My husband and I have amusement park-phobia. (There must be a scientific name for that. For now, I’ll go with the clunky made-up version.) When we travel, we prefer to head to destinations in the middle of nature, with as few other people around as possible. Now that we have two young children, however, entertainment and conveniences are much more necessary. Stick a ton of both of those things in one place, jack up the price, and poof! You have an amusement park.
We live in Los Angeles, where there are a lot of amusement parks to choose from if that’s what you like to do. Fortunately, there is a close-ish park designed with little kids in mind, and that is Legoland. When I thought of Legoland in the past, I often wondered “Why Legoland?” I mean, what a weird thing to build an amusement park around. But I guess a talking mouse is just as weird, and since that whole franchise has been around longer, nobody questions it.
Our little family was joined by 5 other families at a very gracious event hosted by Legoland and its new attraction, Sea Life Aquarium, on a sunny summer day at the height of the season. So, not only is there an amusement park that features Legos, but there is also an aquarium. Who knew?
We gathered for breakfast at the aquarium’s cafe (where there is a fish tank right there that features public feedings)and took a short tour led by Dirk, an aquarist at Sea Life.
He led us through the shark tunnel and behind the scenes to where the divers enter and feed the fish. He pointed out that the aquarists themselves have to enter the tanks to scrub the algae off of the very clever Lego sculptures that share the tanks with the fish. “We even do windows,” he said.
The kids, who ranged from 16 months to 12 years, seemed enthralled by the aquarium exhibits, which were designed with children in mind, and even had windows in the tanks at eye level for the shorties. There were also tanks that the little ones could climb up underneath and view from a globe window within.
Once we emerged from the aquarium, after vowing to return to get out of the hot sun, we headed off to conquer Legoland. The family groups split up our day at the park, but the family we were with are accomplished amusement-park adventurers, and they were raring to go. I was instantly impressed by the following courtesies offered by this park:
-lots of shade: on a sunny SoCal day, this is key
-rides designed for little kids, and many rides the whole family could enjoy together, like the boat tours
-the kid-centric design of the park meant a friendly, patient crowd of other visitors
-plenty of stroller parking
-Legos to play with while we waited in lines, and some rides actually had separate play areas for lines
-a guide to height and age requirements for each ride, right on the park map, so you can prepare yourself emotionally for denying the 2-year-old his faux pony ride
-shaded Lego building stations here and there
-several rides and play areas featuring water – although they soaked the kids which required a wardrobe change, it was helpful and cooling
Restrooms were clean and easy to find, and food was plentiful and there were some good healthy options. A child in our party has food allergies, and the staff paid very special attention to ensure the child and her mother that her food would be safe and tasty. Knowledgeable representatives are found at every food station in the park. Ice cream is not optional for our kids – it’s a great motivational tool – and Legoland did not disappoint. After lunch, as the kids ate their scoops, we lounged in the shade of an umbrella table and watched a fun skit in Castle Hill.
Many Los Angeles families say they make the 2+ hour drive down and back to Legoland on the same day as they visit the park. This can definitely be done, especially if you’re driving back up after the park closes at 8pm and you don’t hit traffic. The kids snooze in the backseat, you have a clear road ahead of you, and you avoid hotel charges. But if you’re not that intrepid, there are plenty of lodging opportunities in the area. We stayed at the Sheraton Carlsbad which is adjacent to the park and actually has a special access entry to the park between Castle Hill and Pirate Shores.
We went on almost every ride. It’s hard to believe, but we did it! Our favorites were the ones the whole family could enjoy together, like Lost Kingdom Adventure, an Indiana Jones-like jeep ride through a maze of Lego sculptures shaped like menacing enemies, in search of treasure. We each got a laser gun and every target hit got us more points. (Daddy won.)
The kids marveled at the cool Lego people and buildings that are scattered among the rides, especially the interactive ones. In Explore Village, Water Works is a row of larger-than-life Lego instruments. They are rigged so that when you stand on a circle in the ground that corresponds with each one, that instrument plays music and water comes out of it. With a bunch of people joining in, you have a full band playing.
Some of the attractions actually cost additional money, like a harnessed tree climb that cost $3.00 per person, which struck me as odd considering the fact that you pay admission at the gate. But we managed to avoid any whiny requests for such things, and left the park with only a few souvenirs. Of course, those included some Legos.
Even though the park is pretty big and regular people could not possibly visit every attraction in one day, our friends managed to get us through the whole thing. We went counter-clockwise through the park, which seemed to be against the stream of the majority of visitors, and that brought us to Safari Trek at the very end. Another jeep ride through a wilderness of Lego animals, the ride was shady and cool in the setting sun, and was the perfect relaxing ending to a hectic day.
Overall my impression was that the answer to “Why Legoland” is, duh, to sell more Legos. Specifically, to sell the Star Wars and Bionicle and other kits in a box. Many of the store outlets within the park contained a heavy concentration of these themed kits. One store did have a cool display of bins of bricks separated by color, which is what I would have purchased if my kids showed a huge interest in them.
Speaking of my kids, our adventure at Legoland brought out their idiosyncracies: the 4-year-old discovered he does NOT like roller coasters, while the 2-year-old declared his first coaster ride “Awe-thome!” with two raised arms. Also, the 4-year-old was not into Legos at all because they didn’t have any Lego solar systems, his obsession, while the 2-year-old clutched a set of 3 Lego pirates and ran out of the store, forcing me to buy it.
The whole experience calmed my fear of amusement parks and even had my husband saying that we should go back to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. Speeding through all the rides, we definitely missed certain parts of it that seem fascinating. We’ll be back.