Well, this is a bit different to the life we’ve been leading for the last few months. A day out at a theme park you say? That’s not in Chingford? How very extreme. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when reading TripAdvisor reviews about what a Covid deathtrap the whole thing was but we figured we could always cut it short if it didn’t safe. It was like we’d be losing any actual money because we’d paid for our tickets using Clubcard vouchers (there’s been something of an uptick in the Tesco spend since all of us starting being home for every meal).
As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad as long as we were sensible and other people in the queues were too. But more on that later.
We’ve been misdirecting the kids about this all week. They knew we were going somewhere on Saturday but I didn’t want to drop the LL bomb in there just in case something went wrong at the last minute. The local lockdowns (yeah, the *other* LL bomb) have been so swift and severe that it wasn’t until we were actually past the M25 that I felt confident of being able to go. Besides, it’s fun to tell the kids that we’re taking them to an orphanage or the Museum of Accountancy. Only issue is now that Nathan is desperate to visit the Museum of Accountancy IRL, even though I made it up on the spot. It’s The Wall of Calculators that is the big draw for him, I think. Or maybe The Well of Excel.
Anyway, they figured it out. I made a joke about an elven archer a few days back that apparently was a big giveaway, as was the minifig t-shirt I left out for Roo this morning. By the time we got to our usual Harvester, they definitely knew.
Of course, our usual Harvester is a bit different in these Covid times – none of the constant grazing from the breakfast bar and making your own toast just for the fun of it. Instead, your server takes you to the buffet and you point out what you want, which does take away the gluttony somewhat. Still, with a full English and the Southern Fried Chicken that Roo didn’t want, I was still pretty gluttonous. Nathan compensated for the lack of hand-toasted crumpets by going for the “add steak” option for the first time. Roo order the chicken, bacon and waffles but swapped his chicken for my scrambled egg, prompting much in the way of debate about which came first. Eva was the only one who properly ordered from the breakfast and she ended up with an unholy mixture of weetabix, strawberries, yoghurt, maple syrup and chips. The last two went really well together apparently.
Stoked and stuffed, we headed to Legoland itself vowing to ignore the brown signs and follow Google Maps’ much more direct route. Except we missed a turning and ended up going a third route that was neither of those options. I’ll report back when we finally get this figured out.
So, we got to Legoland. I realise that was a lot of preamble. We parked in a socially distanced way and donned our masks to go through the gates as it was moderately crowded. Not that we came within a metre of any strangers but it was the kind of situation where we could have. Everyone is temperature checked on entry, using an exciting at-the-forehead kind of gun and we passed that test, despite three of us having the meat sweats from breakfast. We were in! I didn’t dare to believe it but it was finally happening…an exciting day out after so many dreary Saturdays at home. We celebrated with a photo in front of a TARDIS.
It takes a bit of getting used to when and where to wear the masks but I think we had it figured out by the end. Any indoor queues were masks-on and any queues that were too tightly snaked to be able to socially distance from the people in the next row over. Reuben, at just-turned-11 was very good about wearing his mask when he needed to, even though I swear he thinks the age limit is made up specifically to troll him. Ninjago – our first ride – was an indoor/outdoor queue so, although we had them on the whole time, there was probably a bit where we didn’t need to. That was also the bit we were stuck in for the longest time as we encountered the first of many ride-cleaning delays. I’m not complaining that they’re cleaning the rides, obviously. Luckily, the outside bit had the Ninjago movie playing on screens, to keep the kids distracted. The queue was also fairly distanced, with people largely sticking to the markers on the ground and not pushing in to the gaps…that would be our experience for much of the day, although it was notably easier on the newer rides where the queuing system had obviously been designed to give queuers a bit more space (not with Covid in mind, just with…yknow…basic human dignity in mind)
I’d downloaded the Legoland app for this visit and it gave us a good, if not perfect, indication of how long the queues were going to be. The Ninjago queue was actually a bit shorter than the app had said, so that was a winner to start with. And the ride was very fun too – you sit in a carriage and move around different 4D scenes of various beasties attacking you. Only your ninja skills can defeat them! Sadly I don’t have any ninja skills but Reuben and Nathan did pretty well.
The next ride we wanted to go on was the Haunted House Monster Party, near the back of the park. It gave us a bit of a chance to stretch our legs before another queue. And this one truly was as it said on the box – 60 minutes, almost to the second. Eva lost her nerve halfway through queuing and thought it was too scary but we told her she’d enjoy it once we were in there. Spoiler: she didn’t. Whoops.
