Day 4 – June 27
Monday morning came and Amy had to go to work. Luckily, we were up early enough to say good-bye and thank her and Clive once again for their generosity. We also had to say goodbye to the cats.
Then it was off to Legoland in Windsor, a relatively short (40 miles/1 hour) drive. Of course, by the time we got on the road, it started raining, which made travel a bit slower. And when we got to the park, it was far busier than we had expected it to be. We had originally chosen weekdays for the theme parks thinking that school was still in session so the crowds may not be as bad. With Legoland, we were being proven wrong.
The first thing was that we were directed to park in lot C, meaning the first two lots had already filled up and the park hadn’t been open for very long. But we grabbed a spot, and our umbrellas, and dutifully headed off into the mist.
The lines to get through security and into the park were also long, but flowed smoothly. And once we were inside the gates, I had to exchange our stroller voucher for an actual stroller and while we were in the long queue to do that, Rasa made the executive decision we should all get yellow rain panchos.
So adorned, we put Monki into the stroller and headed down the hill to where the rides were. If you’ve never been to Legoland in Windsor, it’s built on a hill, with the highest point being the entrance gates. You can stand at the lookout and see the whole park below you (and Windsor castle in the distance).
We headed down amidst throngs of other guests. It turns out, we were told later, that particular Monday was a teacher day off and so people were taking advantage. The guy who did the security check on my backpack (stuffed with tinfoil-wrapped sandwiches mind you) told me he wasn’t even supposed to be working security, he was a ride operator, but they had over 10,000 guests pre-booked for the day and needed the extra help.
Ah well, onward and downward. The rides awaited.
As opposed to the last time we went to Legoland, this time we spent the bulk of our energy in Lego City. As I said, the lines were a bit outrageous and whether the park was expecting them or not, they’re operating hours were only from 10:00-5:00 so our enjoyment factor was a bit limited.
The thing about Legoland, though, is that it’s really designed for the little ones. As opposed to thrill ride parks like Six Flags or even bigger name parks like Disney or Universal, I couldn’t see going to Legoland without a child in tow. At least not more than once. So with that in mind, we knew we were going to be catering to Monki’s whims and desires in terms of our park itinerary. Therefore, our first stop was at the Fire Academy.
Lego City is, obviously, themed around the City line of build kits and within that, the rides are all focused on “education.” In this one, the rider is a new fire department recruit who has to help put out a fire. When it was our turn to go, all three of us jumped into our designated fire truck and. Upon getting the signal, Monki began steering while Rasa and I pumped like an old railway handcar to move the truck along a straight path towards a “burning” building. Upon arrival, we all jumped out and Monki grabbed the water cannon (pumping energy supplied by Rasa) and aimed it at a window on the building in front of us. After a few minutes, the “fire was out” and we raced back to our truck to once again get back to the start position.
There are a total of 8 trucks running each time, 4 to a side, and Monki’s only concern was that we “won” against the other 3 trucks on our side. I guess this is where she is in her development. There is a constant need to win, to come in first in all interactions. Interesting, really, since we’re not terribly competitive people in our daily lives.
While we were in line for the Fire Academy, we decided that Balloon School would be our next ride, easy since it was right next door. Again, it was themed as an educational experience, this time as a balloon pilot. The only interactive-ness, though, was in determining height, since the whole thing was merely a bunch of ride vehicles going in a circle. Rasa, who is afraid of heights, braved this one, even though Monki wanted to go as high as possible.
“I used to be afraid of heights like mommy,” she told us. “But I’m not anymore!”
Good for her!
Staying in the City, we headed over to the Lego City Driving School next. I must say, this was one of the best rides of the day. One of our (meaning the adults) biggest complaints of the day had to do with ride/line management. They just weren’t very good at it. This particular park has been around since 1996, a full 40 years after the opening of Disneyland, and is run by Merlin Entertainments, an attractions based company. With that much industry knowledge out there, you’d think they’d be able to more efficiently get people on and off rides.
On the other hand, with rides like the Driving School and the ride next door, Coastguard HQ, the ride vehicles are free moving. So unlike Autopia at Disneyland, where all you’re doing is pressing the accelerator and trying not to hit the car in front of you, but you have no autonomy in where you go since any deviation will result in you hitting the underlying track, Driving School is an actual autonomous car. Once the child gets in (and you must be a child, there’s a height limit of 1.5 meters) and the ride starts, you’re on your own. You control speed and direction. And you must follow the traffic safety signs and (since we were in the UK) drive on the left side of the road.
