*Children under 90cm do not need to pay for Reserve & Ride but can go with Reserve & Ride users on reserved rides – height, weight and age restrictions permitting.
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort is one of the most famous and popular attractions in the world, welcoming millions of visitors a year.
It includes two theme parks – Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure – plus Volcano Bay water park.
Based mainly on the themes of film and tv, there are loads of amazing rides, attractions and shows.
A huge draw these days – and certainly for us – is the Harry Potter areas known as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The American resort also includes a shopping area called CityWalk and eight hotels.
It is in Orlando, Florida, US.
We absolutely loved our time here and were especially blown away by the Harry Potter parts as three out of the four of us are fans.
*We loved, loved, loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Diagon Alley (Universal Studios)
We explored Diagon Alley first, which is in the Universal Studios park. It can be found through a gap in the wall which would be easy to miss. There is so much to see and do there – a multitude of shops like Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and places to eat such as the Leaky Cauldron.
What first catches your eye though is the tremendous dragon above which sits astride Gringotts Bank or more specifically, the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Every 10 minutes or so it breathes fire which can be quite a shock if you’re not expecting it. He emits a loud roar to warn you and it’s a great moment to capture on your phone. The Gringotts ride itself is spectacular, part roller coaster and part 3D experience, it’s perhaps too scary for young ones.
At Ollivander’s Wand Shop, there is a small show where Ollivander selects someone from the group and everyone watches while the perfect wand is chosen for them. He tries three different wands, the first two with disastrous results while the third provides a satisfactory and magical reaction. Our son was the person taking part, which made our trip even more special.
There are mountains of wands to buy in the shop itself, but if you buy a more expensive interactive one, you can do spells in set places which you find on a map.
There is so much to see and do here that you might miss fun elements like talking to an interactive goblin in the little Gringotts Money Exchange or tasting butterbeer.
We also caught a show from Molly Weasley’s favourite singer Celestina and the Banshees.
The Hogwarts Express
To get to Hogsmeade in the other theme park – Islands of Adventure – you can board the Hogwarts Express. This is a memorable ride in itself.
You enter Kings Cross station, walk through a wall to platform nine and three quarters, thanks to mirror trickery. I don’t know how this works but make sure to send your children through while you video it for them to watch afterwards. Then you emerge on to the platform to see the train itself.
Once on board, the windows are screens which make you feel you are passing scenes and characters from Harry Potter while the corridor side of the carriage you are in, features shadows and voices of characters as if they walking past. There’s even a dementor on the way to Hogsmead. The return journey is different again.
Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure)
When you arrive at the other station, you are in the Islands of Adventure Theme Park. Here you will find a snow-covered Hogsmeade wizarding village with more shops like The Owl Post post office, Dervish and Banges and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods.
There’s another Ollivander’s Wand Shop here as well along with the Three Broomsticks restaurant.
Hogsmeade is where the popular roller coaster ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is located, which takes riders into the Forbidden Forest. This has the longest queues of any ride at the park so if you are keen to do it, then get there early or wait until last thing in the evening.
Also here is the Flight of the Hippogriff Family Coaster which is a good first roller coaster for younger people for try – although can still feel very fast and dramatic!
And this park is where you get to see Hogwarts castle itself.
You only enter to do the ride there – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Other rides we enjoyed at Universal Resort were the classics like ET Adventure – it opened in 1990 and can seem quite dated to adults but it’s a relatively gentle ride and was one of our daughter’s favourites so we rode it twice.
Next to the ET ride is one of the two areas of the park for younger children. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse rollercoaster is a nice gentle one to start with and there are opportunities there to have your picture taken with film characters.
In another part of the park is an area dedicated Dr Seuss with a series of smaller rides in a nice colourful area. We enjoyed the Trolley Train which gives a good view over the whole site. This is a good, slightly quieter spot to eat a picnic or rest for a few minutes.
One great way to rest your legs and escape from the heat is to go and watch a live show.
We loved Animal Actors on Location. Talented animal actors from films and tv including dogs, cats, parrots and more perform mischievous tricks.
There are other shows around both parks, including the Bourne Stuntacular which is very popular.
*How long do you need
We had two days at Universal and that felt plenty for us. But if you are a group who love the biggest and most popular rides including roller coasters and screen-based simulators, then you may need longer. The second day felt amazing. We got there early and walked in confidently, knowing what we were doing and where we wanted to go.
