Being fans of Legoland park in Windsor and Lego in general, this weekend my wife, daughter (aged 8) and I all decided to check out the Legoland Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre in Manchester.
It seems they encourage online booking, where you can book a particular timeslot for arrival, and we've been on their website and seen that times can get booked up and become unavailable. However, they also do various vouchers - we have several - and these can only be used on the door. So, forgoing an online booking (all the timeslots were still free when we looked just before leaving) we decided to risk it and pay the reduced amount.
The Barton Square car park and shopping area of the Trafford Centre was very quiet when we arrived at 10am, the opening time for this attraction. However, as we got to the Discovery Centre there was, of course, already a queue. Three queues actually! One was for the pre-booked tickets, one for those paying on the door (like ourselves) and also there was another random queue for others who came in via the shop. I think some of these were here for a birthday party but it did seem somewhat haphazard.
We had hoped that we could get in, buy some tickets for a later timeslot and then look around the nearby shops for a while but it seems you just have to queue and then go in. And the queues would be the main criticism of this attraction. It all seemed a bit vague and, for about 10 minutes, the staff stopped admitting people and deserted the tills. I think this was because of the party I mentioned above, letting them get in and through the "factory" tour, but there was no reason given. Just a general sense of disorganisation.
Anyway, after a 25 minutes wait, we got in, walked down a short corridor and to a couple of lifts. This takes you to the disappointing "factory" tour. Perhaps I was expecting too much - such as actual machines making real lego blocks - but the reality was that it was just a couple of small rooms with some colourful animatronics. A member of staff would vaguely explain the construction process whilst getting children to turn pretend valves and push play buttons whilst the adults would chant things to encourage them. At the end, we all got a lego brick to take home. Woo!
After exiting this, next was the Kingdom Quest ride which was much more entertaining. Here you sit in a car, which trundles around and you have to fire at Lego trolls, skeletons, bats and so on with an infra-red gun amassing points as you "hit" things. Some of the targets are shown projected on screens whilst others are part of Lego dioramas. Shooting bats, for instance, causes them to emit a little squeak and makes their eyes flash. The idea is to help a Lego princess save a dragon's eggs from the evil trolls and skeletons. Or something like that. To be honest I was too busy shooting at things!
I managed to score 5055 points. Which I thought was decent until I saw that my wife had scored 5700. Beaten!
Following on from this, you head to a Mini-World area where familiar buildings and scenes from around England (especially the north-west) are rendered in Lego bricks. There are Lego versions of Blackpool (including the tower, one of the piers, and the illuminations), Alton Towers, Liverpool (with its own Cavern Club), Chester and the Trafford Centre itself. And many more. This was probably my favourite part of the centre - I love looking at all the little features, spotting tiny scenes and hidden figures (like the ghost on top of Blackpool tower).
Exiting that, you enter into the large main room. This is, quite frankly, a bit chaotic at times. There are various sections dotted around to build models - a Duplo area, a pink princess area, a tower building table which has moving bases to test your construction against "earthquakes", and a race-car construction section where you can build wheeled vehicles (if you can find the right pieces, such as axles!) and test them on ramps and slopes. My daughter liked this latter section the most and loved rolling her "car" (I use the word loosely as it was mostly just 4 wheels) down the slopes again and again.
Master Builder Workshop
To one side of this main area is the Master Builder Workshop, which is something of a misnomer. Essentially, a small group of people sit on some small seats whilst a member of staff stands at the front showing them how to make a very simple model - in our case, a halloween pumpkin. However, the model is so simple - whilst the "master builder" so poor - that you might as well do it yourself. We also thought you'd get to keep the small model you constructed but, alas, this was not the case and you have to hand the pieces back at the end.
On the other side, is the 4-D cinema showing 3-D films with added effects. This is quite entertaining. Two short films, around 15 to 20 mins each, are shown throughout the day alternating between one another. We saw the Spellbreaker film - there's also a film starring Bob the Builder. The added effects are quite good - things like "snow", light water sprays, smoke and wind - and the 3-D effects were impressive. However, young children might get scared at some of the scenes in the Spellbreaker show; perhaps the Bob the Builder film would be better for them?
Fire Academy and Cafe
In the middle of the hall is a small version of one of those padded play-centre places, where shoeless kids can climb up and then slide down a twisty slide. Near to this, there is also a cafe that sells hot'n'cold drinks, sandwiches, and snacks at reasonable prices. The little snacky cakes were quite yummy.
When we first entered, the main hallway wasn't too busy but by lunchtime it had become quite hectic. It wasn't packed, but was busy enough to be a little off-putting. A weekday during term time would no doubt be quieter. After spending lunchtime there and playing around a bit more, we headed to the Lego Universe area - which was a disappointing step on lights to make sounds area - and then back down the lift to the extensive shop. Loving Lego, we did purchase a few small bits before heading out at about 2:30pm.
Overall, the place is reasonably entertaining (though aimed more at kids than adults) and we managed to spend 4 hours in there quite easily. Highlights would be the Kingdom Quest ride, the 4-D cinema and the Mini-world, but if your kids love building things with Lego then you could spend all day in there. And you can go in the 4-D cinema and on the ride as many times as you want. Full price admission is on the expensive side but if you have a voucher then it is worth it. My main faults would be with the bored, unenthusiastic and young staff, the somewhat chaotic nature of the queues and the hectic main hall area. Otherwise, worth a visit.
(Although, now done, I don't think we'll be rushing back for a while).