legolandLegoland in Windsor, England, features most of the same amusements as Legoland in sunny California but with much better food! I recently moved with my family to Buckinghamshire, England, about 30 minutes  northwest of London. When friends came to town recently to visit, we decided to take a trip to Legoland in Windsor, which is about 30 minutes west of London (visitors to London could hire a car or take the train). In total, we were three adults and a 5-year-old boy, a 6-year-old boy, and a 3-year-old boy and girl. We brought our own strollers but I noticed that you can rent cute Legoland three-wheelers there if you wish.

The first thing you notice is that the Legoland site in Windsor is really impressive — up on a hill with a great view of Windsor Castle (enormous, the largest still-inhabited castle in  the world).  The second thing you notice when you get there is that Legoland is expensive — I paid about £46 (about $60) for myself and my 5-year-old for a one-day pass, but at least I had a get-in-free-with-adult coupon for my 3-year-old. To add insult to injury, there are some attractions, like the JCB drive-a-digger attraction, that cost extra on top of that. The digger ride is another £5 per child, and it is hard to say no when kids see  it, particularly to a boy who loves diggers! And the food in the park, while definitely a cut above your usual amusement park fare, is also not cheap. We got around it by bringing sandwiches and snacks, and the kids ended up being too excited to sit down and eat properly anyway — we just stuffed food into them on the way from one attraction to another. But I did notice that the various eateries were themed, and the French-themed one had a “meal deal” of a baguette sandwich with juice and a piece of fruit included, which is better than your average artery-clogging theme-park junk food.

While the park at first glance is not large by U.S. standards, they pack a lot of attractions in it, so although we spent five hours there I estimate we only saw about a third of the park. The queues (lines) were not bad, as it was the last weekend it was open before closing for the winter, and it was a bit cool (it reopens in the spring). Nevertheless, certain very popular attractions still had rather long waits, like the log flume ride (pirate-themed), the Knights Kingdom roller coaster, and the driving attraction (where the kids can drive miniature Lego cars on very realistic “roads” with traffic lights, etc.). However, they do post the approximate wait times for every ride so you don’t have to wait and wonder. Some rides had Lego toy stations set up along the queue for the kids to play with while waiting, a nice touch. When the older kids were in a longish line, we took the two 3-year-olds to the impressive toddler playground (in Duploland) where they could ride a miniature train and blow off some steam. In the warmer months there is also a large water-play feature in the playground, so you might want to bring swimsuits if you go then. If they get soaked, the log flume ride has a giant walk-in “blow dryer” that the whole family can fit into, which will dry you off well — it costs an extra £2 though.

All the attractions / rides we tried got the thumbs-up from the kids, notably the train that takes you from the entrance down the hill to the center of the park, the Fireman’s Academy, and the older kids liked the log flume (the park would probably appeal to kids up to the age of 10 or 11) and looked longingly at the roller coasters that we didn’t have time to ride. There are two — the Dragon (bigger coaster) and the Dragon’s Apprentice (for younger ones). And everyone, including the adults, was impressed by Miniland, a re-creation of London in miniature that is perfect in every detail. The kids loved watching the miniature London Eye go around, especially as they had visited the real thing in London the previous day.

While we only went for the day because we live nearby, probably the most cost-effective and enjoyable way to visit Legoland is to book a nearby hotel and go for two days so you can see it all, and maybe squeeze in a visit to Windsor Castle too (not forgetting the excellent shopping in Windsor as well).  Participating hotels, which can be booked via the Legoland website (legoland.co.uk, then choose “accommodation”) all offer at least a discount on the entrance fee, and some of the higher-end hotels offer free entrance to the park with an overnight stay — an excellent deal.