If you are a Harry Potter fan then you are going to want to visit both theme parks and have a Park-to-Park ticket. Universal has cleverly split the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into two, with Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmead at Islands of Adventure, connected by the Hogwarts Express (which you can only ride with a Park-to-Park ticket).
This is a way to skip the long queues and enter a much quicker line on around 14 listed rides in each park. There are two versions – regular which lets you miss the queue once per attraction and unlimited, which offers unlimited times you can use it per attraction. We had Express Passes and it made our visit so much more enjoyable, so I would really urge you to consider this if your budget allows and if the rides you are keen to try are included.
*How to get there
If you are not staying in a Universal hotel on site – and we weren’t – the best way to arrive and depart, if you are within a few miles is by using Uber or Lyft taxis.
There is a specific drop-off and collection point and it works very efficiently.
This works out cheaper and easier than a hire car if you are staying quite near.
You aren’t allowed bags on some rides but there are lockers near to them. There are also big lockers near the entrance that you pay to use.
*When to get there
Make sure you get there before ‘rope drop’ – the actual opening time – as you can’t believe the amount of people pouring into the parks and to enter when it’s a bit quieter is bliss. You can then head to the Harry Potter parts first – we got there really early on our second morning and Diagon Alley is a completely different experience – it starts to get more unbearable mid-morning.
There’s a third park at Universal Orlando – a water park called Volcano Bay. It has a South Seas theme with a big volcano in the middle and feels like a tropical paradise.
Instead of queuing, you wear a TapuTapu on your wrist to book a ride time.
There are lots of amazing rides but our favourites were the wave pool and the lazy river.
There is a slide section dedicated to younger children under a certain height, but we couldn’t find any of the next level up to build confidence – just much bigger slides.
But it was brilliant for a change of pace and to cool down.
To get there you need to get a free bus from the City Walk transport hub at Universal.
Tip: Beware of extra costs. Take your own towels or pay $5 per towel. Locker rent is $20 so if one member of the party isn’t swimming, get them to watch the stuff from the sunbed.
For eating and drinking there are a couple of restaurants and a nice ice cream stall.
Food: There are loads and loads of places to eat, including the Leaky Cauldron (Universal Studios) and The Three Broomsticks (Islands of Adventure) from Harry Potter. Bring snacks with you if you want to try to save money.
Opening hours: Varies daily, check before you go as you want to arrive early: Universal Orlando hours
Cost: Prices start from $70 for Volcano Bay and $109 for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. A Park-to-Park ticket covering two parks starts from $159 for children. Look out for offers such as four days for the price of two – Universal Orlando tickets, packages and prices
Best for: There’s something for everyone, even rides and activities for toddlers. Plus all the rides have a child swap (also known as kid swap or baby swap) option. This means even if a younger child can’t or doesn’t want to go on a ride, the rest of the family does not need to miss out. There are different ways this works depending on the ride so check first. We used it effectively on the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Ride.
Time needed: Two days
Access and restrictions: Accessibility Information Universal Orlando Resort
Address: Parking address for the theme parks and Universal CityWalk: Universal Orlando Resort, 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819.
To book: Universal Orlando Resort
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*We received complimentary or reduced prices for review purposes, all views are our own.
Work to build LEGOLAND Shanghai is set to start in 2021, Merlin Entertainments has announced.
The huge new park is expected to open in China in 2024 and will incude a 250-room themed hotel.
LEGOLAND Shanghai will be opened after LEGOLAND New York – scheduled for 2021 – and LEGOLAND Korea – scheduled for 2022.
The theme park will be located in the Jinshan District and will draw inspiration from the area.
Other businesses are expected to launch in the vicinity as a result, including hotels, retail, sports facilities, offices and high-end housing.
Merlin is investing a lot in China – it has opened the world’s first Peppa Pig World of Play (Shanghai) and Little BIG City (Beijing).
Merlin Entertainments chief Executive Nick Varney said: “I am delighted to work with our partners to bring one of the world’s largest LEGOLAND Resorts to Shanghai, which builds on the other attractions we have developed in this exciting part of the country.
“The Shanghai LEGOLAND Resort will be a must-visit destination for playful learning experiences for the millions of people who live in the vicinity and beyond.
“The Merlin team looks forward to working with our partners to develop the creative concept design for the resort and making it a reality, marking a significant milestone for Merlin’s presence in the Chinese market.”
Merlin Entertainments announced this week that it has entered into a formal co-operation agreement with the Shanghai Jinshan District Government, CMC Inc. and KIRKBI to develop the resort.
This follows the signing of a framework agreement in November 2019.
A joint venture company is being formed to contribute funding to the construction and development of LEGOLAND Shanghai.
