When I was asked which sets I was looking forward to and would like to review out of the summer wave, my immediate answer was 41101 Heartlake Grand Hotel, which brings together my love of the Friends theme and detailed LEGO buildings. It is the largest set ever in the Friends range, coming in at an RRP of £99.99 and a piece count of 1552. But is it worthy of the moniker “grand”? Read on to find out...
The box art is the usual depiction of the finished model, but as well as highlighting some of the details of the set, the back of the box reveals a cool play function that is not obvious from the front – the tower on the side of the model houses a lift (elevator) that can be raised and lowered. It is also shown that the various “modules” which form the building can be configured in different ways.
The first surprise upon opening the box was that although there are two instruction books, one is A4-sized and perfect-bound with a flat spine, containing a whopping 236-pages! Book 1 is a small, thin booklet containing the instructions for the peripheral models and book 2 deals with the main build of the hotel. I’m afraid this set is not for the sticker-shy as there are over 30 stickers on the single sheet, some of which could be omitted without detriment to the overall look of the model, though I applied all except one, a circular portrait of a female character that is supposed to be affixed in one of the bedrooms. (I decided that I didn’t think it added anything to the room).
For those of you seeing this set as a treasure trove of parts, you will not be disappointed. There is a multitude of unique or uncommon parts. As I type this, full online inventories for this set and the others in the summer wave are not available, so when I say something is new or unique, I mean “as far as I know, prior to the summer wave”. The façade of the hotel is predominantly white, but has accents of dark purple, pearl gold and medium lavender, and it is amongst these colours that most of the rare and unusual parts are to be found. We have a large number of dark purple slopes in various sizes and angles, as well as rounded plates and a 1x6x2 arch. In pearl gold, we have pillars, round profile bricks (12 of them!), fence pieces, 2x2 macaronis, frogs, 6x6 round modified tiles and the new ornamental 1x1 brick with projecting scrollwork (CapnRex101 called it a “capital brick” in his review of 41098, where it is included in tan). The Grand Hotel adds 1x3, 1x8, 2x6 and 2x2 corner bricks and a pair of 4x4 macaronis to the range of medium lavender parts now available. Added to this are a few printed tiles (two of which also appear in at least 41098, and I am certain the gold record tile will be present in the pop star sets) and a very interesting and potentially useful tan 1x4 curved element with spokes in it that fits neatly under a 1x6x2 arch to provide a nice decorative finish. Oh, and there are two pink suitcases. It’s a real treat to see so many new parts becoming available in the purples palette and the new gold pieces are going to be fabulous for bringing a bit of bling (or an ornate gilded touch, if you’re more refined) to many future MOCs.
The mini-dolls are spread across the first few bags, of which there are 11 in total (plus one of large plates). Stephanie, Andrea and Olivia are fairly typical specimens, though Stephanie appears to be dressed for a luau, wearing a lei over a bikini top and sarong. The hotel manager/receptionist is wearing a very nice formal red outfit and reuses the ‘starlet’ hair in reddish brown, as was also used for Emma’s mother in 41095. I like that we are getting a wider range of female hairstyles now, especially this one for a more mature look than the predominant ponytails. The porter sports a smart dark-red uniform and cap, and reminds me of all those classic Agatha Christie-type books/films set in opulent hotels in the 1920s and 30s.
First off, we build what I call the peripheral models. Often these annoy me as I would prefer more bricks to be used in the main model, but that’s actually not the case here. The extras add additional storytelling as always, but the main model is so substantial that there really does not seem to be anything lacking in it. The first mini model is a traditional luggage trolley, which to my mind should be shorter and taller, but it serves its function adequately nonetheless.
Next up is a pretty innocuous little snack cart, followed by a rather stylish fountain, which makes excellent use of the large pearl gold clam shell piece and is topped off with a pearl gold frog, creating a nice decorative flourish. Possibly the next build (two pieces of chained fence over a flowerbed) is a touch superfluous, but I suppose it helps to delimit the garden area, which also contains a table and four chairs for the guests to relax in. All of these models are built from bag 1; bag 2 contains the parts for a very nice black taxi. I’m not usually that interested in vehicles, but I do like the design of this taxi. It is very practical and sturdy but has a frivolous pink interior, and can seat four mini-dolls comfortably. The boot (trunk) opens up and can house a suitcase. Oddly, there is no steering wheel in the car though!
