The LEGO Inside Tour – a Review
The LEGO Inside Tour. I first heard of it three years ago, and it seemed too good to be true – a Golden Ticket in the Willy Wonka spirit that lets 140 people a year (four groups of 35) tour the LEGO factory, meet the LEGO designers and go behind the scenes at LEGOLAND Billund and the LEGO operation overall. Yep, literally hundreds of millions of people play with LEGO bricks every year and only 140 of them get to see LEGO from the inside. Sign us up!
Actually, we waited three years because the minimum age for the tour is seven, and my son (and the biggest LEGO fan in the family) only turned seven last September. This was the first time he would be eligible. How did we get tickets, you’re asking? Just by going online. In September/October every year LEGO publishes on its website the date when Inside Tour tickets will go on sale for the following summer. It changes every year. Last year tickets went on sale at 1pm (Denmark time) on November 3rd. That meant 4am in California. No problem – I set my alarm, opened up a web browser, and clicked refresh a dozen times until I saw the registration form. I typed as quickly as I possibly could and hit Submit. I hoped for the best.
Three days later I received the magic emails: “Congratulations!” each began. “You made it to the list of participants of LEGO Inside Tour June 9-12.”
So what did the LEGO Inside Tour consist of? Everything! In my recap below I’ll note the highlights, but I’m purposely leaving out some details. There were surprises around every corner, and I don’t want to spoil them for any of you who are so inspired by this post that you get tickets for next summer. Suffice it to say it was a brilliantly-organized three days that gave us insights into every aspect of LEGO. It was extremely impressive how much thought they put into the details, especially because only 140 people a year get to see those details.
After spending two days in Oslo to recover from jet lag, we took an hour-long flight on SAS to Billund and then a five-minute taxi ride to the LEGOLAND Hotel. We arrived to find large packets of information waiting for us, in addition to multiple gifts and two season passes to LEGOLAND Billund with our photos on them. Cool! There were also two bags of LEGO bricks and a building challenge – the first of many building challenges throughout the week. As there were no official activities on the arrival day, off to LEGOLAND we went.
We first visited LEGOLAND Billund six years ago, when we only had two kids (1 1/2 and 3 at the time). We love it – it’s a park with some rollercoasters for older kids, but is largely aimed at younger visitors. There’s a great DUPLO section for really small kids, there are rides for all ages, and there are opportunities everywhere to build with LEGO bricks. And a Tuesday afternoon in early June when European schools are still in session is a great time to go. There were no lines, so we went on several rides over and over. We bought some minifigures. We had lunch. It was a great few hours. One of the things that I love about LEGOLAND is seeing how different it is from Disneyland. There’s a real campfire where you can bake your own bread. Glass bottles? No problem. Dogs? Welcome.
Our first official day of the Inside Tour started with a get-together at the hotel, where we met the other lucky participants (from 11 countries), received name badges and created minifigures in our likenesses to attach to the badges. We then headed off to the LEGO Idea House, which is really a LEGO museum only for LEGO employees. It’s a great museum – telling the story of LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen and how he transitioned from building wooden toys to creating and refining the LEGO blocks. The museum showcased a lot of the current sets and there were plenty of opportunities to build. But the coolest thing was the basement. In a highly-secure library-type setup with moveable stacks, there’s one copy of every LEGO set ever sold. We were able to go back to the very first sets, see (and hold) the initial Star Wars and architecture sets, see the product lines that have come and gone, and drool over all of the sets that simply don’t exist anymore, even on the collector market.
From there we went back to the LEGOLAND Hotel and met with several LEGO designers who told us about how they came to work for LEGO, showed us the sets that they’ve designed, and even showed us sets that haven’t been released yet. That made us drool a little more! They then led us into a building challenge where everyone was split up into teams. Each team had to work together to create an object out of LEGO bricks to solve a specific problem (see, I’m not giving away all of the details!), and it was fun seeing how different each of the solutions was. It was a great chance to get to know others on the tour.
After dinner, there was yet another building challenge. We had access to pretty much every LEGO brick and element and could design anything we wanted. The specific challenge was to create something that would fit well into the LEGO product catalog – something that could be sold at a reasonable price point and would be fun for others to build and play with. My son and I built for a couple of hours, handed in our creations and went to bed. Some people worked on their creations well into the night.
Day Two started with a trip to LEGO Headquarters. We surrendered our phones and cameras and were taken to a presentation room where we saw some of the LEGO products in development. Most interesting was a demonstration of LEGO Worlds – a new online game that allows you to build a world slightly similar to Minecraft but with a definite LEGO feel and LEGO twists throughout. We can’t wait to play it at home!