The total project investment is expected to be approximately $550 million.
Orlando in Florida is welcoming 30 new additions for 2020.
There will be a theme park expansion, the world’s tallest slingshot ride, an ‘acoustically perfect’ theatre, a new celebrity chef restaurant and one of the largest booms for hotel growth in decades.
*The first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, ‘Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,’ will open.
*Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’ has opened and is the second attraction for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land.
Epcot is undergoing one of the biggest transformations of any Disney park in history, bringing a host of new attractions and experiences in 2020, including:
*Three new films from January 17: Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 and Awesome Planet.
*Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opens in summer 2020, shrinking guests to the size of Chef Remy and racing them through Gusteau’s restaurant on a wild adventure.
*Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular HarmonioUS, the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park.
*La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant located in the France pavilion at Epcot, debuting in summer 2020, offering both table and quick-service crepe options.
*The Bourne Stuntacular, a cutting-edge live-action stunt show based on Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Bourne films, will debut in spring 2020 at Universal Studios Florida.
*Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, opening spring 2020, takes riders on the steepest vertical drop in Florida.
*Riptide Race at Aquatica Orlando will be Florida’s first-ever dueling water slide, featuring side-by-side racing lanes through nearly 650 feet of slide.
Outside the famous theme parks, Orlando is reaching new heights this year, from some of the world’s tallest thrills rides to one of the most acoustically perfect spaces on earth.
*Steinmetz Hall at the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, opening September 2020, will achieve an N1 sound rating – the lowest level at which humans can detect sound.
*ICON Park, located on International Drive and home to The Wheel and Starflyer attractions, will welcome more record-breaking attractions in 2020, including two major thrill rides:
The Orlando Slingshot will catapult guests 450 feet into the air and is set to the be the World’s Tallest Slingshot ride.
The Orlando Gyro Drop Tower will reach 400 feet, making it the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower. Riders freefall at up to 75 miles per hour.
*The Orlando Science Center’s ‘Pompeii: The Immortal City,’ runs June 6 to September 7, 2020 and is one of only four US sites for the interactive exhibit.
*’Drawn to Life,’ a new Cirque du Soleil show, transports guests into the world of Disney’s animation in Cirque’s signature style, opening at Disney Springs in March 2020.
*Wild Florida’s 75-acre drive-through safari park brings visitors nose-to-snout with giraffes, wild boars and other animals. The safari area will include a zipline over a grazing area.
*Two Orlando malls are set to undergo enhancements in 2020 – Pointe Orlando and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.
Orlando has the second highest number of hotel rooms of anywhere in the US and is undergoing a huge hotel expansion.
*JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa opens February 2020 with 516 rooms, a Spa and a rooftop terrace with nightly views of theme park fireworks.
*Universal Orlando Resort’s 2,050-room Dockside Inn and Suites opens March 2020. It is a coastal-themed budget hotel with rates starting at $76 per night.
There are a host of new eateries adding to Orlando’s diverse food scene.
*Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, is a concept from chef John Tesar, opening spring 2020.
*Ole Red, a new restaurant by country superstar Blake Shelton, will open at ICON Park in 2020 and merge southern hospitality, good food and live country music. Also coming to ICON Park in 2020 is Ox Grill, offering contemporary fare with steaks, pasta and a selection of international dishes.
*Camelo Pizzaria opens on International Drive in early 2020. The Brazilian thin-crust pizza place is the first location outside Brazil.
*Sixty Vines, a restaurant with Napa Valley-inspired seasonal cuisine, will open in spring 2020 in Winter Park and offer guests 60 varieties of wine on tap.
*Norman’s will be moving to Restaurant Row. Created by celebrity chef Norman Van Aken, the concept will open in the Dellagio Plaza spring 2020.
*Kavas Tacos + Tequila at Pointe Orlando opens September 2020. The locally owned restaurant will feature Mexican comfort food, tequila flights and entertainment. Also opening at Pointe Orlando is The Hampton Social, themed after the New York coastal resort region.
*AG’s Market, a lakefront food hall opening late 2020, combines retail, beverage and food options with a second-floor seating area showcasing the theme park fireworks.
For all the updates and tips for planning a trip go to VisitOrlando.com
Visit Orlando is the official tourism association for the most visited destination in the United States.
Staffordshire theme park Alton Towers has revealed that the star attraction of its soon-to-open World of David Walliams themed area will be Gangsta Granny: The Ride.
The world-first ride experience is inspired by Walliams’ biggest selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny.
