For the second year running we went to London at Easter. This year, however, we didn't go into the centre, but visited a few places on the outskirts. With an Easyjet flight to Luton and a hire car for the five days, we were based at the Novotel Heathrow (booked through the Legoland web site) which gave us a nice place to return to each evening, with a swimming pool we used only once (too tired the other nights) and an enormous breakfast each morning to tide us through the day with minimal lunch.
The hotel room had a small fridge and a safe, for sandwiches and iPad respectively. Don't get these the wrong way round. We also had free parking, though the card machine that lets you out only worked one in four times. A press of the assistance button always got us out though.
Driving around the Heathrow area was a bit more manic than back home, and very busy at rush hour, but the wee underpowered Skoda did us well, and none of our destinations were more than half an hour away. No problems at night either: I didn't once hear a noise from the planes.
On Tuesday we were booked in to Harry Potter Studios, in Leavesden, just behind the BT office (another place full of fantasy and mystery). We had a time slot of between 10 and 10.30 and joined the queue to get in.
Our group was taken in to a cinema area, sat for a 10 minute presentation and then given the big reveal. We were taken into the great hall from Hogwarts and had another 10 minutes or so to look around it. After that we were through to the rest of the set displays and on our own from there.
The first part of the tour is in one big building, followed by an outdoor section and then a smaller building. There's a lot to see in the first building, with sets and props from all the films.
Cate joined a short queue to be given spell casting lessons via a video screen, and we also went in to the main interactive part: the green screen experience. We all sat in a booth while a telly screen showed us flying in the magic car, then Cate sat on a broomstick in another booth while various backdrops were superimposed on the screen. The queue was surprisingly quick for such a major part of the tour.
We had the option of buying any of two videos and four photographs from the green screen experience, at huge expense of course, and ended up going for the broomstick ride. It's maybe not quite as realistic as the films but pretty good nonetheless.
The outdoor section between the studio buildings is a place to eat your lunch, try a butterbeer (yeuch!) and see Harry's house and a few other props. We had a chance to see and pose with one of the Hedwigs from the films.
The second building is a bit smaller than the first, with a lot less in it. But it features two main set pieces: Diagon Alley and a huge model of Hogwarts which they used for a lot of the exterior scenes.
We were at the studios for about four and a half hours in all, including lunch. It was a great day out and an interesting experience. Well worth the visit. Afterwards we headed back to Heathrow and found a Chinese place called Go Sing, in West Drayton. They do an all you can eat menu for £17.50, where you just keep ordering dishes until you're full. We had to pay full price for Cate, so it was a bit steep, but we got our own back as Cate ate more than the average adult anyway.
We had booked the trip through Legoland (hotel plus two days for one at the park) so visited the place on Wednesday and Thursday. It's not as much a thrill-ride place as Alton Towers and the likes, being aimed at a younger age group, but there was still plenty to go on and see, and everywhere there were Lego models to add to the experience.
The park is divided into themed areas, a bit like Disney, but on a smaller scale, and with a map it's easy enough to find your way about. We had to queue for a few rides, up to 45 minutes at some, but the only real hardship was the queue for the laser gun ride in the Egyptian area, which was under a tent and really hot.
Cate was desperate to try out the panning for gold stall. However she calmed down a bit when we explained that it wouldn't be real gold she found.
There's one section set aside purely for Lego models, called Miniland. It was quite impressive, with sections for various parts of the world, and lots of attention to detail. It was only after I got home I spotted a little Guy Fawkes at the Houses of Parliament model.
We did most of the rides on the first day, but the queues for the driving school were huge, so we kept that until the second day, going there first to minimise the wait. Cate had a great time and only had to be rescued once.
After the driving school we had the boating school. We got our money's worth on this as Cate steered wildly back and forward across the water in a zig-zag fashion. We also had a go at fire school, where you compete against other families to pump your fire engine to the burning house, put out the fire and then pump the engine back again. We didn't do well at this.
We finished the second day at Legoland quite early, so tried to find a part of Windsor Great Park to visit. After the Google Maps navigation tried to take me through the park itself on a private road, I eventually found Virginia Water. We'd been on our feet all day, so decided we may as well finish it off with a 4.5 mile walk round the lake.
After a very slow drive home in the rush hour traffic, along with a mad woman in a new Porsche who decided to stop for five minutes in the inside lane and make people drive round her, then start off again, we found another West Drayton restaurant - the Palace Tandoori - where we had a really nice Indian meal and a chat with the waiter about Scottish independence.
Friday was our last day, but the flight wasn't until 6pm and we hadn't planned anything, so we looked for options nearby. Instead of another theme park we decided to visit Whipsnade Zoo, which had the added advantage of being fairly close to the airport for the flight home.
Whipsnade is out in the country, so it has plenty of room for the animals, which tended to have large fields to roam in rather than small enclosures. We missed the sealion show, but enjoyed our walk about the zoo. The lion area was good as they've built a viewing room with big glass windows right next to where the lions like to laze about, so we were very close to them.
We also liked the cheetahs, the lynxes and the wolverine. We had lunch in the excellent kids play park and finished off in the gift shop, before heading back to Luton, to fill up and hand back the car and then queue for the flight home. It was just like queueing for the rides at Legoland, but with less excitement at the end. I did manage to spot the largest piece of luggage I'd ever seen in my life though.
So that was London again. We enjoyed our week and the weather was lovely. Next year we'll do something different for Easter time.
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