Tuesday, 8 January 2013

London - part 1 - Legoland

This post got stuck in draft, so I am posting it now - slightly too late!  I suspect part 2 won't ever get written!

Our second summer holiday of the year (the first being a bargain week in Corfu in July) was a short visit to London in August with one of my best friends, her husband and their three kids.  Their son is just a few weeks younger than the small Scottish boy, although they'd not seen each other since they were three years old as my friend lives in Ireland.  We shared a 3 bedroom apartment near the centre of London and whilst the apartment was lovely, I have learnt a lesson - just because a place says it has a lift, don't assume there's not a dozen steep steps before you get to the lift!

I was a bit nervous about the travelling around in London, because my memories of it (I lived there in late 90s) was of a place which was not at all disabled friendly.  When I checked things out I was surprised to find that there was no lift access to far more tube stations than had been the case - including all the platforms at Kings Cross, which was a good start since that was near where we were staying.  This meant I was able to get the tube in from Heathrow (we flew down as the boy had a hospital appointment - nothing serious - that day).  The nice man from BAA collected me at the plane door in a nifty wheelchair which had room for our carry-on case, which saved the boy from having to pull it and escorted me all the way onto the tube train itself.

Our first stop was Legoland.  I'd been once before - in 1991 and in Denmark - and the rest were newbies. All the kids were big Lego fans though!

First off.  Do not think it will be "easy enough" to get to Legoland from central London.  It took ages.  Stay near the park.  If you are travelling from outside southern or central England and don't have a car, this is easier said than done.  There's the park hotel, but that was full when we booked.  Much scouring of websites failed to find anywhere close and accessible by public transport, but we got to Slough and discovered there is a Holiday Inn by the station.

Anyway, we survived our public transport journey and hit the park.  It seems much more real than Disney, and that's a big plus for me.  As I described it to my friend's husband: "you see that hedge there, it's just an ordinary, slightly scrappy looking hedge.  At Disney, it would be perfectly manicured and there would be a fountain making it look like a single drop of water was bouncing along the top of it".   It's also better value.  Entrance fees were reasonable (as a group of 7 we paid about £22 each) and the food was as well.  After 4pm, there was an all you could eat buffet deal for I think £20 per adult.  Since we got one kid free for each adult, we ended up paying £10 a head.  For £6 you could buy a refillable drink bottle, with free refills all day long, so we shared a couple of those.

The problem is that it's also really not designed with mobility in mind.  It's built on a steep hill.  Most of the attractions are at the bottom and there is a funicular railway down the hill, but it's still far from level.  As a result I stuck with my crutches, which made me tired and sore by the end of the day.  It would be good if they could hire out scooters.  They do have a priority entry system for disabled people, but as a group of 7 there were too many of us to use it.  I could only bring 3 people with me and we had 4 kids with us.  Can you imagine the fights! What the staff were happy with, however, was for the rest of the group to queue and for me to join them at the front.  It meant I still waited just as long, but could sit down while doing so.

Our first day was damp.  The couple of times rain threatened we were able to duck into indoor rides so no one got drenched.  Like Disney, each area is themed - Lego City, Lego Castles, Lego Pirates, Vikings.  The rides are a great mix of tamer ones for little kids and wilder ones for older kids, for example in the Castle section were three rollercoasters - each suitable for different age groups.  The youngest member of our group (4 year old M) went on all of them.  Lego theme is not over powering.  Our second day turned out to be the start of a heatwave (which left me wishing we were staying longer).  The kids accidentally discovered the splash pad, which meant an hours wasted while they ran about in their knickers getting soaked.  Then we dashed around catching up on the rides we had missed the day before - ending up with the wet rides.  I was thoroughly teased for insisting on wearing my raincoat. We may have even forgotten to feed the children!

The small Scottish boy is not, it turns out, a big thrillseeker, but still enjoyed most of the rides.  Since the park is aimed at 4-12 year olds, nothing was too hard on my back, except perhaps the pirate ship.   He loved panning for gold (well, fool's gold) and some of the tamer rides, but his absolute favourite was the driving school.  I think I am still disappointed that I was too old for that when I was at Legoland in 1991.  My favourite was Miniland, of course.  Isn't it everyone's?

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