Fans will also be able to stay overnight in one of four Gangsta Granny themed bedrooms in the Alton Towers Hotel.
We revealed last year that the World of David Walliams will be arriving at Alton Towers this Spring (2020) with a host of rides and attractions, bringing to life much-loved characters from the author’s children’s novels.
To celebrate the launch of Gangsta Granny: The Ride, Alton Towers is offering a new Grannies Go Free pass for 2020.
Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben who discovers that his Granny is secretly an international jewel thief.
Comedian, actor and best-selling author David Walliams OBE said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Gangsta Granny is becoming a ride at Alton Towers.
“I never imagined it would happen so it’s a real delight to see my characters brought to life in a ride.
“I’ve worked really closely with the team at Alton Towers to make sure the ride is just as funny and exciting as the book. I think children and their parents and even their grandparents are going to love it!”
The new 4D ride experience will see guests join the main characters as they attempt the greatest heist in the history of the world: to steal the Crown Jewels.
On-board a royal carriage, they will set off on a Crown Jewels tour only to be caught up in Ben and Granny’s adventure.
The ride will whizz, twist and spin passengers 360 degrees through a series of scenes where they will see, feel, hear and even smell an electrifying and unique retelling of the Gangsta Granny story.
Using state-of-the-art special effects, 3D projection-mapping and animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross, passengers will descend with Ben and Granny into the sewers, be chased through the streets of London and even come face to face with the Queen.
In other parts of the David Walliams area will be Raj’s Shop, a Royal Carousel, Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp and other surprises.
John Burton, Creative Lead for Alton Towers Resort, said: “David’s stories are full of witty characters, intrigue and exhilaration so it’s been a fantastic challenge to build all that into a new ride experience.
“It’s the first time we’ve attempted such a complex combination of a physical ride experience, high-tech special effects and brilliant story-telling to ensure guests feel they are with Granny and Ben on every step of their adventure.”
Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a member of the Merlin Entertainments family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
It opens for 2020 on March 21.
The park says the new area will open in the Spring but has not given an official launch date yet.
Alton Towers is offering one free adult (aged 60 and over) ticket per full price child ticket when bought by March 20. The free tickets can be used during the 2020 season (March 21 to November 1, 2020). For full terms and conditions, go to www.altontowers.com/tandcs
There are four themed rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel. They cost from £281.50, based on a family-of-four with bed and breakfast, book via altontowers.com
It was first published on 27th October 2011.
The anniversary edition was published in 2018.
Gangsta Granny was David’s first children’s number one bestseller.
It stayed at the top of The Sunday Times top ten for 24 weeks.
Overall sales of Gangsta Granny are 1.75 million in the UK alone.
Gangsta Granny has also been adapted for the stage by the Birmingham Stage Company.
A television adaptation was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and first aired on BBC One on Boxing Day 2013. The cast includes Miranda Hart, Rob Brydon, David Walliams as Ben’s Dad and Joanna Lumley as The Queen. It is currently available to view on Netflix.
David closed 2019 as the UK’s biggest-selling author. His titles took three of the top 10 overall bestselling books of 2019 as well as the top three bestselling children’s books of the year.
He is one of the most influential children’s writers and has revolutionised reading for children.
Since the publication of his ground-breaking first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), global sales of his books have exceeded 37 million copies.
Across his titles, he has celebrated a total of 55 weeks at number one in the overall book charts and more than 150 weeks at number one in the children’s charts – more than any other children’s writer.
His most recent novel, The Beast of Buckingham Palace, was published in November 2019 and went straight to number one in in the overall industry bestseller charts where it remained for four weeks and included the coveted UK Christmas number one spot.
*For more information on Gangsta Granny: The Ride and other new attractions inspired by the books of David Walliams visit www.altontowers.com/Walliams.
Alton Towers Resort has announced that a David Walliams World will be launched at the UK attraction from Spring 2020.
The partnership with the comedian, actor and best-selling author, will see some of his best-loved characters brought to life at the Staffordshire resort.
The theme park said the project is ‘shrouded in secrecy’ but will centre around the existing Cloud Cuckoo Land area.
Nearly 100 specialists from Alton Towers’ creative team and experts in the latest theme-park technology are working on the project.
It will include:
*A ground-breaking headline attraction
*A number of other attractions and characters across the theme park and within the resort’s hotels.
David Walliams OBE was the UK’s biggest selling author in 2017 and 2018. He began writing children’s books in 2008 and has published 12 novels as well as short story collections and picture books.
