Legoland Windsor

Well, I've had an enjoyable weekend. On Saturday (5th November), it was my younger brother's 20th birthday, and so to celebrate, I took him on a day out to Legoland Windsor. A theme park full of families with small children might not seem like an obvious way to celebrate leaving teenagerhood, but we both like theme parks, it was one of the only theme parks left open, we hadn't been there before, and it had a firework display. And if your birthday is the 5th of November, then surely seeing some fireworks is a must.

Getting to Legoland on public transport means a tube to Paddington, a big fast train to Slough, a small shuttle branch-line train to Windsor & Eton Central, and then a shuttle bus to the park. A lot of changes, but it only took about an hour and a half to get there. We were quite impressed with the town/city of Windsor itself, with its posh pedestrianised streets and very un-ruined castle.

Legoland Windsor is only ten years old, and was built on the site of a safari park, on the side of a hill. This means that you get a great view when you arrive, but have to either zigzag down the slope or catch the furnicular Hill Train to get to where the main rides are. We walked initially, but caught the train later in the day, as it's pretty cool, powered by cables, with one train going up and one train going down on different ends of the same cable. The track curves as well as transcending the steep slope, and uses points so that there's only one platform at each end.

Most theme parks are all about the big rides, but Legoland is a bit different in that there's really only a few star rides. These are the logflume, which features some nice lego pirates, the Dragon Coaster, which starts off inside a castle before 'escaping' outside, and the Jungle Coaster, which probably has the biggest drop.

With Legoland though, it's not all about the big rides, instead much of the enjoyment comes from simply wandering round, looking at the scenery and lego models and watching the shows and the rides. The show we saw was good fun, with acrobatics, audience participation, and some impressive spinning jumps from the lighthouse into the fairly shallow-looking water.

By far the most impressive big of the park though is Miniland, which features huge sets of miniture lego models of cities, landmarks and countries. Photos and descriptions don't do the level of detail and sheer scale of it justice, but some of my favorite scenes were of Wembley Stadium, the Minnack Theatre and the Moulin Rouge. There were also big bridges, huge buildings, and a Space Shuttle launch. They're not just static models either, with moving windmills, trains, boars and even cars adding life to the sets. The cars were the most amazing as they seemed to steer themselves around an invisible track. I studied them for a while, but couldn't figure out how they worked. The train sets are enormous, with absolutely tons of track, bridges, points, and dozens of trains moving at once. As someone who used to play with my lego train set a lot, it was great! Even if you've never played with lego though, the models are incredibly impressive and full of humour (including a streaker on the Wembley pitch).

The firework display in the evening was really good too, the first display I've seen that actually manages to pull of timing the fireworks to a musical soundtrack (which was specially composed dance music). It was all done to a Viking theme, with a pre-firework show featuring Vikings sitting merily around a campfire (after having been out fishing during the day).

All good fun. Getting home was a bit more troublesome. To avoid congestion, the park tried to stagger people leaving by re-opening some rides and shops, and delaying the first bus home by an hour. So we spent the time waiting for the bus wandering around and buying a small tub of lego at the pick-a-brick shop, which sells lego in the way that name suggests. It's quite bizarre having to make the decision over which bricks to pick (do I want some blue roof tiles or some white arches?) but we settled on going for unusual colours and shapes.

All in all, an entertaining day out. As you'd expect, we were exhausted when we got home, and managed to sleep through most of Sunday morning.

Happy Birthday, younger (not by much) brother Evan!