Behind the scenes with Legoland Master Builders
Who do you imagine builds Legoland? Kids in third world sweatshops working to blueprints drawn up in the Billund headquarters? Nope. Bespectacled professors of plastic? Wrong again. It isn’t a line of people in a grim northern factory, robotically slotting heads onto Ewoks while counting the minutes till lunch. And if you think that Santa’s elves do it then you are way off beam. I can’t speak for all the parks but in Legoland Florida it’s three people in a shed. Yup really….
Finding Nemo would be easier
The Legoland Master Model Builders shed in Legoland Florida is unmarked and unremarkable from the outside, tucked away in the vast 150 acre theme park. You can only meet the guys who hang out there if you book a VIP day. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that VIP Legoland is cheaper than VIP Disney.
So anyway, I get myself and Cameron onto a VIP day, we do the rides, eat the park’s signature desert of delicious Granny’s Apple Fries and I snog Darth Vader (Yeh, I know, morally dubious to get into bed with the bad guy but it’s a family tradition.) And then the guide takes us down a ‘secret secluded’ – i.e. unkempt path, past a sign for dog kennels and smokers. We tromp past a fence to an anonymous shed. We knock. And we wait.
Is this all a joke. Or worse?
At this point I’m beginning to think our guide, Adriana Eroso, has made it all up about meeting the top guys, and we might be about to do a drug deal. But then the door opens and we troop in and I find myself…
..in my kid’s bedroom.
A filing system like ours
At the height of our family Lego mania, before the kids bought iPods and their Nintendo 3DS, the hoover-busting plastic bits were kept in crates and old biscuit tins, filed throughout the length of just about every room in the house according to project and colour. It was also, less pleasingly for the chief hooverer, kept in half made state on the desks, the floor, the windowsills and sometimes it was taken straight from the bath and placed dripping into the bed.
Now I’m sure these guys don’t take it into the bath with them, but the first surprise is how similar this set up is. There are bodies without heads and heads without bodies all over the place. There are rats, stars, pumpkins and dragons at various levels of completeness. There are figures in partial states of dress and repair on the floor, the walls, the ceiling. And, taking up most of the room, dozens and dozens of small crates packed with each colour of brick. Think one Lego piece is the same as another? WRONG! Forget 50 shades of grey. There must be 500 shades of yellow!
Lego is about sharing
The Master Model Builders are surprisingly willing to share information. Legoland is opening a new part of the park in July and they’re keeping very quiet about that, but they will tell you the limitations of how they work, who does what, and what they’re doing next. Some of their work is incredibly prosaic; on the notice board is a long line of jobs and it looks like any park maintenance list; bridge, Santa’s sleigh, island, arches. I expected someone to be making space centres and skyscrapers; instead they’re more likely to be making a pumpkin. Incredibly there are only three Master Model Builders working on the park, compared to 25 at Legoland Windsor.
They do a bit of everything
Florida’s Legoland is the newest theme park in Orlando and the fifth Legoland theme park in the world. It took two years to build and it’s vast; the shop alone is the largest Lego shop on the planet. To get the park up and running, many of the Miniland structures were sent over from Windsor, but the rest are made on site. Here, in this workshop. Two guys and a gal work to plans from Head Office, or they design their own creations, using 3D rendering software.
David Hilliard is working on a giant clam for the water park area. It will take him 80 hours. I expected the models to be made on some kind of assembly line, but he works alone, on one model. Although if he’s required to construct multiple numbers of the same model, he changes his system.
“If I need to make 40 small oranges, the way I do it is to build them all at once. I’ll have my own production line and add one brick to each.” One of his jobs is to open up Miniland in the mornings, checking that all the structures are still in place and sometimes he has to sweep the site of unwelcome fans, “A racoon got into one of the buildings in New York and stayed there once, and if the structures are big enough squirrels will make a nest.”
One brick at a time
My next question is an obvious one but I feel compelled to throw it at Master Model Builder Jason Miller who is in charge of the workshop.
“How do you get good at Lego?”
“You take it one brick at a time.”
Of course you do. That’s why I’ve never finished the Millenium Falcon.
What else has Legoland Florida got to offer?
We’ve been to several Legolands now. This one has all the usual ingredients with rides and driving school aimed at the 3-12’s. And of course a range of rollercoasters.
But it also has it’s own identity. Legoland Orlando was converted from Cypress Gardens; Florida’s first theme park and has a tangible American South feel to it. The original banyan tree that was planted in a wheelbarrow in 1936 is still on site, and the gardens are dotted with Lego versions of the Southern Belles.
“Miniland may be the heart of the park, but Cypress Garden is its soul,”says Arianne.
The Island in the Sky is a slowly moving carousel left over from Cypress Gardens, which slowly spins you up to 150 metres above the ground. It gives you an overview of the whole park which is useful at the beginning of your visit.
The park also has a very old and very charming wooden rollercoaster. This place has history combined with attractions. And it has a guy whose job it is to swap Minifigures with you. They’re all over his body.
“What kind of job is that?” I say to Cameron. “And how do I apply?”
“You couldn’t even make your mini figure this morning.”
“Could not. I had to do it for you.”
Right. Forget that then. I’ll be a Lego Master Builder. But I might have to insist on a new office.
Legoland Florida is open 7 days a week from 9.30am-7pm. Legoland Florida also has a water Water Park, open daily from 10am-5pm. It is about half an hour’s drive from Disney World. Day tickets start from around US$54 for kids and US$64 for adults but check the website for deals.
The VIP Guest Experience Programme is said to be the ultimate Legoland Florida experience and comes with the ultimate price tag. Prices start from starts from $395 per child and $495 per adult which includes a park admission with your own guide for the day, priority pass for rides, a meeting with the Master Builders, parking, lunch, refreshments, a souvenir photograph and access to some Lego secrets. Its not cheap, but you really will feel like a VIP.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Visit Orlando and Legoland Florida for looking after us during our visit to Orlando.