He said: “It’s a huge thrill for some of my favourite characters to be getting their own attractions at Alton Towers.
“I can’t wait to experience them for myself and from all the work that has gone in I think people are going to love it. All will be revealed next year.”
The resort has been working with David Walliams and HarperCollins Children’s Books for the past two years on the project and construction work has already begun.
Alton Towers Resort managing director, James Walker said: “We are delighted to be able to announce our partnership with David Walliams on what promises to be a hugely exciting addition to Alton Towers Resort in 2020.
“David’s books have really captured the imagination of Britain’s children and their families. So it’s a huge honour to be working with David on this fabulous collaboration for 2020, the year in which we celebrate our 40th birthday as the nation’s favourite theme park.”
Sign up to be the first for updates by visiting www.altontowers.com/Walliams or following @AltonTowers across social media.
More information about the arrival of ‘The World of David Walliams’ at Alton Towers will be released soon.
Efteling Theme Park Resort.
This is a huge fairytale-themed family attraction. It’s the biggest theme park in the Netherlands and is open every day of the year.
In the town of Kaatsheuvel in the Brabant region of south central Holland. Just over an hour’s drive from Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
This is a great theme park for all ages – it feels Disney-like and magical as you walk in with music playing around you, but it is much quicker to park and get into than Disney parks.
Navigation around it was made easier as the left-hand side is largely suited to younger children and the right has more for teenagers and older children with more rollercoasters and bigger rides.
*The fairytale forest – you wander through a wooded area, seeing recreations of fairy tales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and some we had not heard of before. The commentary is in Dutch but there are written descriptions in English.
*There is lots for younger visitors, we saw three carousels alone. There are some lovely gentle rides, plus a little train.
*Comfort – there are lots of shaded areas and it’s big, it didn’t feel cramped at all.
*Carnaval Festival – a nice gentle ride, with music, through different countries.
*Symphonia ride – this had the longest queue, it is a theatrical, dark, indoor ride suitable for the whole family but scary in parts for some young children.
*The Aquanura water show is a great way to finish a day at the park. It is normally on at around 7.15pm and 8.15pm on a lake near the exit. It’s along the theme of the Princess and the Frog. Water shoots out of giant frogs’ mouths and from the middle of the lake while classical music plays.
There are lots of vantage points to get a good view.
*Check when the Dutch holidays are, we went at the end of the summer holidays when local children had already returned to school so it wasn’t too busy.
*The best place to start with younger children is the Fairytale Forest. Climb into Sleeping Beauty’s castle and see Rapunzel leaning out of her tower while the witch climbs up. It is a good gentle introduction for younger children to what the park is all about.
*If you’ve got a picnic and don’t want to stop to eat it, you could eat during the lake cruise – you sit on a boat being led around a track for 20 minutes. It’s a good spot for a rest as its also next to a pagoda, which takes you high above the park, giving you a good view of everything.
*A lot of the signs have an English version and staff speak good English. But a lot of the commentary and shows are in Dutch.
*Parking is well-organised. It costs 10/12 euros to park, you pay at the entrance/exit and use your ticket to open the barrier when you leave.
*Use the Efteling app, it is simple and straightforward. It shows you where you are on a map, gives up-to-date ride queue times and basic information about each ride to assess its suitability for your children.
*There are no fast track passes or similar (except for disabled visitors), other than the Python rollercoaster where you can book a ride time.
*Baby switch is available for two adults who have a baby and both want to go on a ride – one queues and the other waits at the exit with the baby and they can then swap with the new adult going in through the exit.
*You can rent wooden pushchairs/strollers for 4 euros.
*All toilets in the park have at least one baby changing cubicle.
*Restaurant staff can warm up water, milk or food for babies.
You can stay overnight in a hotel or holiday home with unlimited access to the park.
*Fairytale Forest – walk through recreations of famous fairy tales.
*Stoomcarrousel – a big undercover carousel (there are others in the park too).
*Avonturendoolhof – adventure maze – look out for the bridge where you will get wet!
*Stoomtrein – the train – it does a circuit of the park and there are two stops so you can use it to get from one area to another or stay on for the duration to rest your legs.
*Kleuterhof – the playground.
*De Oude Tufferbaan – classic car ride – children feel like they are driving the cars themselves and even have their own horn.
There are plenty of bigger, faster rides for those that want them including the Python roller coaster and the Baron 1898 Dive Coaster. There’s a pirate ship, water rides and more.
Food: The cost of food is good and there is a wide variety of choice including a Vietnamese food stand, a Dutch pancake house and restaurants.