From there we drove over to the LEGO Factory. Talk about a very, very cool experience! We saw every element of the factory and every stage of the LEGO creation and long-term storage. Highlights were:
- The huge silos holding tiny granules of plastic (technically acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)) that become LEGO bricks and the pipes that take those granules to the molding machines;
- The incredibly heavy, incredibly expensive molds that have been precisely crafted to create every LEGO element – from the standard bricks to the unique parts of various sets (think Ninjago swords or Christmas trees);
- The machines that melt the plastic and inject it into the molds for just a few seconds before a recognizable brick is ejected into a storage box;
- The robots that roam the factory to replace the full storage boxes with empty boxes (based on weight) and transport them to a conveyer system leading to long-term storage;
- The long-term storage facility. It reminded me of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark – an enormous facility with shelving that continued forever – both away from us and up almost as far as we could see. We watched a robot take each storage box, read its bar code, and then decide where to move it for storage. Amazing!
I wish I could post photos of the factory, but as with most of the places we visited we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Just another reason for you to sign up for next year’s Inside Tour and see it for yourself! FYI, in response to all of the emails I get, the LEGO factory in Billund is 65,000 m2 – approximately the size of 11 football fields.
The next stop on the tour was the LEGO campus and the warehouse/distribution center. We took a tour of the facility, had lunch and met with more LEGO designers to see the clay-molding process that leads to the creation of new elements and minifigures. So much fun to see the process and meet the people who have created some of the coolest LEGO elements, including the electronic elements like light-up bricks and Mindstorms. We also had a quiz on LEGO trivia and a very fun unexpected activity that was one of my son’s highlights. I’m not going to say exactly what it was, but let’s just say that we now have a lot of new minifigures at our house.
And our day was only half-over! Next up was a trip to the LEGO employee shop, where we were able to purchase LEGO sets and products at the employee discount. We went crazy! I think we bought 15 or so new sets that are now being shipped to our house. Many, many weeks of LEGO creation will be arriving at our door very soon.
From the employee store we went to a small showroom dedicated to the new LEGO House. This is going to be great when it’s finished – a museum similar to the internal one that we visited the day before, but far larger and open to the public in Billund. The architecture is amazing – the building looks like it’s made of LEGO bricks, and in an incredibly creative, stacked way (see below). The LEGO House will open in the next two years and looks to be well worth a visit – or for us a return visit. Too bad our season passes will have expired by then!
After a short break, we went to dinner inside a closed LEGOLAND Park with even more LEGO designers. I can’t overstate how interesting it is being able to talk to these men and women about the design process and the stories behind the designs (like for the Chima and Ninjago sets). Then after dinner we went back to the hotel for an awards ceremony for the creations that we made the night before. Some of the designs from our fellow participants were amazing! The cool thing was that everyone had the same bricks and elements to craft from and everyone created such different, unique things. My son won a LEGO Star Wars set for his “shooter shark ship”. I was a non-winner, but received a LEGO Superhero set as a consolation prize.
Day Three centered around LEGOLAND. We got to go behind the scenes to see the other side of the rides and meet the designers/crafters who create the large LEGO sculptures in the parks. Very interesting to see the creative process, talk about maintenance and replacement of the sculptures, and see the integration of mechanical elements with some of the creations.
We then had lunch in the park and returned to the hotel for a speech by a LEGO recruiter. After three days of being in the LEGO world and mindset, of course you’re thinking “wow, it would be so cool to work here.” So it was brilliant to close out the tour with a speech about, well, how we could go to work for LEGO. It’s not easy to get hired, and there are a lot of other people worldwide who want to work for LEGO, but the company is growing quickly and hiring. Some of the employees we met had done the Inside Tour years before, so there is definitely an employment path for those who wish to pursue it. I’m a travel writer so I’m moving on, but wow, I’ll always remember these three days. It truly was an extraordinary experience, and if you think it sounds great as well, remember that I’m leaving out some of the coolest elements to maintain the surprise, including a very unique gift at the end. Start checking the Inside Tour website now! And let me know if you get in next year.
Kid Friendly: Very!
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Airline/Routing: United LA-Newark-Oslo and then SAS Oslo-Billund a couple of days later. We departed on a direct Billund to Amsterdam flight on KLM a couple of hours after the Inside Tour ended.
Hotel: LEGOLAND Hotel. Three nights with a park-view room (basically inside the park) are included with the Inside Tour ticket. There would be no reason to want to stay anywhere else. The hotel was great and I fully trusted my son to roam the hotel without me, playing with his new friends or heading to the lobby, screening room or gift store.
Total Trip Length: Four Days
Days of School Missed: Zero (summer break)
Cost: The Inside Tour the year we went cost roughly US$2,200 per person. It was worth it! That included three nights at the LEGOLAND Hotel, meals for three days, wine, LEGOLAND season passes, a visit to the company store where we saved hundreds of dollars using the employee discount, all of the activities/events I mentioned above, and many, many unique gifts, including two truly priceless ones at the end. Plus it was the trip of a lifetime for a seven-year-old, and is way up there on my “coolest things ever” list as well.
November 2017: Hundreds of people are finding this post searching for “Size of the LEGO Factory” compared to the size of football fields. I’m sorry, but I do not know how large the LEGO factory in Billund is. I’ve written to LEGO for an official answer and will post it here as soon as I have it.