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Travel Talk

The world of Lego has expanded beyond some people's imagination

Anticipation can grip an eight-year-old in many ways. The promise of a trip to Legoland had inspired unparalleled joy in my son Ryan. Throwing up in the car on the way there was just his way of showing it.

Still, we were all concerned about how our day at Legoland Windsor, west of London, might unfold, given how it had started. This was to be the high point of a three-week trip to the UK and rides like the Jungle Coaster and Pirate Falls all promised far greater jolts to Ryan's system than 90 minutes spent sitting in the back of a Fiat Punto just to get to there.

"I'll be fine when we get there," Ryan had promised, still gripping a plastic bag and sensing his parents were on the verge of turning back.

"It stinks in here," his six-year-old sister Emma had said encouragingly. (She had a point.)

Ryan was good to his word and Legoland Windsor more than justified his anticipation. The rides only served to remind me how much Lego has changed since I was a kid.

Whether it was my lack of imagination or a scarcity of specialized Lego pieces, I recall spending countless hours refining a modest bungalow. I eventually broadened my creative horizons by creating multi-coloured office high-rises but never imagined building anything other than a building.

That was until I had children and witnessed a steady procession of Lego Wookie fighters and fearsome Lego Bionicle warriors with names like Rakshi and Toa.

Legoland Windsor fulfilled the greater expectations of our children while reassuring my "bungalow generation" with Miniland – a recreation of Europe's great cities using some 35 million Lego bricks. Older sightseers here stoop to examine the intricacies of great landmarks in miniature while toddlers seem to appreciate a scene set perfectly at their eye level.

That's not to say there weren't tears. With the finely tuned instinct most children seem to have for thrill rides, Ryan and Emma immediately headed for the Jungle Coaster, the fastest, potentially most barf-inducing ride in the 150-acre park. With more twists than the Da Vinci Code and a better ending, this rollercoaster ride drops 16 metres at one point, hurtles upside down and reaches top speeds of 60 km/h (twice as fast as we'd managed on London's M25 orbital motorway that morning).

That's why Emma and anyone else under 1.1 metres tall couldn't ride, hence the tears. A chocolate brownie seemed to help as she watched her brother ride Jungle Coaster three times. Ryan was eventually coaxed off and he assured Emma she wouldn't have liked it anyway.

We found Pirate Falls, which with a one-metre height restriction, allowed Emma to ride safely. No one said anything about getting soaked though, until animated pirates en route began warning us that this was no leisurely boat cruise.

As Ryan pointed out, just prior to our steep and screaming ascent, the name of the ride is a bit of a giveaway. The longer we spent in the park the more our kids enjoyed the sedate attractions, which after a lunch of spicy chicken drumsticks and curried scotch eggs, was probably just as well.

The driving school for six to 13-year-olds was a big hit. After watching a road safety video, children navigate electric cars through traffic lights, junctions and roundabouts (traffic circles) – most of them displaying a greater understanding of roundabout etiquette than the average Canadian motorist. Despite minor collisions, everyone earned their Legoland Driver's Licence, prompting Emma to offer us all a ride home.

You'd need more than a day to do Legoland's 50 rides and attractions and the park includes quieter, more constructive pursuits for children. That is, after all, the point of Lego, which takes its name from the Danish "leg godt", meaning "play well".

Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, whose wooden toy business led to the Lego brand in the 1930s, would probably approve of The Imagination Centre. It includes Discovery Zone, where children over eight can design and program robots. Educational workshops allow children to build and race cars, as well as create buildings designed to withstand an earthquake table.

And thankfully, there always seemed to be enough bricks for even the most unimaginative creation. Like the perfect bungalow.

Legoland Windor is recommended for children age two to 12 and their families. Visit online at Similar Legoland theme parks are in Denmark, Germany and 30 minutes north of San Diego in Carlsbad, California.