There are lots of ice cream stands (good value at around €1.50 for an ice cream) including one where you pick a flavour of whipped ice cream and FIVE toppings which get mixed together, yum!
But it was also great to see fresh fruit and vegetable stalls at a fair price – a punnet of strawberries was 3.45 euros.
We ate an evening meal at Octopus restaurant, before watching the water show at the end of the day. Billed as an ‘underwater’ restaurant (it’s not but it is really quirky, dimly lit with moving animals and play areas), fresh pasta and a drink for children was around 6 euros.
There are also nice picnic spots.
Opening hours: Opens at 10am and closes at 6pm during the week and later at the weekends, depending on the season.
Cost: Tickets are 42 euros. Children aged three and under are free. You can buy a parking ticket in advance for 12.50 euros.
Best for: Aged four and above.
Time needed: At least one full day.
Access and restrictions: Accessibility is very good and most rides have wheelchair entrances to get on rides without a long queue. These are available to all with physical or learning disabilities. You must register at guest services where you are given a card to present to ride attendants showing them, then you wait at the disabled entrance.
There are plenty of toilets around the park and this being Holland, the park is mostly flat and easy to get around.
Address: Efteling Park, Europalaan 1 5171 KW Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands.
Read our full review of this visit to the Netherlands: Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.
We stayed at Duinhoeve Holiday Park near Efteling, read our review and tips here: A holiday park in Holland next to the ‘Dutch desert’ – we review Duinhoeve and give our top tips for a family holiday there with children
We travelled to Holland by ferry on a mini-cruise, read all the details here: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator
We spent the first part of our holiday in Amsterdam: Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out
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(We received free entry to Efteling, all views are our own).
LEGOLAND Windsor is a theme park for children based around LEGO toy building bricks. It has more than 55 rides and attractions and opened in 1996 – the second LEGOLAND – the first was LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark – read our review of that here.
It is in Windsor, Berkshire in England.
* Lego Ninjago The Ride
This is an interactive 4D ride. You sit four to a vehicle, put on 3D glasses and travel around a series of screens to battle enemies. You fire at them by using ninja hand movements which are detected by sensors while also feeling blasts of air and heat. Your scores are in front of you so you can see who does the best.
It was a little scary for our four-year-old daughter but great fun for our older son.
The queues are long for this popular ride, which opened as part of Ninjago World! in 2017. You can cut down waiting time with the Reserve & Ride reservation system on this ride.
*Atlantis Submarine Voyage
This submarine ride to find the lost city of Atlantis was a highlight for our children and as it had one of the shortest queues, we did it twice in a row.
*The LEGO 4D Movie Theatre
We saw Lego Ninjago – Master of the 4th Dimension at this 4D cinema.
This is amazing for Ninjago fans, who can watch their favourite characters in stunning 3D while also getting the fourth dimension experience of being sprayed with water and fake snow and feeling the heat of fire (there are dry seats at the side for anyone who doesn’t want to get wet).
*LEGO Star Wars Miniland Model Display
This indoor display was a welcome bonus on a wet day. But it is also a great walk through the most famous scenes from Star Wars films, made from 1.5 million LEGO bricks.
Explore the world in LEGO form at Miniland with famous sites and monuments from different countries built of the small bricks.
Just the very fact that this is all about LEGO is such a thrill for children – they are at LEGOLAND, LEGO is everywhere you look and the shops are full of LEGO sets.
This theme park obviously has the wow factor for LEGO fans, who will be excited as soon as they know they are going to LEGOLAND.
On the downside, it is showing its age in places and the queues are long for some of the rides.
But it is otherwise perfectly pitched for young children. There are a good variety of attractions, shows and play areas and it is set in nice parkland.
*The rides open at 10am but the front of the park opens at 9.30am so to get a good parking space and be first at one of the more popular rides, get there early. You can kill time in the shop and look around Miniland but at 10am there is a stampede to the rides.
*Parking costs £6 and you can pay in advance. For an extra £6 you can secure priority parking nearer the entrance. We were there fairly early both days and managed to get good spots without the extra charge.
*The Reserve & Ride (formerly called Q-BOTS) ride reservation service save a lot of queuing time but is expensive. There are three options, we had the Express version and hardly had to wait at all on the rides where we used them. In the cold and rain when we went, this was a huge relief and a big bonus and the staff treat you like royalty (although there is definitely some guilt to be felt at skipping on ahead of others patiently waiting their turn). You use the system on your mobile phone and can only use it on one ride at a time. Read our full guide to it here: How to beat the queues at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort with the Reserve & Ride (formerly Q-Bot) Ride Reservation System
*Buggies can be left outside rides at the owner’s own risk.
