Legoland: May the fourth be with you…

May the 4th is seen by many as Star Wars Day. Over in Legoland there is a whole miniland scale exhibit on Star Wars.

The exhibit covers the six films, the original three and the three sequels.

A recent addition was a Miniland scale model of the trench run from the first film. There is Luke Skywalker flying down the trench in his X-Wing followed by Darth Vader and two TIE Fighters.

There is a also a model of the Death Star in the process of firing its primary weapon.

I like how they have used air conditioning to add an icy feel to the Assault on Hoth display. Here the rebel forces face attack from the might of the Imperium.

No Star Wars exhibit would be complete without the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy! This is the Millennium Falcon that “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”

There is also an Endor display complete with Ewoks.

The three prequels make up quite a few models and includes this huge tank.

Virtually all the models have lights, like this palace from Naboo and the displays go from day to night.

Miniland scale droids.

As well as the Miniland scale exhibits there are also some larger Lego models too, such as R2-D2.

…and Lord Vader!

I wonder if at some future point the exhibit will cover episode VII or Rogue One?

A bit tired

Legoland

We recently had a lovely family day at Legoland in Windsor. We really enjoyed it on a really hot day with thousands of other people having the same idea as us.

We really enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the different rides, the park itself, the Lego models and then some.

I did think that the Lego Miniland was looking a little tired. One of the core reasons for visiting Legoland are the amazing Lego creations of places around the world. However I did think that many of the models needed a good clean, some of the models were faded because of the many summers they have spent outside. I also noticed that many of the moving models no longer moved! When you consider that many of the models are nearly twenty years old, maybe it’s time to refresh them.

Legoland

Having said that we didn’t spend as long as previous years looking at the models, but that was down to the really hot weather. Not enough shade around the models when the sun is shining down as it did that day.

Despite the above comments about Miniland, the new Star Wars Miniland was very impressive, the moving six foot Millennium Falcon was certainly a spectacle. The use of cold air in the Assault on Hoth scene again was very clever. Interesting that these new models were inside!

Legoland Star Wars

I also noticed that the Lego models in the Fairy Tale Brook were refreshed and looked very clean, so there is a process for cleaning and updating models. I wonder when they will get round to the Miniland models?

So here are my top tips for having a fantastic day out, minimising any stress and not spending too much money!

Don’t pay full price for your tickets. If you turn up on the day you will need to pay full price for your tickets, however with a little planning you can drastically cut the cost of your tickets.

Some national newspapers run offers for free tickets, use these if you can, you will however often be restricted to a specific day and this can be inconvenient. There may be other restrictions that limit the number of free tickets you can get.

There are various ways in which you can get two for one offers, currently there is such an offer on cereal packets where you buy a child’s ticket and the adult gets in free. Do check that these offers are valid on the day you want to go.

If you shop at Tesco then using your Clubcard vouchers means you can get “free” tickets that way, though you do have to spend a large amount of money at Tesco!

If you need to get extra tickets then make sure if buying them online buy them at least seven days in advance as that way you get a 25% discount off the turnstile price.

If you know you are going to Legoland twice or more in a year, then an annual pass not only makes sense, but also gives good discounts in the park itself, on food and drink for example.

So what about the day itself?

Well travelling to Legoland it makes a lot more sense to travel from the South than the North. If you travel down from Junction 6 of the M4 through Windsor you will find it slow going. If you come from the Windsor Great Park end on the B3022 you will miss all that traffic. The problem with that way though is that the signposting isn’t great, it’s not straightforward and you could get lost. If you don’t get lost then you could save yourself at least 30 minutes of possible delays.

As for parking I would recommend paying (if you book in advance) the £6 for priority parking. When you consider that “standard” parking is £3 you might wonder why pay double? Well the priority car park is right next the entrance and as you can go in and out of the park, so you can go back to your car if you need to. Now I am not promoting the idea of leaving valuables in your car in the car park, but you could leave your picnic in the car and then retrieve it at lunchtime. The same can be said for swimming costumes and towels if you are going to use the water park.

Yes there are lockers at Legoland where you could leave it, but these are too small for a standard sized coolbox and the key deposits are not returned, so aren’t deposits but rental fees. The lockers are quite small, so as a result you may find that you spend two or three pounds. My thinking is that spending an extra £3 on car parking is better than parking further away in the main car park and then using lockers. As with tickets, it is more expensive to pay to use the priority car park on the day, £8.

My usual strategy with Legoland is to arrive early, then “run” to the back of the park to do the rides there. The reasoning is quite simple, most people who arrive at the park will “do” the rides as they get to them. If you go to the back of the park you will be able to do a fair few rides before the “crowds” get there!

Unfortunately on this visit, despite our best intentions we arrived much later than planned, so this strategy wasn’t open to us. There are a few other strategies, generally you will find the queues shorter over lunchtime and towards the end of the day.

One thing though that we have found useful, and if you have “free” tickets isn’t too bad from a cost perspective is the so called virtual queuing q-Bot system, or as it should be called the queue jumping q-Bot system! There is a lot of discussion on the web about the ethics of queue jumping at places like Legoland, to be honest there are a lot of ethical questions to be had about theme parks in general, the way they operate, the way they treat their staff, environmental impact and so on…

The q-Bot system works simply, you select the ride you want, it tells you the time you can access the ride and when it “buzzes” you go to the ride and get on it “straight away”. Well not quite straight away, but certainly in a much shorter time than joining the main queue.