We passed the queue time by playing a round of “Lord of the Rings Alphabet Battle”, in which Gandalf emerged as the ultimate victor. I’m watching “Return of the King” as I type this tho and he’s not much of a warrior. In that final battle, all he does is swish his hair around. On a related note, Reuben was keen to flag up how un-Hobbit-friendly Legoland was. The height restrictions would prohibit many of the smaller folk from going on the rides and every ride insisted on shoes, which are not a hobbity wardrobe staple. So something to bear in mind if you’re taking a small, hairy friend with you.
Anyway, back to the ride. We went into the Monster party room, where a Vampyre directed us to have a boogie before letting us into the dining hall. But there was another ride cleaning delay, which broke the atmosphere somewhat. But eventually, we took our seats at the table for a disorientating ride where the whole room seemed to rotate around us. Eva was pretty terrified by this point and kept shouting “Stop the ride! Get me off!” but it was over in a flash. Which is just as well because I had my arm round her and her heart rate was getting a bit alarming.
Time to cool down and calm down. Did I mention it was 30C yesterday? We’d packed a 2L bottle of water but were all craving something a bit colder and more interesting. Last time we’d gone for the refillable cup option, it had been pretty frustrating as each refill involved a 30 minute queue at a food stall for a tiny bottle’s worth of refill. But this year, we’d spotted new Coke machines around the park, which dispense all manner of exciting drinks if you bring the right cup along. It was a princely £12 and Nathan had to queue for the cup, which doesn’t come pre-filled. So he bought a couple of bottles of Coke at the same time just to stave off that mad thirst while we regrouped and prepared to join yet another queue just to refill. In the end, I took the kids to the playground at Duplo Valley while Nathan went to get the refill. It was half one by this point and nominally lunchtime but the combination of the heat and the big breakfast had stopped any of us being particularly hungry. Reuben made a token attempt on half a buttered roll I’d packed but even he wasn’t feeling it.
While we’re on the subject of Duplo Valley, be prepared for disappointment if you want to use the Splash Safari and Drench Towers (and who wouldn’t when it’s 30c??) Slots have to be prebooked and are only released online two days beforehand. I was out with the kids on Thurs and by the time I got home, all the slots were fully booked. So there was no opportunity to cool down, even if you stand right next to the splash area and hope for a bit of water spray.
We weren’t really up for another mega-queue at this point and we were right next to the Duplo Airport so that seemed like an easy next ride. The helicopters have had a makeover of late – Eva specifically wanted a gold and pink one, whereas a couple of years back she’d chosen red – but Eva’s piloting skills have not evolved accordingly. It was a bumpy ride. Still, Nathan grabbed the opportunity to get on his aviator shades. Wonder if Graham Coxon would think he was looking really ace?
It was actually quite nice and breezy up there, which was good because Roo and I had a sweaty walk ahead of us. We were heading up the hill for the Viking River Splash and I could only hope there would be some sweet, sweet water splash on this ride. Especially as the estimated queue time was 80 minutes.
Now this is a prime example of a queuing system that makes distancing tricky and I think it is one of the older rides. The end of the queue extended up the hill but once under cover, the rows are close together and standing on the floor markers only separates you from the people in front and behind you, not from those to your side. Even tho there was no explicit instruction, I kept my mask on for the whole queue and took it off for the ride (no masks on water rides as getting them wet renders them useless). I know that mask wearing doesn’t necessarily protect me but it felt like the responsible thing to do in a queue that wasn’t ideal in terms of spacing and being semi-indoors. Plus, I saw a kid in the next row put his mouth on the wooden hand rail. Yeesh. I’m not OCD about hand sanitizer but I definitely whipped out the gel before I took my mask off.
If you’re wondering where Nathan and Eva were at this point, they’d gone on the Fairytale Brook, which is one of Eva’s favourite rides and my least favourite, ever since I gave myself a month-long knee injury on it in 2018. We weren’t up for any post-Legoland hospital visits this year. Of any kind.
After that, Nathan texted to say they were waiting for the Aero Nomad ride. We could see their ride from our ride and Reuben thought he could spot them on the top. So he stood up in the boat and waved, before I shrieked at him to “Stay seated at all times!” I know I wanted to cool down but I wasn’t up for a full on capsize, which was quite possible with only two of us in the boat (one perk of distancing). Don’t worry tho, he sat straight down again and we didn’t go over. I didn’t even get splashed, which was something of a disappointment. But the queue had only been 45 minutes, not the 80 intended so that was a plus.
