In 1996 within the Berkshire countryside, a defunct Safari park was invaded by bricks. Bricks that would mark the way for Legoland Windsor which would become the second Lego theme park in the world after Billund. Home to a boating school, driving school, Lego model village, A pirate log flume and more, the park was truly a unique place especially in it's early years.
Twenty Years on, the park is now part of the Merlin machine currently operating six (and counting) Legoland parks and discovery centres. Through this ownership the park has experienced much change (for better and worse), experiencing rigorous expansions of larger updated attractions. However one could argue as a consequence the park has lost much of it's charm, seeing smaller features neglected or removed and a spike up in the park's commercialism. Something that can be seen from the many walking adverts and upselling,the use of shouty IP's and rise of the hotels (consequently ripping out two prominent rides).
Now I think I have probably come across relatively harsh against the park. Yes it doesn't quite have the hardware of other parks out there; yes it can get packed with young families and is not to everyone's taste. But this is Legoland Windsor, the UK's most popular and successful park which now welcomes over 2.2 million guests a year despite its last E-ticket ride being over 5 years ago.
It may not beat (or come close) to the likes of Europa, DLRP and Efteling, but Legoland retains a strong soft spot for me, being one of the first major theme parks I visited and the place responsible for my interests in theme parks (and Lego). I have fond memories of the many trips I have taken here since first visiting in 1997. From squirting everyone on the train (and getting karma through a leaky tap) to my fascinations with the sadly long gone Magic Thestre and Explorers Institute attractions.
With much fanfare going towards a ghost train, 2016 may be a low investment year at Legoland, but the park is far from quiet.
As new for this year, the resort finally takes advantage of the success of the Lego Movie by releasing a brand new film based on the shenanigans from the original movie.
The movie wouldn't be the Lego Movie (no pun intended) without the lovable cast from the original film, including Emmet, Wyldstyle, Benny, Metalbeare and of course, Uni Kitty.
The feature film see's the cast enter a fictitious theme park operated by President Businesses's brother Risky Business, who has built a specific attraction for each character. Then in true Lego Movie style, this turns out to be a trap with Risky Business planning to capture the cast for a terrible park show. However things eventually end well with the characters eventually visiting the real Legoland.
The Lego Movie 4D has to be one the best cinema shows I've ever seen. It retains the charm and humour the original film boasted on and features many poke in the back moments to current trends, from the original film to even some tongue and cheek Disney references. It's a film that shouldn't be missed on any visit. 4.5/5 (not 10).
Also new for 2016, the Star Wars Miniland gets a hefty extension. Early on the season, it appeared the original Millenium Falcon entrance feature had been removed. But I'm happily to announce it has been repaired/replaced which is great to see.
After experiencing the original sections of the attraction, you are greeted with a series of heavy well built Lego Star Wars ships which lead into the new main section. This a great transition and works rather well.
More impressive models (displayed on the side of the area).
We then enter into the main area, which features a series of scenes based on the Death Star battles in the films, including the trenches.
And a mightily impressive Death Star model. The size and scale is remarkable.
The whole of the new area occupies space previously occupied by the Star Wars store (and Lego Racers store long before). It is certainly a fantastic addition and features many interactive elements, from ships flying around the model to numerous smaller animations being depicted by lights and push buttons.
The Star Wars store has also seen some modifications, with the tills moved to the old display case and the shop moving forward to space previously wasted as a result of lost space. The Model Maker workshop area has also been updated (which I'm yet to see).
2016 has also seen the addition of another new eatery, Farmer Joe's Chicken Company, replacing the Duplo Buffet restaurant. The facade area is themed quite well (if a little blocky) but I suppose it fits the Duplo area well. I didn't try the food here, however I believe it's similar to the fried chicken company at Chessington and Towers.
As as nice as it looks, it's a shame the park now lacks (non quick service) table restaurants as since the Burger Kitchen conversations, it really just leaves Knights Table, Hilltop cafe, Merlin pizza buffet and the hotel restaurants.
Meanwhile perched in a hidden corner resides Loki's Labarinth, the park's maze, which is one of the few quiet areas in the park to escape the crowds.
But not for very much longer sadly. Very soon, the whole maze will be completely removed to make way for a brand new Ninjago dark ride. I would strongly recommend visiting Legoland very soon if you wish to take in this attraction before it's removal as in Legoland fashion it's likely to close forever before the end of this season!
The maze's removal will also mark the end of the remainder of the Amazing Mazes, which the attraction was previously part of until the other mazes were demolished in 2007 for Viking River Splash.
Elsewhere in the park, another attraction has already become extinct making way for the park's second hotel. Dino Safari. The ride was the last ride installed when the Lego had full park ownership (now 30%) and marks the final nail in the coffin for the original Adventure Land.
As exciting and detailed the new hotels appears from the concept art (amongst being a fan of castles), I can't help feel the location isn't ideal, with the elaborate Atlantis on the left and airy Legoland hotel on the right. Not to mention the loss of another ride and the likeleihood of costing £400 pn. Still I'm sure it'll be a hit with the park's audience and may hopefully ease some of the strain from the park's nightmare car park situation.
At least segments of the original ride still live on (although in static model form).
And though some things in the park may have become a little bland recently.
There is still magic to be found.
And wonders to behold.
Some of which are small with details.
With Hidden gems.
And others larger than life.
Which is like Christmas for most seven year olds.
Happy Birthday Legoland, here's to twenty years of awesomeness (and hopefully another twenty). It may have changed for better and worse in its due course, but it's still my Legoland, the park I've enjoyed as a child and still enjoy today.
Raise a glass of Brickcola