“Dear visitors, these 3D glasses do not protect your eyes against the sun. Please leave them in the bins as you exit.”
Just as we were all cozied up in the dim, air-conditioned confines of the 4D theatre, thinking that this place could almost pass off as Legoland Billund or Windsor if it weren’t for the infernal weather or occasional mosquito, this announcement jolted us out of our daytime reverie.
Ah, welcome to Legoland Malaysia.
Where plastic 3D glasses are a highly-sought after souvenirs.
But I have a soft spot for Legoland Malaysia. I really do.
I recall all the hype that surrounded the miraculous conception of Asia’s first Legoland, in the desolate swamps of Johor. I was there to witness it happen.
An up-and-coming journalist at the time, I recall standing in the middle a LEGO-strewn warehouse, face buried in a notepad as I furiously scribbled down replies from the LEGO model builders (yes, this is a real profession), who were racing against the clock to construct some of the world’s tallest LEGO structures – the PETRONAS twin towers and the KL tower – several months before the theme park’s opening day.
I remember one of these LEGO artists saying: “Malaysians have this perception that anything that is Malaysian-made is inferior…But I don’t want people to see my work and go ‘Alaa, Malaysia tak best’ (‘Alaa, Malaysia sucks balls’). I want to surprise them.”
That was roughly seven years ago.
Now, as we strolled through Malaysia’s very own Miniland, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw the end result of the team’s hard work (it took 600 hours 41,200 Lego bricks and an actual crane to build the KL Tower alone).
Yes, some of these gigantic LEGO models looked drained of color – that’s just the tropical climate living up to its reputation – but seeing a rat free-version of Petaling Street conjured up lovely memories of tattooed Cantonese-speaking vendors who like glaring and spitting in their customers’ directions, while the nearby Hindu or Chinese temple in LEGO looked resplendent.
Some sights are so familiar, it’s hilarious.
I also remember with a kind of rueful fondness how we were here several years ago when our eldest had almost turned 2 and the most exciting time we had was on the LEGO express, a train that can go up to speeds of about 1 kilometer an hour and was filled with sweaty, antsy children.
Our toddler simply wasn’t tall enough – like all Legoland parks, you needed to be at least 90 or 100 cms for most of the rides – for anything else. He spent the entire day in his stroller, staring open-mouthed at all the fun he isn’t allowed to have.
Fast forward several laters and here we are, Mika leading the way with his parents and little brother in tow.
He was happy to go on practically all the rides, including ones that function more like modern-day torture devices by spinning you around or hurtling you into the air. WARNING: Plenty of pictures ahead.
Both our kids absolutely adored the Driving School, even though our youngest was hopeless in it and needed to be rescued multiple times after crashing into the divider (even though the husband and I were both waving our arms frantically at the sidelines and shouting “This is not a bumper car, Ari!”).
They would’ve spent the rest of their time there had we not threatened them with ridiculous phrases like, “Uncle say it’s closing time! Let’s go before they shut the whole place down and you get stuck here forever, with no food or bed!” (although their faces lit up for a second when they heard the phrase ‘stuck here forever’).
Since it’s almost blazingly hot here any time of the year, there are also several indoor attractions, including but not limited to the Star Wars Miniland, which is pretty self-explanatory…
The LEGO Academy, which Asian parents are a big fan of because it offers daily ‘educational’ workshops for 6-year-olds and above, by teaching them how to design and control their own robots…
And – our sons’ favorite – the Test & Drive, where you can painstakingly build your own cars only to see them disintegrate spectacularly before your very eyes as you race them down slopes (obviously our little ones will never grow up to be builders of any sort).
We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that the toilets in Legoland did not possess the same qualities that defined public toilets in other parts of Malaysia. There are zero skid marks on the toilet bowl, the floors didn’t have suspicious-looking brown goo all over them and you didn’t have to sprint in and out of the cubicles with watery eyes, holding a tissue to your nose.
By golly, clean public toilets actually exist in Malaysia!
And instead of a walking-and-waving LEGO brick as a mascot (see my Legoland Billund post), Legoland Malaysia has Batman – in LEGO, of course. The kids would’ve sneaked him into their pockets if he wasn’t so massive.
We had lunch in Pizza Mania, a pizza-and-pasta joint that was actually a lot better than its Danish counterpart. There are no free breadsticks here (because God knows some Malaysians then won’t eat anything else) but, while it had the same mucky white sauce, the pasta – and pizza – was a lot tastier.
But then it’s deja vu all over again. As you as you start thinking how wonderful Legoland Malaysia is because here – and FINALLY! – in our midst is a world-class attraction, you stumble upon a ride that’s ‘Closed for Maintenance’ or a section that looks like it hadn’t been swept / tidied up since 1921.
And this brings you crashing down to earth – or rather, Legoland Malaysia.
Legoland Malaysia Resort Located right next to the the dry and wet themepark (it’s less than a 5 minutes walk to both), this hotel is a pricey but convenient option, with round-the-clock activities but mediocre restaurants. Themed rooms can fit up to 5 people. $$$$
Hotel Jen Puteri Harbour Cheaper but decidedly more generic, Hotel Jen provides a reliable stay if you’re not planning on spending a lot of time in the room. Its location on the Puteri Harbour also means that you’re only a five minutes drive from Legoland and a short stroll to several restaurants. There’s also a (small) rooftop pool and fitness centre. $$
- Legoland Malaysia consists of two different theme parks – a wet and dry one. Its latest attraction Sea Life Malaysia, a LEGO-themed aquarium, is scheduled to open this year, and presumably requires a separate entry ticket. Watch out for seasonal offers online.
- If you’re driving to the theme park, be sure to park in Legoland Malaysia Resort instead of the outdoor carpark for a breezier entry. Costs are steep (RM50) but it’s only RM10 if you spend RM50 on merchandise from the hotel.
- You can see the park comfortably in one day. Start with the outdoor attractions first, before proceeding to the indoor attractions / covered play areas when it gets unbearably hot or rainy and – trust me – it will.
- A HERO Access Pass (a Fast Pass) is available but you don’t need it because the park is (usually) blissfully crowd-free even on weekends.
- LEGO Academy workshops are held throughout the day, every day, but you need to register for your preferred time slots in advance. Each workshop takes approximately 45 minutes, and there is an unassisted DUPLO building section to occupy little ones while they wait for their older siblings.
- Legoland Malaysia is located in Nusajaya, which is a good 25 minute drive from Johor Bahru, the capital of Johor. Food options are limited – and uninspiring – in Nusajaya if you’re staying for more than one night, but there are many cheap local eateries (Teck Sing for their famous paper baked chicken, Tien Lai for seafood, etc) in the capital if you’re up for a drive.
- Those staying for more than 2 nights will be hard-pressed to find anything worth their time in Nusajaya. There is Thomas Town and Hello Kitty Town, an overpriced indoor play area for young ‘uns, but that’s about it. Those who willing to venture further afield, however, will find other forms of entertainment – state-of-the-art cinemas, ice-skating, rock-climbing and an arcade centre in Johor’s Paradigm Mall, Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark and shopping at Johor Premium Outlets.