We were crazy-thirsty again by the time we came off tho, so we went back down the hill with Reuben shielding his eyes as we went past the Spider Spinner. We were planning on heading Nathan and Eva off as they came off Aero Nomad but as we passed, they were only just going on. Some complicated sign language got us the refill cup, tho we almost got a ride with them without queuing which makes perfect sense from a distancing POV (as it was one family per balloon) but I would have felt awfully guilty if we had. So instead, Roo and I went to Heartlake City to experiment with Sprite flavours – this fill up was strawberry, grape and vanilla. Tasted a bit artificial if I’m honest but Roo enjoyed it.
That was around our fourth refill I think and we had calcuated that we needed five to get our money’s worth. It’s not made entirely clear how the cups work but I think there must be some kind of chip in the bottom that allows you to operate the machines for the day. It objects to repeated refills in a short space of time so when we only got a shot of Cherry Coke because the syrup had run out it didn’t then let us have another refill for a few minutes. I guess this is meant to deter people doing what we did and buying one cup for four people. Around 3PM the queues were massive as everyone was clearly starting to run out of water and the machines would let you top up water bottles free of charge…by around 5PM, however, we had the run of them. As long as we didn’t down a cup of Coke in three minutes or less.
All of this refilling and chugging was to have edgy effects as we were queuing for Laser Raiders. You can guess what the tension was but it wasn’t helped by the inexplicable lack of staff at the first gate. Again, we were queued fairly tightly and indoors, so masks were on and this didn’t help with communicating with your kids in a delicate situation. Plus the kids’ area was shut off but in a way that was so ineffective I didn’t even notice i.e. there was a kid-sized gap in the barrier where they’d usually go in. Other kids were already there, watching the movie, and so ours joined them. There was an announcement about not entering the kids’ area but the first time I wilfully misheard it as *adults* not entering the Kids’ Zone and only clocked on the second time round. I was Sprite-high, OK? I can’t be expected to be in full control of all my faculties. But the net result was again trying to summon our kids back out of the area and instruct them on how to get to us, all with masks on and trying not to raise voices. Tricky. But also New Normal. Why the spacious Kids’ Zone is closed off to aid distancing is another question.
Eventually, a staff member returned and let us through to the next stage of the queue, which was a long yellow tent-tunnel. The Situation was getting quite urgent by now but we had no real option to duck and run back as there were no staff nearby to get us through the gate and back out. There were some in the distance, deep cleaning the ride and that seemed to take forever. The ride itself was fun enough – a bit low tech compared to the Ninjago ride – but the tension of impending disaster meant I couldn’t relax and enjoy it.
The next stop after that was, quite natural, the loos in Heartlake City. Again, wearing a mask inside the toilet building made it difficult to talk to Eva through the cubicle door so if you have a child that sometimes need chivvying along, you’re probably best off sharing a cubicle.
By now, we were coming in to land and, with very sore feet, not much ambition to do anything else. Eva wanted to go the Heartlake Mall, where she scored a new puppy, who is much cuter than Pugsley from last year. He’s been through many name changes already, but meet the Artist Currently Known As Toffee:
We also got ice lollies in the shop because the queue was much shorter than at any of the food stalls. Result! Reuben’s only desire at this point was to try and win something by throwing something…he ended up with a blue meercat thing after spending a fiver on Hook-a-Duck. Not my recommendation, gotta be honest.
The only thing left was that Eva wanted to go to the Pirate Playground. So we did that for ten minutes or so before the playground closed at 6…and pretty much had the place to ourselves, making it easy enough to follow the social distancing guidelines.
Then just a trudge back up the hill and back to the car before stopping at Heston services on the way home for a Burger King, successfully this time (we don’t need to recap last year’s disaster). Again, it was slightly weird wearing a mask inside the servces and in the loos, but we were well used to it by then. We had managed to go all day without eating, apart from the ice lollies and the buttered rolls (the kids had sat down for a few minutes at 4PM to eat them). We didn’t even crack open the bountiful piles of crisps, popcorn and biscuits I’d packed. It was just Too Darn Hot.
So, Legoland in Covid times. Probably a mad idea but the reality wasn’t too scary. We didn’t make physical contact with any other humans and, although there were times when the distance was uncomfortable by 2020 standards, it was normally outside and most people were masked. Plus, the rides were being cleaned constantly and there was hand sanitizer everywhere, I’m going to be more careful than usual these next couple of weeks, just in case I’ve picked anything up tho. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for anyone high-risk or with high levels of anxiety about infection but it felt safe, for the most part and a well-deserved treat for kids who’ve been inside for months on end.
Hopefully by next summer, it’ll just be a bit more…normal…