Published by Escape travel supplement for Australian Sunday newspapers.
The writer and his family were guests of Tourism Malaysia, Tourism Johor and Tiger Air.
In life, when we have a straightforward decision to make we often use the expression that the decision is black and white. This means it’s an easy decision to make. There aren’t a lot of options or consequences.
For a family holiday the typical black and white decision might be something like, ‘Shall we holiday in Australia or go overseas?’ or ‘Shall we have an adventure or enjoy the luxury of a resort?’
I have just discovered that life is not just black and white. It is also blue. It is red. It is green and yellow and orange. It is just about every colour you can imagine. Life is Lego.
Without doubt one of the most wonderful memories I have of arriving at the Legoland Hotel was all of us bursting out laughing with sheer happiness at how wonderful the hotel looked.
Two adults and two children were just in awe of this hotel that looks like it’s built of Lego bricks. It’s got big blue turrets, an exterior staircase made out of oddly coloured Lego bricks and over the entrance is a gigantic green dragon whose bottom has smashed through the roof.
If you needed any persuading that it couldn’t possibly be as gloriously bold and bright as I’m describing, let me just refer you to the doorman’s stand at the entrance. You know that stand you go to outside a hotel front door when you want to ask the doorman to get you a taxi or ask if there is an umbrella you could borrow? Well this stand is a big green Lego brick. Even the signs that the security guards carry at the entrance to the theme park that say, ‘Security Check’ are made of Lego.
If you’ve missed the exterior of the hotel upon your arrival the interior is even brighter and is chaotic. There is a large Lego castle and Lego pirate ship in the middle of the reception area and there pits full of Lego bricks where children are deliriously building whatever they want, no instructions required.
Have you ever wanted to burst into song in a lift full of strangers? If you are shouting out ‘Yes!’ then make your way please to the Legoland Hotel at Jahor Bahru, Malaysia. As the doors close in each lift a mirror ball starts to spin, flashing lights swirl in the confined space and disco music begins. I feel sorry for those people who are on the lower floors as Dancing Queen is only just getting going when they have to get out. We get a longer ride and by the time our doors open we strut out of the lift still singing and striking poses that ABBA’s Agnetha and Anni-Frid could only dream about.
The 249 rooms throughout the hotel are all themed. We’ve got ourselves an Adventure room overlooking Legoland. On the shelves and walls of our room there are life-size Lego monkeys, parrots, lizards and snakes while in the bathroom above the toilet is a giant Lego tarantula and above the sink is a giant Lego scorpion. On another wall in the bathroom is a Lego hat like Indiana Jones would wear.
The carpets are themed. The walls are themed and the bed linen and pillows all represent your theme. Even the hallways outside your room continue your theme.
I’m not sure what dangers lurk on the Kingdom and Pirate themed floors but whenever we leave our room Matilda and Tom keep pushing me over, trying to save me from falling down the ‘open trap doors’ on the carpet.
Not long after we settle into our room the kids complete the quiz that reveals a code to the room safe (guarded by a large Lego monkey). Inside the safe there are prizes for the kids and then there’s a knock on the door.
At the door is Daphne Tan, the Public Relations Manager, Sales and Marketing, for Legoland Malaysia Resort. I’ve been keen to meet Daphne who is so enthusiastic about the resort facilities.
I don’t know if she’s ever seen a more excited family than ours and with our loud voices and the kids running around, I’m sure that when she got back into one of those disco lifts she enjoyed the relative peace and quiet.
With a few hours before sunset and a bright blue sky outside we decide to head out to the water park. From our room, down the disco lifts and out to the water park takes us less than five minutes.
We head straight for the Build-A-Raft River, a lazy winding river with lots of tubes to drift on. There are giant Lego clams that squirt water at you and there are Lego bricks that drift by and you can collect them and build your own raft. Our construction is more like flotsam than a raft but it does the job as Tom perches on top and it’s kept stable by his patient sister.
Next stop is the wave pool. Quite shallow and with waves regularly rolling through, it’s an opportunity to actually have a peaceful float, looking up at the giant Legoland sign on the hill and studying the amazing architecture of the hotel.
Moments later I’m told it’s time to move on, not by one of the numerous life guards but by two children desperate to ride the Red Rush. This ride is a very high and wide waterslide and you climb into a big circular life raft to make your descent. It spins around enough to cause a few screams but not scary enough to stop the kids bolting back up to the top to do it again…and again.
We slow down the pace after multiple Red Rush rides and try out the make-a-boat. This is the moment where I am back in my own childhood in my old cast iron bath with claw feet. I’d build boats out of my bricks and sail them on storm tossed seas made by swaying my legs back and forth. Occasionally my waves would spill over the top, carrying my boat over the edge and breaking into pieces on the bathroom floor.
Matilda and Tom are building a boat and I set to work making my own. When we’re finished we run to the start of the obstacle course that the boats have to make their way down. There’s a starters gate and we count down for our race and are held up momentarily by other kids who also want to race their boats.
Moments later they’re off and my boat immediately twists to one side and is rolled underwater by another boat and crushed, just like my dreams of victory. Somehow, Matilda and Tom’s boat escapes the carnage and reaches the bottom first, a triumph for the little family from Australia!
A few more slides, a few more thrills and it’s time to go back to the hotel, to have a shower with the tarantula and scorpion in the bathroom (using Legoland Hotel soap in the shape of a Lego brick of course).
The next day we make the five minute walk to Legoland, this time without our bathers. After having a chat with the red Ninjago character we head off towards our first stop, Legoland Driving School. After a DVD presentation on the rules of the road and a briefing from an instructor on what they learnt from the DVD the kids make their way outside to the vehicles. The course replicates a real road environment complete with traffic lights, roundabouts and all sorts of signs.