To say Monki had a good time on this ride is a vast understatement. Next to driving her own car, thoughts of petting Kiki the cat were pushed to a distant second. And at the end of the ride, upon exiting the controlled roadways, each kid was given a paper driver’s license with a place for a picture and lines for all pertinent information. This little one was elated!
By this point, we had done most of the things in Lego City we either wanted to do or were willing to wait in line for, so we moved on to elsewhere in the park. Rasa and Monki had seen the Legoland Express (a train) cruise by while waiting in line for something (I was off getting hot chocolate – while the rain abated over time, the cold weather did not). This was one of the shorter lines in the park (the ride could hold a significant number of passengers) and was quite fun.
One of the unique things at Legoland are the numerous Lego sculptures all around the park. There is a specific area, Miniland, where they’ve recreated famous landmarks, cities, and tourist sights all completely out of Lego. Impressive and fun to see what they can do. So on the Legoland Express, as you make your way along the 5 minute or so round trip, you’re treated to a number of scenes with Lego figures and animals, only able to be seen from the train. Pretty neat!
The line for Coastguard HQ had diminished enough by this time we decided to give it a go. Coastguard HQ, was the same idea as Driving Academy, only this time on boats and adults were allowed on. But still, no track. The driver had complete control of speed and direction, which meant you could (and did) get turned around, passed, and stuck. Sure, the water level was only about 30-40 inches, meaning at any time one of the ride operators could throw on a pair of waders and come out to get you (it happened to the boats in front of us) but the feeling of freedom was indescribable for our kid driver.
We decided now was a good time to check out the rest of the park so we headed on around Heartlake, a body of water in the middle of the park which hosts jet ski stunt shows, and made our to Lego Mythica, the new land. Here, Monki and I rode Fire and Ice Freefall, a ride where you are lifted into the air and then dropped, simulating freefall. Rasa avoided this one, as the heights seemed a bit much for her. But Monki loved it. There were some other attractions in the land which I wanted to see, but time was not on our side. Then there was the attraction we avoided because we didn’t have a change of clothes and even though the rain had stopped, it still wasn’t warm enough to ride.
Now, as the day was nearing its end, Monki asked to go driving one more time. How could we say no. And, in fact, Rasa and I were both so impressed with the driving she had done, we sprung for the souvenir license, with your picture printed on it. And seriously, she was really good. Maybe it’s all the time she spends with Rasa in the car (driving is Rasa’s “happy place”) or how she was helping me by monitoring my speed and such, but she knew all the rules of the road, stopped and looked both ways at intersections and allowed other cars to go when it was their right of way. Some proud parents here!
As we were exiting the park, we took the opportunity to get some nice pictures and were going to hit the gift shop, but the line to get in there was the longest we’d seen all day at the park, so we skipped it (and saved ourselves a bundle, I’m sure) and headed back to the car. We had an hour or so to drive to get to our hotel (not counting the 40 minutes or so it took just to get out of the parking lot).
The hotel we had booked was the Best Western Chilworth Manor, just north of Southampton. Aside from the fact it was in an actual 19th century manor house, there were a couple of reasons we chose it. First, it was close to the things we wanted to see and do and second, it was one of the least expensive places on offer. Of course, being an old manor house meant it was out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lovely grounds. In fact, our GPS had wanted us to take a little, one lane, tree-lined road that Rasa had dubbed “the creepy road” to get to the place (I avoided it our first time, thinking it couldn’t possibly be correct, but it was). What this meant in practical terms, though, was there was nowhere around to shop or eat. The one local pub at the end of the road reminded us too much of the first pub we had been to with Amy and Clive (and was pricey to boot) so we did what any tired parents with a near 6-year-old would do – looked for the nearest Mcdonald’s. The one we found (and subsequently went to that night) was in a nearby truck stop.
Adventure! While there, Rasa made short work of the local attractions pamphlet wall, gathering a number of possibilities for our next few days. We ate, headed back and slept well, not sure what our plans for the next day were, aside from the fact we had pre-booked breakfast at the hotel until we could get the lay of the land.