If the families visiting Dubai’s Legoland when it opens this October are even half as excited about it as the general manager, Siegfried Boerst, his job will be done.
Boerst, a German whose first job was at Disneyland, exudes joy as he talks about the park, opening as part of the Dubai Parks and Resorts theme park complex this autumn.
“I always say I think I have one of the best jobs in the world — we can create fun for people and we have an educational value; we bring the family together. Whenever I go out of my office, I see how people enjoy the product. Not a lot of people can do that — if you sell something most people enjoy it at home, not where you can see the fun on their faces.”
We first meet in his Lego-littered office, on what is still very much a building site, but I imagine that if I looked at it through his eyes, I’d already see the Dragon roller coaster shooting around its track, or people hunkering down in the areas filled with Lego blocks, doing what you’re meant to do with Lego — build.
In that sense, Legoland will always be a building site, even after the bulldozers move out and the families move in. On an exclusive tour of the site last week, tabloid! dodged the diggers that are still actively landscaping the roads of Lego City; nearby, cranes are lowering water slides into place and the aquarium is awaiting its residents.
And yet any Lego fan (guilty!) can instantly recognise the signature shapes of the Danish toy company, whether it’s the Technic forms, visible on the Twister — a teacups ride — or the Lego minifigures and square blocks that appear in hieroglyphics on the ancient Egyptian Lost Kingdom ride. (The six zones of the park are inspired by the Lego themes you’d find in a toy store.)
The park, the seventh globally and the first in the Middle East, is aimed at families with children aged from 2-12, and the focus here is on getting the parents to interact with their children as they play in the park. There are no baby-sitting services here, folks — not that Boerst, a father of two, expects anyone to need one, anyway.
“We know exactly what we need to do to provide the children with a good experience, but involve the family as well,” says Boerst, who, like all Legoland staff, wears a name badge with a Lego minifigure attached. His is a construction worker, for now. (Top tip for minifigure collectors: You ask any of the park staff for theirs in a swap for one of your own.)
“We don’t want it to be only for children, that the parents drop them off and go around. The parents and the children should share it together, they can talk about and enjoy the experience. That’s very important and unique in the industry. It’s not passive entertainment, where you sit in a vehicle and are driven around. You can come back again and again, and it’s never the same.”
Boerst places great emphasis on the child-friendly aspect of the park, which won’t simply have a few options for the often underserved little ones — it is actively aimed at their enjoyment. The water park, he says, is the only one in the country where those under 1m tall won’t feel left out.
The park also banks on repeat customers; on parents watching their children grow up and developing skills there over time. “A good example is the Kids Power Tower,” Boerst says, referring to a rotating tower that children and parents reach the top of by pulling themselves up. “My daughter was born in 2001 just before I joined Legoland, so she grew up with the park. At first you pull, and they just hold on. Then as they get bigger, they help you, [when] they are 8-9 years old, you as a parent sit and they are totally proud that they can pull dad all the way to the top. You need to work together so you develop the skill set of the children. It’s another part of their growing up.”
Let’s talk rides
The Dragon coaster: One of the “most fantastic” rides, says Boerst. “You go into a castle that looks like a life-size Lego castle, there are a lot of themed Lego models, then you go outside for the roller coaster part. It’s a Lego experience inside, and outside it’s a different world. The dragon has become kind of a mascot for the parks.” (A huge red dragon was one of the first models to arrive at the park last year.)
The Lost Kingdom: Beat the bandits who stole the treasure by shooting at laser gun targets (and keep track of your score). Outside, there’s a big box of Lego bricks: All the treasure was broken and you have to fix it. “It looks like Egypt but it also looks like Lego. We don’t want to be too serious,” says Boerst.
Undersea adventure: This submarine ride through the aquarium, with fish, rays and sharks, is only the second globally, after Windsor.
What about queuing for the rides?
While there will be a fast-pass system, “we are not focusing on big crowds in the beginning,” says Boerst. “Customer experience is much more important to us, especially for people that come for the first time. It doesn’t help the guests and it doesn’t help us if we overfill the place and you wait forever, especially with smaller children.” There will also be VIP tours.
Legoland Dubai, in numbers
Two: There are a couple of parks within the whole Legoland: The classic brick-building, dragon-riding park, and a water park, which of course, still has Lego bricks — just giant-size floating ones, which you can build onto your inflatable tube.
6: The main park is divided into themed lands, each accessible by foot (by the way, the water park is also a short walk from Legoland). There’s Lego City, Miniland, ancient Egypt-themed Adventure, play area Imagination, Mediaeval Kingdoms; and Factory, home to the only Lego factory inside a Legoland anywhere; and the reason you really came: The UAE’s biggest Lego store.
20: Flumes, slides, a wave pool, water-dumping buckets, a lazy river with a build-your-own raft ride — there are nearly two dozen rides inside the waterpark. That includes the Duplo wave pool and splash safari, aimed at toddlers. Bring the swim diapers.
15,000: That’s how many Lego models — one of the top attractions for Lego enthusiasts, young and old — will be in the park when it opens. All those models take a lot of bricks — 60 million, in fact. 20 million of the bricks alone will be inside Miniland, the hub of the park and a showcase for all that can be done with Lego bricks — from the Taj Mahal to Shaikh Zayed Mosque and the Dubai skyline. The tallest will be the Burj Khalifa.
250: The number of brick forms you can buy in the Lego Store. “We will have the complete selection — you should be able to find anything that you are looking for. You buy by weight — it’s like pick and mix candy,” says Boerst.
5: The number of restaurants in the park, which will all have indoor seating.
24x7, 365: The park hopes to attract visitors throughout the year, and will build shading over most of the outdoor activities, put others inside (such as Miniland, the only indoor Miniland in the world). Park execs say they have designed the landscaping and shading to make the park temperature 3-5 degrees Celsius lower than the ambient temperature. With over 60 rides, slides and attractions in the two parks, they hope that there is enough for a full day’s entertainment — if not more, which is why the first tickets to go on sale are the annual passes, giving daily entry to the park. If you want to score four of those passes — worth Dh995 each, giving unlimited entry to Legoland and Legoland Waterpark — make sure you check our Facebook page on April 24).