lego blocks.
If they want, they can even take a break from the rides and build something themselves, using those very same blocks.
Designed for children ages 2 to 12, Legoland Windsor offers more than 50 interactive rides and attractions in 150 acres of green parkland overlooking Windsor Castle. The park also contains almost 47 million Lego bricks, including about 35 million in Miniland alone. It is, as Egan says, a different sort of family theme park.
The Legoland story began 35 years ago when the first park opened in Billund, Denmark. Windsor, the first park outside Denmark, was subsequently built on the site of the former Windsor Safari Park.
It took a team of 100 model makers three years to build the park’s models before its grand opening in 1996. Now, new models and attractions are added each year as the park gradually evolves.
Additions for 2003 include 500,000 pounds — about $815,000 — spent on Explore Land to produce a colorful discovery system and a new Waterworks area complete with giant crocodile, vast flowers and a talking rhinoceros. A similar sum was spent on the Big Restaurant to equip it with thematic fish tanks, coral and Lego fish.
Other new attractions include a wall of fame, with around 70 Lego mosaics of famous celebrities, and a 24-foot climbing wall.
Legoland Windsor is divided into eight main sections.
The first is called The Beginning and includes the ticket booths and shops. There’s also an excellent panoramic view over the park and to Windsor Castle.
“The Beginning is home to the Creation Centre,” says Egan, “where you can watch the model makers work. You can also try your hand at designing a virtual racing driver and car in the Rocket Racers or visit the Hall of Fame, with its lifelike busts of famous people.”
From here the Hill Train — resembling a San Francisco streetcar — takes visitors into the heart of the park. Or you can stroll across to the Imagination Theatre, where there are regular showings of the “Racers.” This film uses 4D physical effects to immerse viewers in the action.
Nearby is the Sky Rider, where explorers can pull themselves up to the top of the Space Tower before rappelling to the bottom. And the Discovery Zone allows children to design buildings, control computerized Lego models and learn about robotics.
Next to this is Miniland, perhaps the highlight of the park. Built on scales varying from 1:20 to 1:40, and mostly designed by hand using special graph paper, working Lego models depict famous European scenes. A particular highlight is London, which includes the London Eye and Buckingham Palace.
In contrast to other model towns, all the lifelike models at Legoland are made from thousands of tiny Lego pieces. The London Eye, for instance, took more than 25,000 bricks to build and Buckingham Palace took 100,000.
Nearby Exploreland is designed mainly for younger children. As well as the new Waterworks area, it includes a Fairy Tale Brook boat ride past famous storybook settings and a theater for storytelling. Older children and adults will enjoy the Extreme Team Challenge, an exhilarating waterslide in two-seater dinghies that reaches speeds of 35 mph.
In the Traffic zone, children can drive cars and boats, and even pilot specially designed balloons to gain panoramic views over Windsor. Beyond is My Town with a spectacular live stunt show, the popular Wave Surfer ride and other attractions.
From here, walk past the fairground rides to reach the Wild Woods. Situated in the most heavily wooded area of the park, this includes the Enchanted Forest, the Pirate Falls log flume and the three thematic Amazing Mazes.
You can pan for gold, ride on the Spinning Spider or explore the Rat Trap adventure playground with its tree-top walkways, scramble nets and chutes.
The final part of the park is Castleland. This is home to the Dragon roller coaster, which travels past animated models and then descends to the dungeons, where the huge red dragon guards its treasure. For smaller children there’s the less-intimidating Dragon’s Apprentice.
But despite all the rides and attractions, the undoubted stars of the park are the working Lego models of all shapes and sizes that are spread throughout the park.
If badly done, these could have looked like a bad marketing exercise but the model makers’ skill and ingenuity have produced spectacular scale models that amaze and intrigue the visitor.
These are what set Legoland apart from other theme parks such as Thorpe Park, Alton Towers — or, indeed, Disneyland.
As Egan says, Legoland isn’t just a theme park. It’s an experience.
— Richard Moverley is a freelance writer living in England.