I've always wanted to do a LEGO Inside Tour, so as soon as the 2013 tours were announced, I, along with DrDaveWatford and Caperberry, booked up to go. (It's important to do it 'as soon as' the tour is announced because on the tour we learned that within 20 minutes of the application time starting, all places for 2013 had been allocated!)
So, what is an inside tour and who's it aimed at? LEGO has been organising them since 2005 and nowadays runs three a year. Essentially they are a tour of the production facilities and other LEGO attractions in Billund, Denmark, which is of course the birthplace and home of the LEGO company, plus LEGO activities in the evenings.
They are aimed at AFOLs and families, and kids as young as 7 can attend. There are around 25 people on each tour, so that makes it around 75 places per year. Our tour comprised of something like 6 AFOLs, 8 or so kids, and the rest parents. They take place over three days and include accommodation for 2 nights in the LEGOLAND Hotel, and all food during the tour.
Participants are asked to sign a non disclosure agreement. Because of this, and also perhaps more importantly, because LEGO likes to keep them special and surprising for participants, I won't be revealing everything that happens on them; instead I'll go through the agenda as published at LEGO.com and add a bit more detail where appropriate.
On day one we met in the LEGOLAND Hotel reception after lunch and were greeted by Sanne and Lene, the inside tour team, who handed out the badges, minifigs and flags that are pictured above. We then headed off to a conference room in the hotel for a brief introduction to the tour and a talk by Jette Orduna, who's head of the LEGO Idea House, on the history of the LEGO company. After that it was off to the Idea House itself which is in the centre of Billund. Ole Kirk's house is part of it.
Before venturing into the museum and vault, the main attractions in the building, we went into a room to meet Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, third generation of the Kristiansen family, who own the company. He was easy to talk to, very glad to see us and seemed a really nice guy. As I said in a previous article, he was aware of Brickset and thanked me for running it and helping to promote the brand on the Internet. He was happy to be photographed with people and the half-hour we had with him went quickly.
Then it was on to the museum and vault. Incidentally, these were two of only three places we were allowed to take photos. The museum is not open to the public but is there for employees to learn about the brand and past products. Here's a flickr set taken by a previous year's participant that'll give you a flavour of what's inside.
We have mentioned the vault before many times, but to recap, it's a room under the Idea House that is said to house a copy of 'every LEGO set ever made'. Gizmodo published a good article about it a while ago that will convey what it's like in there better than I can, but let's just say it's like entering a time machine and having all your childhood Christmases at once.
While everyone else was busy reminiscing in the 1970s and 1980s aisles, I was in the 2013 one looking for new sets. The only ones I found were the polybags that I've already added to the database.
Despite claims, it does not contain 'every LEGO set ever made' but 'nearly every regular retail LEGO set made' because promotional and rare items are kept in another vault somewhere else that is not accessible to visitors.
After an all too brief time in the vault, it was back to the hotel's conference room for an official welcome speech by Flemming Tiro Lund, who I believe is the LEGO injection moulding expert. Following on from that, it was time to meet the designers. Around twelve of them were in attendance. They introduced themselves and said what they did, then several gave presentations on the products they'd worked on and showed prototypes. For example, Mark Stafford displayed the Chima models he'd designed, and Christian (I think it was) spoke about 'Constraction'  sets: (Bionicle, HERO Factory and Chima buildable figures).
Then it was on to the main activity of the evening: the building challenge. Like the designers themselves, we were given a brief of what was wanted, and then left to our own devices to get on and build our models using the same palette of parts used by the designers, pausing only briefly for an excellent buffet meal.
It was a late night for some: I hear that Caperberry didn't start building until midnight :)
If I haven't bored you all to death by now, I'll publish part two tomorrow in which I'll cover events of the second day, which included the factory tours (so 'like' this article with a comment if you want more :-) ).
Update: If you want to read another perspective on proceedings, DrDaveWatford has written the first part of his review of the tour at GimmeLego.
 'Constraction' is an internal name used for buildable figures. We'll use it here at Brickset to describe them in the database from now on.