Generally the way we use it, is to select the ride of our choice, checking the times, so usually choosing one where the virtual queue is quite short. We then make our way over to the ride looking at the Lego models as we go. Once our q-Bot has been scanned and validated (and usually before we even get on the ride) we select the next ride. So we are “virtually queuing” for the next ride as we are on the first one. You can also physically queue for other rides as you virtually queue for the reserved ride on the q-Bot.

One useful aspect of the device is if a ride breaks down (as happened on our recent visit with the Dragon coaster) the device buzzes you to let you know it has re-opened, at this point the virtual queue time (as is the real queue time) quite short, so can reduce the time to ride.

When there is a popular ride, with a long wait, that’s usually when we decide to have lunch.

At £15 per person, it isn’t cheap, however the way I look at it is, especially if I have got free (or cheap) entry that it is cost effective if I got on at least five or more rides; that’s £3 a ride.

The reason I really like the q-Bot system is that it literally removes the stress of queuing and ensures a more enjoyable day out. One of the key reasons we went with it on our recent visit was the fact that it was a really hot and sunny day (temperature in the 30s) and none of us felt like queuing in that kind of weather.

The main downsides of the device are that not all attractions and rides are included and if you “add” these on then it does make it much more expensive. The rides change, but on our visit, Laser Raiders and the Boating School weren’t included, and these are quite fun rides. There are also “limited” numbers which means if you arrive too late at the park you may not be able to get one. The thing to note though, is that if it is an off-peak day then you may find the queues are not that bad and there is no point in spending extra money on the q-Bot.

For those who have way too much money there are “better” versions of the q-Bot at £30 and £70 per person that reduce the virtual queueing time to much shorter times.

As with most theme parks, the food at Legoland (from previous experience) is quite expensive and not the best quality. If there are a fair few of you in your party I think the best option, well if it isn’t raining, is to bring a picnic. There are some theme parks that don’t allow picnics, however Legoland does and there are a few places where you can put down a picnic rug and have a nice lunch. If you are bringing a picnic it makes sense to have a coolbox or icebox to store it, so that it stays cool and doesn’t go all funny in the heat – nothing worse than food poisoning to ruin a lovely day out.

If you don’t want to have a picnic, it makes sense then to go earlier or later to the food places than the peak times between 12pm and 2pm. The so called “snack” bars will really eat into your wallet, and with their high sugar and salt content, expect to be buying a lot of drinks too. We made a point of bringing some bottles of water with us and taking sips throughout the day.

On a similar note when the shows are happening, the queues around the display arena shorten considerably, so go on the Orient Expedition Train then if you don’t want to queue.

Don’t forget that Legoland is built on a hill and there is lots of walking if you are going to cover the whole sitem, so good shoes are essential. The Hill Train sounds like a good idea until you realise that everyone thinks that, so in the mornings there are long queues to go down the hill, and towards the end of the day long queues to go back up. Taking the Hill Train on the way down into the park also means you miss the Viking Land rides.

Legoland

Finally you visit Legoland because you like Lego, the rides are certainly not for the thrill seekers and will for those people appear to be somewhat tame. As with any family day out, a little thought and planning, you can reduce or even remove much of the stress and expense of a family day out.

Cinematic Advent Calendar #03 – Star Wars, A New Hope

As a young kid I didn’t go to the cinema very often, but one film I did go and see, and had to queue all around the market square in Cambridge for, was Star Wars.

I didn’t go to the cinema very often when i was young, but I never remember really long queues for films, the queue for Star Wars was unprecedented, it was huge. I have never seen anything like this again.

Star Wars was, and still is, an amazing piece of cinema. When you read the back story you realise that when they were making the film, they had no idea how big it was going to be, many of the cast and crew thought it might be a flop. There were disasters on set, including massively destructive sand storms in Tunisia.

The story was simple in many respects, but this is a true cinematic film. That opening sequence with the never ending huge Star Destroyer set the tone for the rest of the movie. I really loved the retro feel of the technology and this slightly worn, aged tech look was used again many times by other films and television series. Battlestar Galactica is an example of copying the feel and style of Star Wars tech, so much so, there was a court case about it.

 Star Wars, A New Hope

There were spaceships, battles in space, jedi mysticism, sword fights (well light sabre fights), monsters, aliens and a authoritarian empire bent on destruction.

The one thing that you can say about Star Wars was the impact it had on science fiction films and television, it made them mainstream. It was only a couple of years later and we had Star Trek films, there was also a range of science fiction mainstream television series too, as well as the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica, there was Buck Rogers. Some were good and some were downright awful.

Of course Star Wars became so much more than the one film from 1977, three years later there was the Empire Strikes Back (which I didn’t see at the cinema, but many say is a better film than the original) and then in 1982 we saw Return of the Jedi. I did see that at the cinema, but there wasn’t the queues there was in 1977 and in many ways was nowhere near as good as the original film. I remember going to see the “enhanced” versions in the 1990s before the release of the prequels and I did enjoy watching those films again in the cinema. There is something very different about the cinema experience over watching something on the telly or an iPad. I remember really enjoy Empire Strikes Back at the cinema.

I’ll be honest I was not that impressed with the prequels, they didn’t have the magic that we saw in the original three films and the use of CGI did not improve the movies, many of the effects shots were too “clever” and didn’t progress the story, whilst I thought many of the CGI sets looked rather fake. For me they weren’t Star Wars, they were another science fiction film.

Get Star Wars at Amazon.