House that Lego built
Brick work ... a Lego family in Windsor.
The Legoland hotel doesn't do things by halves — even the chips are shaped like Lego bricks, writes Amelia Gentleman.
How much you like the new Legoland Windsor Resort Hotel might depend on your age. In the castle-themed play area by the bar - noisy with happy, shrieking children - some adults display a grim stoicism. "If the children are happy, I'm happy," one mother says with a firm smile. Her husband is blunter: "Anything is tolerable with alcohol."
From the children there is cynicism-free, unadulterated delight. If it's mildly disappointing to discover that the hotel walls are not actually constructed from millions of tiny plastic bricks, there is a display of (apparently) 5000 Lego minifigures to study and an enormous pit of Lego to enjoy while parents check in.
The entrance looks as if it were designed by an enthusiastic five-year-old in a jumble of primary colours with vast pieces of Duplo. There is Lego everywhere: the flowers at reception are made from it; there's a massive green Lego dragon at the front door; above my bed there's a Lego skull, gripping a Lego sword between its Lego teeth. Perhaps most thrillingly, the chips in the restaurant are shaped like Lego bricks. There are tubs of Lego everywhere for children to tip over.
I begin to feel silent solidarity with the people who tidy up. By 8pm in the play area, hundreds of small pieces are scattered across the floor. Parents will know how time-consuming the daily Lego clear-up is and this is on an industrial scale. But overnight, unseen hands do a remarkable job and by breakfast all the pieces have been put away, ready to be hurled about again.
Our room is on the Pirate floor (there are also Kingdom and Adventure-themed rooms). The bunk beds appear to have been blasted by cannonballs; there are skull-and-crossbones pillows and treasure map designs on the carpet. A treasure trail within the room leads you to a code that unlocks a padlocked vault in a corner guarded by a Lego monkey. It contains more Lego.
It's unquestionably the most exciting place my children have ever stayed and their happiness is infectious.
The designers have had a lot of fun planning the hotel. There's no white space - even the toilet doors are covered with images of Lego people. Inside the lifts, a Lego man cracks jokes. At children's ear level, some Lego statues are programmed to whisper messages.
My six-year-old son's dedication to Lego knows no bounds. He gets up at dawn and goes downstairs to fiddle with his collection of bricks and yellow people long before anyone else is awake. He positions Star Wars warriors around the house: they're pointing their weapons at you when you lie in the bath. I find pieces embedded in ice cubes in the freezer, buried in the garden, tucked between socks, in clusters underneath the duvet. We've all had to develop a special protective anti-Lego walk, a kind of furtive hop, to prevent the agonising pain of stepping on one of the hundreds of bricks barefoot.
So it is a cruel injustice that on the night we are at the hotel my son is attacked by a terrible sickness, which I don't know whether to attribute to overexcitement or flu. I spend much of the night with buckets and towels, battling to stop vomit from touching the carpet. In the morning he is not strong enough to eat anything but wanly casts appreciative eyes over the display cabinet next to the restaurant, which is full of ingeniously built skyscrapers with tiny windows into minute rooms where you can see Lego figures eking out solitary urban existences. In one room, you catch a Lego woman stepping out of the shower, horrified to see people peering in at her.
A night in the hotel isn't cheap: packages cost from £248 ($380) for two adults and up to three children, including two days' entrance to the Legoland park next door. Perhaps a cheaper way of doing it would be to go for the hotel only, with bed and breakfast from £140, and try to collect discount tokens for park entry (we got them when we signed up to the free Lego Club Magazine. But guests who go for the package can enter Legoland, next to the hotel, at 9am, an hour before it opens to everyone else and queues start building. As we've been awake since 5am, we're more than ready.
It is testament to the attraction of the theme park that my son drags himself along with a heroic determination to enjoy himself, despite having been sick five times in as many hours. He manages to smile occasionally but in the end it is too much for him and he begs to go home.
Unexpectedly, I enjoy myself the most.
Legoland, Winkfield Road, Windsor, is on the B3022 Windsor/Ascot road about three kilometres from Windsor town, see legoland.co.uk. Trains from London Paddington or London Waterloo to Windsor take less than an hour, see southwesttrains.co.uk. A shuttle bus operates from the station to Legoland Park, see legolandshuttle.com. From Victoria, Green Line bus 702 runs daily to the park, see greenline.co.uk. Rail or bus travel and Legoland ticket packages are available.
One night's B&B in the Legoland Windsor Resort Hotel and park tickets for two days for two adults and up to three children costs from £248 ($379). Day tickets to the park are £43.20 for adults and £34.20 for children. For other accommodation options in Windsor, see windsor.gov.uk.
The first Legoland (there are five) opened in 1968 in Billund, Denmark, the home of Lego and site of the first Lego hotel. This year's new attraction is Polar Land, featuring Lego animals, real penguins and a roller-coaster. Legoland Deutschland, in Gunzburg, is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has a new ride: the Flying Ninjago in the Little Asia area. Carlsbad in California was home to the first Lego water park. A new hotel is opening there next year. Legoland Florida opened last year and is adding a water park this summer. A new Legoland will open in Malaysia at the end of the year and another is planned for Dubai. See lego.com.
Lego Discovery Centres — indoor attractions in city centres, launched in 2007 — can be found in Manchester, Berlin, Duisburg, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas Fort Worth, with new ones opening in Kansas City and Tokyo soon. In Manchester, a new driving game has just opened, letting children loose in off-road Lego vehicles along forest paths in pursuit of Lego robbers. See legolanddiscoverycenter.com.
A new behind-the-scenes trip to the Lego mothership in Billund offers a chance to meet designers, view the company's archive, visit the factory and have a guided tour of Legoland. It's suitable for children seven and over. It costs £1350 a person (for adults and children), including two nights at the Lego hotel, meals, tours and a gift.
Tours take place on May 23 and June 6. See lego.com.
The Brickish Association (brickish.org), an adult enthusiasts' forum, lists Lego-based events around Britain. Brickfair (brickfair.com), a Lego fans' festival in Virginia, in the US, takes place in August. Art of the Brick (brickartist.com), an exhibition of Lego sculptures by New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya, is touring the US and Australia. It's at Adelaide Showground's Goyder Pavilion until June 11, 10am-5pm daily; adults $15, children $10, family $45. See artofthebrick.com.au.