Now we move on to the hefty second manual. From here on, it is all about the hotel. Each bag builds one “module” of the build. The techniques used throughout are not complex but the modules are solidly constructed using a mixture of panels, 1x2x5 bricks and arches, which I am pleased about since I dislike it when models achieve height solely through the use of panels and lack some of the robustness conferred by interlocking bricks. Although the modules are repetitive in terms of the symmetrical outward appearance of the hotel, the interior features of each one are different, so there are variations and surprises involved because of this.
Downstairs we have a café with a range of tasty treats and a reception offering newspapers and postcards. The entrance features a chandelier hanging over the red and gold tiled flooring and a red “carpet” stretches outside beyond the revolving door (it really does revolve). The panels for the frontage of the hotel all require stickers I’m afraid, but I think the gold patterns do add an extra level of detail and class. Also downstairs we have that stalwart of a luxurious hotel lobby – a grand piano. This is a gorgeous rendition of a piano at this scale; the detail on it is incredible, down to the black lever holding the cover open.
The second floor of the hotel comprises two bedrooms, each with a narrow balcony. One bedroom includes a bathroom, a single bed and a TV, while the other is a bit more plush, with a larger bed that has an azure headboard and a dressing table chock full of toiletries. One complaint would be that the only way to access one of the bedrooms is through the other, but this is a minor gripe.
On the roof, we have a small pool for the guests to relax in, as well as a cleverly designed sun lounger and a little bar for those essential refreshments. (Keep hydrated, kids!).
The last section of the build involves the lift shaft, which is subsequently attached to the hotel by means of Technic pins and bricks in the same way that modular buildings can be connected together. The shaft is made up of a range of bricks, plates and windows, leaving a 1-brick wide gap on the side for the Technic mechanism to slide up and down. The lift can be locked in position at a level by flipping the Technic axle across so that it rests on a pin. This is the same kind of mechanism as used for the lift in the modular Town Hall 10224, which my nephews absolutely love playing with. I think this is a fun play feature that also serves a practical purpose and aids storytelling. It would have been easy enough to leave this out and just let children imagine how people get from one level to another, but I applaud the designer for including it, as I think it really does add a great function.
In case it isn’t clear from the foregoing, I really love this set. I am a big fan of “dollhouse”-type buildings like Haunted House and the modular buildings, and I think this is as close as we will get to a Friends modular, in terms of part count and detail; while the build is not as brick-intensive and intricate as a modular is (it’s still 500 - 1000 parts short of a modular), it is still satisfying and results in a substantial model, which took me over three hours to build. The colour scheme is harmonious and not too garish, with the pearl gold accents offering an excellent touch of glitz and glamour to the building. To my mind, the parts selection cannot be faulted.
With the inclusion of the taxi and the two members of hotel staff, there are numerous storytelling possibilities for children, and I think adults will be impressed with the end result too; the model could certainly grace any AFOL display shelf and not look out of place. I do hope to see someone try to fully modularise the hotel in the near future, to expand the number of rooms and to flesh it out even further with corridors and stairs; I’d give it a go myself if I didn’t have roughly ten trillion other projects in mind already!
With regard to the value for money, that’s a tough question, especially given that I received this set as a review copy. Personally, I very rarely buy any set without some kind of discount, and certainly not larger sets, so I wouldn’t have bought this at full price on principle. Ultimately though, if you really want this set and were to buy it at RRP, I don’t think you’d be disappointed (opinions may vary in this regard!).
In my view, Heartlake Hotel definitely manages to live up to its “grand” name, and I sincerely hope that in the next few years we see more sets from regular themes receiving such star treatment once in a while.
Apologies for the dodgy photo quality – I have tried my best but I’m afraid I’m not up to Huw’s excellent standard yet. And many thanks to the LEGO CEE team for providing me with this set for review.