*There are two hotels – LEGOLAND Resort Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel, if you want to stay over on site, with themed rooms. They are very popular and very expensive. There are also lots of cheaper hotels in the area.
*Be aware that there is not much to do indoors if the weather is bad so be well prepared with umbrellas and waterproofs. When it is raining particularly hard or you need to dry off for a bit, aim for attractions like the LEGO 4D cinema, Star Wars display, X-BOX Gaming Zone and Atlantis Submarine Voyage. Some of the queues for the bigger, indoor rides are also undercover – like the Ninjago Ride and Laser Raiders. Umbrellas and rain ponchos can be bought. (There is also free sun cream available around the site which I thought was a great idea).
*Check out height restrictions so you don’t have disappointed children. Staff are very strict and always check – for lots of rides children have to be over 0.9 metres (with a parent) and 1.3 metres to go on alone.
*There are obviously lots of temping LEGO sets and other LEGO products you can buy from shops. You can pay for your purchases and collect later as the shops can get busy at the end of the day.
*Take swimming costumes if you plan to try out Splash Safari where toddlers can splash and enjoy water features and DUPLO-themed animals.
Don’t miss our article: LEGOLAND Windsor – our 10 top tips to get the most out of your visit
Food: Picnics are allowed but there aren’t many picnic spots and even less under cover, as we discovered on our first day, standing up to eat our sandwiches, huddled under a shelter.
There are various restaurants and food stalls around the park, but it is quite pricey. We had a nice pasta pot at one stall on our second day, which helped to warm us up.
Opening hours: Varies depending on the day and time of year.
Cost: Tickets bought in advance online are from £29 and from £53 if bought at the park. Children under 90cm go free.
Look out for two-for-one offers and other discounts, plus you can use Tesco Clubcard vouchers or a Merlin Annual Pass.
Annual passes are also available as well as prices for short breaks, staying at one of the two LEGOLAND hotels.
Best for: Children aged three/four (0.9 metres in height) to 10.
Time needed: A full day or more.
Access and restrictions: LEGOLAND has a lot in place for guests with additional needs. It is a hilly site but there is a hill train, which has a carriage for wheelchairs and buggies. There is a Ride Access Pass for those who struggle to queue, a Wheelchair Access Pass, so people in wheelchairs can access the rides, disabled toilets and a Changing Places facility. There is also a sensory space.
Address: LEGOLAND Windsor Park, Winkfield Road, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 4AY.
Book via the LEGOLAND website.
Reserve & Ride replaces the Q-Bot system and helps you avoid the often long queues at Legoland Windsor – at a price.
Using Reserve & Ride means you don’t have to physically queue for the included rides.
Standing anywhere in the park and using your mobile phone, you reserve a place on a ride and are given a countdown waiting time (or no waiting time if you pick the most expensive Ultimate option).
So instead of waiting in the queue you can go on other rides or do other things. At any point after the time is up (you don’t have to be there at the exact moment), you go through the ride’s Reserve & Ride entrance where you will be able to bypass the normal queue.
You can make a reservation on only one ride at a time.
There are different types of Reserve & Ride options at various prices.
Reserve & Ride Regular (£25 per person) – You do not have to physically queue but your wait – or your countdown – is as long as that for the people queuing. (Haunted House Monster Party costs £4 extra).
Reserve & Ride Express (£40 per person) – This cuts the waiting time in half, eg if the normal queue is 40 minutes, you only have to wait 20 minutes (doing what you please elsewhere) before you can access the ride. (Haunted House Monster Party costs £4 extra).
Reserve & Ride Ultimate (£90 per person) – No waiting time at all. Just book the ride and go straight through the Reserve & Ride entrance. Reserve & Ride Ultimate also Includes the free add-on for Haunted House Monster Party.
You can also buy:
Reserve & Ride One Shot (£5 to £7 per person) – This allows you to use Reserve & Ride at ONE included ride of your choice and get almost instant access to it.
Deep Sea Adventure
Duplo Dino Coaster
Fairy Tale Brook
Haunted House Monster Party (only included in Reserve & Ride Ultimate or available as an additional £4 add-on to Reserve & Ride Regular and Express)
Lego Ninjago the Ride
Mia’s Riding Adventure
Viking River Splash
The rides within LEGO Mythica are not included in Reserve & Ride.
You can pre-book your Reserve and Ride through the LEGOLAND website here.
