Day three started in the hotel conference room with a talk by the LEGOLAND Events Manager about the history of the park, the sale to Merlin, how visitor numbers had grown and so on.
We then headed into the park for the 'back stage tour'. This, as its name suggests, takes you to places that visitors aren't usually allowed to go, including the workshop where the park's trains, boats and rollercoaster cars are maintained, the model makers' workshop and then finally, back-stage of the pirate boat ride where we were led up narrow stairs and along gangways high above the ride in the dark, looking down on the boats as they went through.
The model makers' workshop was of course the most impressive and interesting area. I met Caspar, who I've known for some time but hadn't seen for a few years, who was working on a huge replica of the collectable minifigure mermaid for one of the overseas parks. We spent a half-hour or so in the shop, talking to the model makers and admiring their work. Unfortunately photography was not permitted in this area, although I'm not entirely sure why since it's not usually a problem at the Windsor model shop.
We were then led through the park into Miniland where we were told some interesting facts about some of the models and clusters. The kids were then taken to the driving school and the rest of us had free time in the park for the remainder of the morning.
LEGOLAND Billund is so much nicer than Windsor. It's flat, for one thing, and seems to be much better maintained. Miniland models are being renewed and all the trains and boats actually work. During our stay it was never crowded and we never queued more than 10 minutes for a ride. You can actually see and appreciate the Star Wars Miniland, it's not indoors in the pitch black as it is at Windsor. The photo above shows it as seen from the observation tower.
After lunch in the LEGOLAND King's Castle, it was back to the hotel for the farewell speech by SVP Jesper Vilstrup, which culminated in the handing out of T-shirts and, what we'd all been waiting patiently for, the special Inside Tour set. The designer of the set -- Henrik, who also designed the UCS B Wing -- was on hand to sign our boxes.
It was unfortunate that LEGO customer services let the instructions for the model slip out a few weeks ago which resulted in many AFOL sites plastering it all over their home pages. We decided not to do that, to try and keep it a surprise for attendees, which is what the LEGO Inside Tour team want it to be. I won't tell you what is is, although you'll find its name in the database, but I will say that it's a fantastic model. I may even open it and build it, given my wife also has one :-)
The day ended at about 3 pm at which point we said our goodbyes, and most then headed off back to the airport.
So, that's an account of what happens on the tour, but what's it actually like being on it, and is it good value for money?
From the moment the tour started to the time it ends, we were made to feel special. Sanne and Lene were excellent hosts and organised the tour superbly. Everything ran smoothly and pretty much on time. Everyone we met was pleased to see us and made us welcome. It seemed as if nothing was too much trouble. We were given small 'gifts' at every available opportunity (e.g. factory tour minifigs, minifig business cards from several of the presenters, printed bricks at the moulding factory) and by the end of the tour ended up with a whole bag-full of them.
It's possible (or at least, it used to be) to get Jan to organise a factory tour for your LUG and that is certainly a cheaper way to see the factory, but you don't get the whole experience that the Inside Tour provides.
The cost of the tour is 13000 DKK (US$2300, £1500) per person, which is unquestionably a lot of money. But, you are buying an unforgettable experience and the opportunity to do things that you can't do any other way. It includes three nights in the best rooms in the hotel, overlooking the park, and two-and-a-half days of meals, so apart from actually getting there, there's nothing more to pay for (other than in the staff shop, of course!).
I have only two minor complaints. Kids as young an seven can go on it, but personally I think that's too young. Many of the activities, particularly the presentations, were of no interest to them at all, and often they were a bit of a nuisance making a lot of noise while playing with the LEGO on the table, or whatever. I'm hesitant to suggest that LEGO should run a tour tailored for AFOLs and a different one for families, which would solve this problem, because actually it was quite good fun having the kids around. LEGO is meant for them, after all, isn't it!
The other minor quibble was that we didn't have quite enough time in the staff shop. The 50 minutes we had wasn't even enough time for Kristel to get all the stuff she'd bought through the checkout :-)
The Inside Tour is something every AFOL should do. It was a fantastic three days and an experience I highly recommend. My wife, a non-AFOL, thoroughly enjoyed herself (although was apprehensive about the building challenge) and will not hesitate on going on it again.
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