Anna Alvsdotter sets her sons loose in Legoland, a boys' own wonderland.
Did you know that, on average, every person on Earth has 52 Lego bricks? It is clear to me, however, there is a highly uneven distribution of those bricks between the Lego haves and the Lego have-nots. I know this because in my household alone there are roughly 5200 Lego pieces - and that's not counting the stray ones under the furniture.
Of course, a recent visit to Legoland in Denmark with my three sons and their generous grandmother has turned our home into a mini-version of the famous Danish amusement park. The real one is situated in Billund, on the green, undulating hills of Jutland near the factory where the toy bricks are still manufactured, 60 years after their invention here. It has seven themed areas built with 50 million pieces of Lego. Add to that more than 50 rides and activities and you can understand why my three sons think it's heaven on Earth.
Since it opened in 1968, Legoland has become part of Danish culture. The original theme rides are still there and impart an old-fashioned, family-friendly charm that makes your heart smile.
It all began with Miniland, a miniature world built from 20 million Lego bricks. Tiny Lego cars, buses and trucks drive around on roads flanked by brick houses - Lego bricks, that is, and all built at a scale of 1:20. You can view Miniland from the Lego train, which takes a pleasant tour through some of the older attractions. Watch out for the wild animals of the savannah, all impressively put together from Lego bricks, or check out the Lego helicopters, the safari jeeps and other rides for the younger audience.
Soon you're surrounded by cowboys and Indians in the wild-west town of Legoredo, an Eldorado for anyone keen on canoeing past fearsome Lego bears and down a foaming waterfall. The young gold miners enjoy the timber ride and the mine train, while their unearthed nuggets can be melted down into a lustrous coin. When the prairie hunger sets in, Indian chief Playing Eagle welcomes you to bake your own twist bread on a stick over an open fire.
In my experience, the interactive nature of many of the attractions is what sets Legoland apart from most other amusement parks. New this year is the pirate lagoon, a water-based play area for the younger kids.
At the Knight's Kingdom, the jewel in the crown is the huge king's castle, which houses a medieval-style restaurant. It is also where you board the dragon ride to journey at 40kmh through medieval scenes animated by light, sound, smells, heat, cold and steam, which excite even my three seasoned thrill-seekers.
As they tumble out from the dragon ride, they happen upon the mini-castle, where an amusing medieval show takes place daily, free. Skilled acrobats dive, somersault, fall and splash into the castle moat, delighting all age groups in the audience.
There is more action to be had, so we proceed to Adventure Land. It houses most of the newer attractions and they have huge appeal for the older kids. Have you ever experienced being tossed, turned and flown through the air by a giant robot? Me neither. The Power Builder Robot is too scary for me but my boys are among the stream of teens and pre-teens who can't get enough. The beauty of it is that they get to program the robots themselves, each time creating a new and - if possible - scarier ride.
Adventure Land is decidedly the boys' favourite part of Legoland since it has a great mix of high speed, action and interaction. In the jungle racers they dodge exploding water bombs as they zoom in and out like a band of James Bonds on water scooters. Another fun game is putting out fires in a burning building with the help of the Falck Fire Brigade and plenty of boy muscle. The water hose is aimed in all directions, so it's a good thing the fires aren't real ones.
Not many people between the ages of seven and 13 have a driver's licence - unless they've been to the Statoil Traffic School. It's one of few activities in Legoland you have to pay for separately but watching the kids take control of their real electric cars and drive the streets through mini traffic lights, the car wash and the petrol station is a sight to behold. The very real-looking licences make for excellent "show-and-tell" items back at school.
A family visit to Legoland should ideally be no shorter than two days. I recommend the two-day tickets plus one night at the Hotel Legoland deal, which is pricey but worth every krone. The hotel recently expanded right into Legoland with 22 new kids' house rooms overlooking Miniland and its miniature windows twinkling at dusk. The rooms are spacious and decorated in the Lego theme - what else? Lego embossed wallpaper, Lego print sheets, Lego patterned shower curtains and a game table full of Lego bricks.
Hotel Legoland is comfortable and, as children are very well catered for, it is one of the most relaxing places to stay for parents. The hotel's restaurant is in the Scandinavian modern style with the added sophistication of starched white tablecloths and napkins. The classy buffet for grown-ups is generous and the children's buffet features staples such as spaghetti bolognese, sausages, meatballs and chips in the shape of Lego bricks.
My boys enjoy the hotel's treasure hunt and the building competition, while their grandmother and I retire to the comfy sofas by the fire with a glass of wine after dinner. All the kids run off to the playroom, where there are thousands of Lego bricks to play with. They feel right at home.
KLM has the cheapest fare to Billund: for $1525, you fly a partner airline to Asia and then KLM via an aircraft change in Amsterdam. Lufthansa flies for $1633 (partner airline to Asia and then Lufthansa via an aircraft change in Frankfurt). Another good fare is with Malaysia Airlines for $1566 (fly to Amsterdam via a change of aircraft in Kuala Lumpur and then KLM to Billund). (Fares are low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney, not including tax.)
Legoland is open daily during June, July and August. From July 7 to August 8 opening hours are extended until 9pm. In September and October it closes most Wednesdays and Thursdays. The 2008 season ends on October 26.
Admission is 249 Danish kroner ($55) for adults, 219 DKK for children aged between three and 12 and adults over 59, and free for children under three. Buy tickets at http://www.legoland.dk.
You can book deals with accommodation and discounted entry to Legoland through the Legoland website. Hotel Legoland has a deal valid on October 10-26 that includes one night's accommodation, buffet dinner and breakfast, kids' activities at the hotel and two days' admission to Legoland. Cost for two adults and two children is 3155 DKK. See www.hotellegoland.dk.