We’re queuing for a Q-Bot. The irony isn’t 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. There’s little retort to this. At least, not one I’m happy to express in public; and let it be known, today, mid-school holidays, there’s no lack of public. Half of the southeast of England appear to be squeezing themselves through the smiley-faced turnstiles while 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 this to someone in uniform should the crowds swallow them up. Which, of course, happens immediately. The wait for the Q-Bot is just tedious enough to ensure boredom overtakes good sense.
In the blink of an eye, the kids have stepped into the sea of fellow metre-high humans and are gone. Thankfully, as Legoland has made it possible to both enter and exit through the gift shop, this is where I quickly find them — armed with myriad packets of merchandise and a plethora of pleases.
Fortunately, the Q-bot has other plans. Legoland’s fast-track gadget (or smart phone app) allows holders to cut waiting times for rides or jump queues entirely if they pay enough — the priciest bot actually costs more than a park ticket.
Ours is already ticking down for Legoland’s biggest ’coaster, The Dragon. Or we think it is. Once in the fast track queue, it quickly becomes clear, from our knee-high co-queuers, that I’ve actually selected The Dragon’s little brother, The Dragon’s Apprentice. The kids cast me withering looks. Of course, this humiliation doesn’t stop them whooping enough to drown out the tots who ride 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 big events in themselves: impressive worlds of ropes and drawbridges, swings and high-wires. Legoland excels at these no-queue areas, the highlight of which has to be the primary-coloured watery wonderland that is DuploValley, whose 10m-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 under the blazing sun, we’re escorted off by security staff, complete with climbing ropes and carabiners that are totally unnecessary. A fistful of compensatory ride passes means we then cool off with instant access to several water rides, before succeeding in finally vanquishing the re-opened Dragon — a thrill, if rather too short-lived.
The new Heartlake City area is also suffering technical issues, so we’re not able to experience its headline attraction, Mia’s Riding Adventure. But as closing time rolls around, the site empties and so too the rides (not the car park where there’s a complete bottleneck). We spend the last half-hour soaring above the park on the Jolly Rocker: no queues, repeat rides, plenty of screamy fun.
Did we exit through the gift shop? Certainly. Where, immediately, I lost Ella again. Just to test out those wristbands, of course.
Published in the Summer 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)