We’re queuing for a Q-bot. The irony is not lost on Ella. “We’re queuing for something that’s supposed to help you not queue?” she says, with a look of incredulity that only a nine-year old having to suffer an idiot adult idea can muster. Legoland’s fast-track gadget — also downloadable as smart phone app — allows holders to cut waiting times for rides, or jump the line entirely if they pay enough (the priciest bot costs more than a park ticket). There’s little retort I can make to her, at least not one I’m happy to express in a public. And let it be known that today — mid school holidays — there’s no lack of public. Half the southeast of England appears to be squeezing themselves through the smiley-faced turnstiles, all determinedly trying to retain a smile themselves.
I accost one of the personable, if scarce, Legoland staff to enquire about their lost child protocol, (never let it be said I don’t know how to get the day off to a fun start). Ella and her friend are issued with wristbands, on which I write my mobile number, instructing the pair to show them to someone in uniform should the crowds swallow them up. This, of course, happens immediately, the wait for the Q-bot just tedious enough to ensure boredom overtakes sense. In the blink of an eye, the kids have stepped into the sea of humans and are gone. Thankfully, Q-bot in hand, I find them in the gift shop— armed with myriad packets of merchandise and a plethora of pleases.
Our queue-jumping gadget distracts them, its timer already ticking down for Legoland’s biggest ‘coaster — The Dragon. Or we think it is. Once in the fast track line, it quickly becomes clear from our knee-high co-queuers that I’ve actually selected The Dragon’s Apprentice. The kids cast me withering looks. Although of course, the humiliation doesn’t stop them whooping loudly enough to drown out the tots riding alongside them.
Apprenticeship over, I punch the correct Dragon into the Q-bot and we play out the 45-minute wait in one of the park’s numerous adventure playgrounds. In any other setting these would be events in themselves: mazes of rope tunnels weave their way around drawbridges, swings and zip wires. Legoland excels in these no-queue areas, the highlight of which has to be the watery wonderland that is Duplo Valley, whose 10-metre high Drench Towers constitutes the UK’s largest outdoor water play area. Simple is better, it seems.
We finally make it to The Dragon, only to stall at the top of the first incline. After a 15-minute wait in the blazing sun, we’re escorted off by security staff who come complete with climbing ropes and carabiners — a tad dramatic perhaps. At least — with a fistful of compensatory ride passes — we can cool off with instant access to the water rides. Attempt three at vanquishing the re-opened Dragon proves successful — a thrill, if rather too short-lived.
The new Heartlake City area is also suffering technical issues, so we can’t try its headline attraction, Mia’s Riding Adventure. But, as closing time edges closer, the site empties and so too do the rides. We spend the last half-hour soaring above the park on the Jolly Rocker, and with no queues, there’s nothing to stop us from going again and again. Did we exit through gift shop? Certainly. Where immediately I lost Ella again. Just to test out those wristbands of course.