I have a photo of Tom driving his car that I will pass on to his driving instructor in about ten year’s time. Despite the lessons, despite the briefing, despite the six foot bright white arrow painted on the road, there is Tom, looking intently ahead, on the wrong side of the road.
About this time last year Tom was lucky enough to spend some time with Formula 1 Grand Prix driver, Daniel Riccardio. They had a chat and Tom gave Daniel one of his Hot Wheels cars. Perhaps Daniel gave Tom some tips on using the road a bit differently to the rest of us.
Legoland has more than 70 rides and exhibitions. Throughout the day we are on rides, off rides and looking at amazing Lego creations, including the recreation in Lego of Asian landmarks in Miniland and the Star Wars exhibition. Watching the Millennium Falcon rise up while being blasted by little Star Wars Lego Stormtroopers with blinking lights coming out of their blasters was amazing … for all ages.
There are roller coasters to ride before lunch, and some you shouldn’t go on after lunch. There are also opportunities to get creative by building your own designs. We have a go at constructing a high rise building and then hitting the earthquake button. I’m glad we don’t live in any of the buildings we made. We make cars and race them down a slope. Just like the boat building challenge of yesterday, my skills are old school and obsolete. I am lost. I sit at a table trying to work out how various pieces fit together but my fingers look up at me as if to say, “Give up now old man. Leave it to the kids.”
The trick for any theme park is to be something for everyone. Legoland works because Lego transcends age and ability. Even though I couldn’t put together a car using Lego Technic, there are old school bricks and there are big Duplo bricks for the really little kids. That consideration of all ages is really what defines the Legoland Hotel and Legoland water and theme parks.
Thinking of everyone is difficult but it’s what Legoland does best. Even the toilets have low facilities for little kids, accompanied by low sinks and hand dryers.
What surprised me the most during our time in the land of Lego was meeting so many Australian families who had just driven across for a day trip from holidaying on Singapore. We stayed for two nights at the Legoland Hotel and in that time had easy access to the water and theme parks. We also travelled through Jahor Bahru to the whimsical Hello Kitty Town and saw the amazing shopping centres that attract Singapore locals.
For one evening we travelled out of Jahor Bahru to the Sungai Lebam for a firefly cruise. Far from the dizzying sights and sounds of Legoland we sat in silence, apart from the gentle splashing of the mangroves by a crewman to awaken the fireflies.
Tom and Matilda held fireflies in gentle, cupped hands. We proved that great experiences for kids can contrast. Legoland is full of splendour and spectacle that has your senses reeling by the end of the day. For the firefly cruise, my kids had their senses reeling by just sitting still and watching the flights of light float around them.
As part of this evening adventure we also had an extraordinary dinner at the jetty used by our cruise vessel. The Restoran Bujang Terapung served us some of the best fish and crabs I’ve ever eaten and gave us a tour of the live seafood pens afterwards, including the gentle handling of a huge horseshoe crab which resembled a cross between one of Sigourney Weaver’s aliens and a Roomba vacuum cleaner.
When we leave for Singapore, I talk to our driver, Habib, about my love of Nasi Lemak. All of a sudden we’re off the beaten track and we’re just around the corner from where Habib lives, at his local street side eatery. Minutes later we’re seated around local families he knows well, I have a new baby in my arms from the family sitting next to us and on our table are four huge bowls of cendol, plus a banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak for me and plates of fish batter sausages, deep fried bananas and donuts for the rest of the family. The cendol is the best I have ever had. The savoury mix of corn kernels with kidney beans and the sweetness of the pandan flavoured jelly in the shape of string beans, all mixed together with ice and coconut milk is a delicious treat to be long remembered for the experience and the taste.
If Legoland is your destination then make it your accommodation as well. The hotel is an adventure in itself and access to the theme parks is easy, particularly considering hotel guests are granted access to Legoland an hour before the gates open to the public. You will also have the time to have adventures and experiences around Jahore Bahru that will astound you. If even the Singapore locals go to Jahor Bahru for the shopping that should also tell you something about the worth of having a longer stay in this part of the world.
So, it’s not a black and white decision to just visit Legoland. It is a fabulous, bright, multi-coloured decision that, chosen wisely, will see you experience a wonderful theme park and a beautiful part of the world.
Legoland Malaysia is west of Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor. Fly to Singapore and take a taxi across the causeway to Johor Bahru or fly to Kuala Lumpur and then catch a short flight down to Johor’s Senai International Airport. It is a one-hour drive from Singapore’s Changi International Airport and 20 minutes from Johor’s Senai Airport.
Many airlines fly from Australian capital cities to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, including Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. My family travelled to Singapore from Bali on Tiger Air.
At the Legoland Hotel, all deluxe and suite rooms can sleep up to eight people. All standard and premium rooms can sleep up to five people. An Adventure-themed premium room will cost about $203 and each room has its own treasure hunt, Lego bricks to build (and step on) and all guests have entry to the Legoland Theme Park and Legoland Water Park one hour before the gates open to the public. An adult one-day ticket combo includes entry to the theme park and water park and is RM180 ($A56). A child one-day ticket combo is RM144.
The hotel’s buffet restaurant caters to all ages, tastes and styles while the theme parks have a variety of fast food restaurants and snack bars. Just make sure you save the burgers for after the roller coasters.
For some excellent traditional Malaysian cuisine, try the street stalls throughout Johor Bahru. One highlight is the slightly bizarre cendol, a traditional dessert made with green jelly noodles, ice and coconut milk with added extras on request such as beans and corn.