The venue is the STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon. I've never been there before, having no interest in steam trains and (thankfully) having children who are not fussed about them either. I was really impressed with the size and layout of the museum. It's definitely a place you want to go if you like old trains. It's right next to a designer shopping outlet so there's something for everyone... well, everyone who likes old trains or shopping. Oh, and parking is plentiful, nearby and just £1 - bargain.
The show itself was really good. I went with a friend and our 3 children, aged 9, 9 and 4. I have not seen my 9 year son as excited as that since we took him to Legoland for his birthday when he was 8. The first group of models we saw were mostly of Harry Potter scenes and they were just incredible. One woman told us her model took a year to build and I can well believe it. The attention to detail the builders gave their models, and their imagination and innovation when building them was impressive. It impressed me, and I don't 'do' LEGO, so you can imagine what the kids were like. The builders were very friendly and happy to talk to us about how and why they had built things they way they had. The boys got some great ideas.
The main hall had a huge array of all sorts of different types of models and they were all fantastic. There was also the chance for the children to make a mosaic panel and do a bit of building of their own. My favourite model was the Yoda with the light sabre that lit up, but the robot that moved and the massive cathedral at the front (sorry, can't remember which one it was a model of) also stand out. The introduction of LEGO minifigures adds a good dimension. Where else will you see a cowboy, a clown, and a cheerleader in church with an alien, a detective and an explorer?
Lego mosaic. Our panel is up in the top left somewhere.
The last part of the show was, of course, the shop. It's not your usual LEGO shop, but independent retailers selling LEGO. There's a good mix of used and new LEGO and the kids were incredibly happy with their purchases. I was happy as both of mine spent less than £10 each and got a lot of different bricks and pieces they put to use straight away.
If you're planning on going next year (it's on 6-7 Oct in 2012):
- Book your tickets in advance if you plan on getting there when it opens. We arrived about 10 minutes after the doors opened and walked past a queue of over 100 people. Well worth the £4 booking fee.
- take a camera
- don't expect to sit down for a few hours. There's no real seating as you go around. My 4 year old got a bit overwhelmed with all the people, colours and noise in the main hall, so we had to sit on the floor in the corner for a while with a restorative Mars bar. I don't mind sitting on floors, but you might.
- Talk to the people who built the models. They are justifiably proud of their creations and happy to share building tips and details with visitors.
- Visit the shop first. It was uncomfortably full by the time we got there at around 12pm, and there were places where it was impossible to move.
- Watch out for the tables and cloths in the main hall area. The tables were not always sturdy, particularly with hoardes of enthusiastic children trying to get as to the models as possible without touching. They were also covered in cloths that were too long and puddled on the floor. It was easy for children to tread on them, pulling the cloth towards them and threatening the models.
- Be prepared to watch younger children like a hawk. Consider recording the phrases "Don't Touch!!" and "Stand BACK!" to replay at frequent intervals