There is also a Reserve & Ride office just inside the main entrance at Windsor on the right and another at Heartlake City within the park.
Q-Bot and Reserve & Ride are the same – Reserve & Ride replaced Q-Bots from 2020. The only difference is that Reserve & Ride always operates on your mobile device whereas LEGOLAND also offered handheld devices for Q-Bots users as an alternative.
We used the reservation system for two days and there is no doubt it makes the park a more pleasurable experience.
You can get around so many more rides and if you work it correctly you can virtually hop from one ride to another without queuing all day.
It was a very rainy weekend and queuing for long periods would have been miserable.
The whole system is well designed and works seamlessly, the staff are very good at getting you on the ride as soon as possible.
However the cost is substantial.
*To benefit most, book your next ride as soon as you can – basically, as soon as staff have scanned your phone to let you on the ride before.
*Don’t wait until your countdown time is at 0 before going through the Reserve & Ride entrance. Go in at about two to three minutes, as often (especially on the indoor and larger rides) even this entrance has a short walk and wait before you board your ride.
*Check your dates and the weather. LEGOLAND will be much busier on a sunny day in the school holidays or at the weekend, than a rainy midweek day in October, when the Reserve & Ride system won’t save you as much time.
*It doesn’t cost any more to book Reserve & Ride on the day, so you can always wait and see when you arrive what the queues are like, if you can’t decide. HOWEVER, you risk not being able to get one as there are a limited number available.
*One way to make the Reserve & Ride cost effective is to use it as a means of cutting your visit from two days to one. On any school holiday or weekend it would be nearly impossible to see all of the park in one day without it. So it may be worth investing in a Reserve & Ride instead of a second day’s admission. That could add up for you.
*Reserve & Ride does not include entry to Legoland, you have to buy entry tickets separately.
*Children under 90cm do not need to pay for Reserve & Ride but can go with Reserve & Ride users on reserved rides – height, weight and age restrictions permitting.
For more details visit the LEGOLAND website.
Forget double Dutch. We have discovered a triple treat in Holland – a holiday heaven for children which combines a theme park, water park and beach.
I’m sure we never would have stumbled across this gem without a recommendation from a friend whose family return year after year.
Duinrell holiday and amusement park is in the upmarket town of Wassenaar, 25 miles from Amsterdam, on the south-west coast – where the Dutch royal family spend some of their time.
The tranquil setting of the accommodation, between woodland and sand dunes, is in contrast with the high octane excitement of its theme and water parks.
There are a choice of chalets, called Duingalows, as well as various camping options.
Our newly-built lodge was modern and fully equipped. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen with dishwasher, open-plan lounge/dining area and a secluded terrace, from which to enjoy the leafy surroundings.
If you aren’t cooking then there are several restaurants and takeaway options on site and in the nearby town.
Our two were thrilled to use their scooters to explore but a lot of families were on bikes, which can be hired along with electric bikes and go-karts.
First we headed to the amazing theme park.
Adrenaline lovers and children aged eight to 18 would get the most out of all the roller coasters and other rides.
Our two are younger but found plenty to do too and as we stayed during the week at half-term, there were lots of English people but no long queues. It was noticeably busier on the Friday when we left.
Secondly, if you’re after more thrills and spills, the park has a fantastic indoor water park called Tikibad with enough slides and waves to keep everyone happy.
With our accommodation, we had free entry to both the water park and the theme park.
And finally, the big, sandy Wassenaar beach is just two miles away.
There are fabulous cycle lanes everywhere so we hired bikes to enjoy the safe route through vast sand dunes to enjoy time together by the sea.
Cycling may be the way to get around in the Netherlands but the cheapest way we found for us to get to Duinrell was by car and ferry.
We used the DFDS ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. It was a bank holiday and long delays at Dover passport control meant we boarded with just three minutes to spare.
The children loved exploring the spacious ship and restaurants and the one hour 50 minute crossing passed quickly.
From Dunkirk, it was three more hours in the car, on increasingly flat terrain dotted with wind turbines.
With its woodland walks and sand dune scrambles around Duinrell, as well as the popular Luciano ice cream parlour in Wassenaar, you don’t need to leave the area.
But we took a trip to the university city of Leiden. It had charming canals, cobbled streets and waterside markets where we sampled Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.
Holland might not be the first place that springs to mind for a summer holiday but you needn’t think twice about trying a trip to Duinrell with its trio of family attractions.
Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Wassenaar, Holland for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.
Travel: We travelled by car and via ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, courtesy of DFDS.
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