Visiting Legoland Windsor in this post-lockdown, (sort of) socially-distant world
Zen Terrelonge | On July 21, 2020
Like more than a quarter of Brits, I’ve been furloughed. Since mid-April, it’s been an incredible opportunity to spend a more than imaginable time with Roma. But like many toddler parents will have also found, early lockdown presented challenges – from keeping her away from family and friends to generally having far fewer places to go aside from green spaces. All while repeatedly explaining the reason for this change in a digestible way for an infant.
Don’t get me wrong, we love exploring the outdoors. But we’ve now unearthed just about every woodland and field in our town, exhausted our walking routes and pounded picnic upon picnic, so the reopening of some destinations presented the chance to start diversifying our days.
Since theme parks began welcoming guests on Saturday 4th July, I’ve been doing my due diligence on everything from Chessington – where we went for Halloween – and Paulton Park to Legoland to Drayton Manor; the latter of which we went to for Christmas. Then late last week Thursday, I booked tickets to Legoland on a whim for the next day.
Given the current climate, I expected it to be a ghost town and that we’d have ticked off most rides by mid afternoon. And actually, with Jenna working until the afternoon, I thought Roma and I would be home from the park shortly after her. How naive I was.
We pulled up to the car park at 10.10am, ten minutes after the gates opened, and my immediate thought was: We should have left home earlier. Socially distant spacing had been implemented, with guests required to leave an empty space between each car, which made finding anywhere to park a bit of a quest.
I initially thought it was a good idea. Any measure to prevent the spread is good, right? But actually, remove Covid-19 from the picture: If someone was parked right next to you, you’d have to wait to for them to move anyway, lest you have a gladiatorial battle with your car doors where only the strongest will vacate their vehicle first. Besides, what are the odds of you and the person that’s parked next to you departing the site at exactly the same time at the end of the day?
After finding a home for my car, we joined the queue to get into the park at 10.15am. By 10.35am we’d gained entry, following a bag search, temperature scan and ticket check, all of which saw the staff wearing the appropriate PPE, and encouragingly this was a common sight throughout.
First off – after testing out the men’s loo, which I can confirm helpfully includes a toddler seat in every cubicle – we jumped on the Hill Train. It took us from one side of the park to the other while offering picturesque views, and it’s here where I noticed the start and end of the queue included hand sanitising stations. This was a welcome running theme throughout on each ride, with the vast majority of people making use of the free antibacterial gel.
After departing the Hill Train, we made a beeline for Lego Ninjago: The Ride, which only had a 15-minute wait. That is, until it broke down and we ended up in line for an hour. When we boarded, the immersive 4D-animated ride called on us to showcase our best combat moves, during which I followed Roma’s lead since she’s now taking karate lessons. But at one point, the mini ninja got overwhelmed and became tearful due to the in-your-face nature of the attraction.
Considering she hasn’t been to a cinema since March, it’s probably a rude awakening to have screens thrust in your face in such an interactive way, which apparently outweighed the element of fun for her. She soon regained her composure though and was happily striking a pose outside, ready to whoop some ass.
Helpfully, all the rides we encountered by just following paths at random, bar one, were height-friendly for Roma, which made things a lot easier. At one metre, she was either tall enough to ride alone – such as the Thunder Blazer swings or Desert Chase merry-go-round – or with me accompanying her, so we were really spoilt for choice.
Of all the rides, probably the most standout was the classic L-Drivers learner driving school, which is arguably a must – especially if you gave it a go when you were a kid. Available for children aged three to five, Roma was able to get behind the wheel of a mini car and show us what she was made of. Smoothly overtaking two lads without a backward glance, I was filled with both pride and relief that she’s been paying attention to my driving and not her mum’s.
As I alluded to earlier, the park wasn’t nearly as quiet as I’d hoped, despite apparently having just a third of the usual occupancy. Seemingly plenty of other guests had the same hopes and dreams as me and ventured out in desperation to give their kids somewhere other than a field to explore. Queue times was probably averaging somewhere around the 40-minute mark for anything with slightly more seasoning than the carousel or swings. We managed to rack up 11 rides overall, but for context that was only about 50% of what was on offer.
Ahead of visiting Legoland, I read up on safety procedures and watched the following video.
Although there was a reduced amount of people being accepted in for the good of social distancing, it still felt really busy – presumably because people had to be spaced out. Though I overheard guests speculating that the reduced capacity wasn’t strictly being upheld.
Part of the delays were due to rides being cleaned regularly, while others had rows cordoned off to keep people apart. I, of course, have no complaints about that. Clean away. I welcome it.
But it quickly became clear from the first three queues of the day alone – to enter the park, to board Hill Train and ride Ninjago – that there were some wild inconsistencies where it comes to face masks. And this theme persisted across the park.
The official requirement from Legoland is that they only need to be worn on selected rides, which meant that for other attractions and travelling across the venue itself by foot, there was a pick and mix situation as to whether people were indeed wearing them. This isn’t necessarily on Legoland. After all, the government is only making it mandatory face masks are worn in retail shops from Friday 24th July – months after the pandemic itself begun. So it stands to reason there’s confusion.
As with its hand sanitiser stations, Legoland should be commended for its one-way systems and the clearly displayed two-metre distance markers. The problem here is that people aren’t necessarily abiding by them. So it begs the question, should Legoland have staff policing these measures to ensure they’re enforced? Yes, would be my answer.
We’ve seen first-hand that the good people of Britain take a mile if you give them an inch (remember what Soho looked like when the pubs reopened?). As this picture on the right shows, when we were in one queue, there was a nan, her daughter and her kids behind us. While I was giving the family in front the recommended social distance, the clan behind may as well have been sharing my shirt with me, they were that close and ignorant to their distance.
If I was alone, I’d have felt quite comfortable with asking them to back up. But when I’m with my daughter, I didn’t want to run the risk of getting embroiled in an argument, which could have well been the case if they didn’t take kindly to my request. With anti-mask protests and general complaints from the public about having to wear them, we’ve seen the issue many have with taking the virus seriously.
Having Legoland staff present to oversee queues and ensure such space invaders back the hell off would be invaluable. Having spoken to a friend about this, she told me that this was a common complaint on the Legoland Facebook page. A quick flick through the comments and many share the same frustrations as me surrounding social distancing and crowds.
All things considered, we had a fun day out and Legoland is an incredible place for families to visit in and of itself. We were always going to enjoy each other’s company on the day regardless of how it played out – I mean, it was pissing down when we visited Chessington Howl’o’ween and we had a blast. So I’d be willing to return to Legoland in hope of finishing off what we started where the rides and attractions are concerned, just maybe when people have realised how far apart two metres is and the forecast screams: Take an umbrella.
But the fact remains, this certainly was an eye-opener for me in terms of what to expect to stay safe at a venue like this during these times. And while Legoland is doing what it can with various measures in place, it’s sadly the guests that are to blame in many cases, which is probably insightful data for the park too. However, I can only imagine executives will recognise this and, like many businesses, do all they can to get their heads together and sail their way through these unexpectedly choppy waters, whether that’s on the Viking River Splash or in the boardroom.
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About Dadult Life
Welcome to DADult Life – a blog for parents-to-be, fellow first-timers and those out there already smashing it.
I’m Zen, a journalist by day, and on discovering I had a baby on the way, I decided to share my journey on the road to fatherhood and beyond.
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