I recently had the opportunity to fulfill one of my childhood fantasies, a visit to the original Legoland in Denmark. As a kid, Lego was easily my favourite toy, and I had often nagged my dad to take me on a holiday to the ultimate plastic brick paradise. Sadly, it never happened, and instead, roles were reversed and as an adult I ended up bringing my dad to Legoland instead. With both my dad and I being cheap-skates, we tried doing the Legoland trip on as much of a budget as possible, and ended up staying at a summer camp near Billund that was very reminiscent of the Friday the 13th horror films.
The original Legoland opened in Billund in Denmark in 1968. Since then, the popularity of both the toy and the original theme park has resulted in Legoland expanding to five additional locations, namely, Windsor in England (1996), San Diego in California (1999), Günzburg in Germany (2002), Winter Haven in Florida (2011) and the newest in Nusajaya in Malaysia (2012).
When Legoland first opened, it was nothing more than a park that displayed a number of models that had been created entirely from Lego. Eventually, the park (and the Lego line itself) became so popular that the park was expanded to include newer, more intricate models (including with motorisation) as well as Lego themed amusement rides.
Before departing for Legoland, we decided that we would see just how cheap we could do a visit to Legoland. We therefore avoided buying any of the package tours that included flights, hotel and Lego tickets, and instead we drove to Billund and stayed about 10 kms out of town in a small camping resort, Randboldal. The price of the resort compared to staying in one of the hotels within Billund was drastically cheaper (the Billund resorts were around US$200 to $350 per night for a room for two whilst we had a cabin for four people that only cost about US$40 per night).
We stayed at Randboldal in the middle of summer (July) and as a result, it was totally packed. It turned out that everyone staying there was also going to Legoland, so obviously we weren’t the only people looking to save some money. Note, this would not be a place that I would recommend staying at in winter (then again, with most of Legoland outdoors, I doubt I would want to visit it outside of summer either).
As a camp ground, Randboldal was pretty cool. Obviously, you can’t expect any of the luxuries of a hotel, such as room service. Instead, you bring your own sheets and blankets, and make up your own room when you arrive. Similarly, before you depart, you clean up your room or else you get charged an additional cleaning fee. Also, there aren’t toilets attached to each room. Instead, there are toilet and shower blocks scattered around the site. There is a restaurant in the camp, as well as kitchens within each cabin (with utensils). However, the nearest supermarket was about 8 kms away.
In terms of entertainment, the camp grounds are very much geared towards kids, with a large shallow man-made lake, water slides, rafts and plenty of playgrounds. There is also a river flowing behind the camp and a nearby fish-farm, as well as plenty of forests to hike through. Blueberries were in season at the time and ripe for picking, however, my suggestion is to be careful when picking blueberries growing right along pathways given that some of them smelled like urine, whether from dogs, people or otherwise I am not sure.
The camp ground takes its name from a small town right next door. We decided to take a walk through the town in order to get a feel for what a Danish country town was like. What we discovered was that the town felt almost deserted, with about half the houses appearing to be uninhabited. Walking through, you could see the few remaining residents peaking through their curtains to see who had disturbed the eerie peace of this ghost-town. During my walk, I honestly felt like I had been transported into a Friday the 13th slasher movie and I often felt like Jason Voorhees was watching me from the shadows in the forest, ready to pounce. The building style, forest and the fact that it was next door to a summer camp had all the hallmarks of the Friday the 13th franchise. Perhaps that is an idea for a new theme park?
The next morning, we got up early, cleaned our room, dropped off our key and drove the 10 kms to Legoland. As you enter the town of Billund, you can see how the town has been impacted by the Lego Group. Just on the outskirts is the main Lego factory (painted in bright Lego blue) and a prominent sign for the airport, which was built purely for the convenience of tourists. Driving through the town, we passed several resort style hotels, each trying to copy the original Legoland resort (and being sufficiently confusing in name and colour schemes that you may mistakenly think you were staying at the Legoland resort).
After the resorts, our car turned a corner and there it was, the great and almighty Legoland. I was quite enthusiastic to be finally completing a childhood dream. The front entrance is similar to all other Legolands, with a large Legoland sign for group photos and selfies. I get the impression some people spent more time at the front taking photos of themselves rather than enjoying the park. Ticket prices at the gate were about US$100 per person (for adults). Fortunately, we ordered our tickets in advance and therefore only paid about US$80 per person.
Once through the front gate, the park is divided into zones, which you can either walk between, or you can conveniently jump onto the Legoland train and ride through instead. We initially opted for the train, but afterwards, we walked the whole park as well.
The first zone is Mini-Land. This is what Legoland originally featured when it opened (although it has since been drastically expanded). Mini-Land contains many cities, towns and features around the world built in miniature in Lego. Many of these are automated such as Copenhagen airport with planes and cars driving around, or the European waterways with boats travelling around and bridges opening. There are also miniature models for other themes as well such as several fantastic Star Wars displays.
After Mini-Land, most of the other zones are tied to the different Lego themes, such as the Wild West, Castles/Vikings, Pirates, Aqua-Zone, and Lego City. Unlike Mini-Land, everything in the other zones is the reverse, with Lego themes now being life-size. One that I thought was really cool was the Lego City fire station that had been rebuilt into life-size scale. In addition, the fire-engines had been turned into an amusement ride where different teams had to compete by driving the fire engines to a burning building and manually pump water to put out the fire. The objective was to be the first to put out your building’s fire.
The Pirate zone is pretty cool, with an amusement ride where people can ride around a water course in quarter scale pirate ships. Instead of cannons firing iron balls, the cannons are armed with water and the ships “mates” can aim these water cannons at both targets within the circuit (and if hit, the targets activate different scenes) and also at people viewing along the side of the circuit. Fortunately, there are also land-mounted cannons so that the viewers can fire back at the pirates.
Each of the zones offered their own amusement rides. Some of these rides were nothing more than Lego themed variations on common amusement park rides, such as the log ride (or in Lego’s case, the Viking barrel ride). There is even a roller-coaster, although not a very challenging one. However, what I liked is that a lot of the other rides were more interactive and required participation rather than just remaining passive. For example, in the centre of Legoland, there is a large driving circuit for children. Kids drive through the circuit (which resembles the streets from the Lego City range) and need to learn to obey the street signs, such as traffic lights and give way signs. At the end of the session, kids are then given their Legoland driving diploma.
For lunch, there are a few different places to eat, once again, adopting different Lego themes. We managed to get food and drink (a bbq mix of spare ribs, steak and sausage, plus sauerkraut and potatoes) for about US$20 per person. The food was really good and for Scandinavia, I thought that was a pretty good deal. I suspect we had found the best deal in the park because where we ate was really crowded but I noticed other restaurant areas that were not nearly as packed out.
After a full day exploring the park, we finally returned to the exit. Just before the exit is a massive Lego store which contains not only the full current release Lego range, but also spare parts and hard to find minifigs. Having been to Legoland, we couldn’t depart without souvenirs. What could be better than a Lego set that was actually purchased at the original Legoland?
Whilst Legoland was an interesting enough visit, it really was very child oriented, with almost all of the amusement rides aimed at children rather than adults. Other than viewing the Lego sculptures and scenes, there really wasn’t much else for adults to do other than helping their kids on the different interactive rides. Therefore, from my perspective, I would definitely have enjoyed Legoland a lot more if I had actually gone there back when I was 7 years old. As a destination for kids though, its pretty cool.