Where to stay: Legoland California Hotel
Written by M.H. Habata
Although our family lives in greater Los Angeles, we are big fans of Legoland, a theme park geared for elementary school-aged children in northern San Diego County, about a two-hour drive from our home. Other parks like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm are easier to drive to, but few theme parks have so many interactive rides and attractions that appeal to children ages 6-12.
We have been making one or two trips per year for the last three years, but during this past visit (early June), we decided to make it a complete Legoland experience for our family and stay at the newly-opened Legoland Hotel. Although there are other hotels in the immediate area, the Legoland Hotel carries the Lego theming into the design of the building, the common areas like the lobby and restaurant, as well as the individual rooms, which are themed to one of three popular Legoland themes: Kingdom (knights and dragons), Pirate, or Adventure (think Indiana Jones).
Taking a page from the Disney theme parks, one of the benefits of staying at the Legoland Hotel is early access to Legoland California park and exclusive early access to rides in the park for an hour before the park opens. When you check in to the hotel, they give the children lanyards with nametags that say “Legoland Hotel VIP,” which can be used for early access to those rides. However, because we drove to Legoland on Saturday morning, visited the park for only one day, and stayed at the hotel on Saturday night, we weren't able to take advantage of the early ride access.
The hotel is located immediately outside the front entrance to the Legoland park (the whole resort now includes the main Legoland park, an indoor aquarium which is also next to the main entrance, and a water park located at the back end of the park – each park requires a separate ticket to enter). There isn't an exclusive entrance from the hotel, but one can walk out from the back patio of the hotel through a gate and be right outside the main entrance. Legoland placed the hotel along the pathway from the parking lot to the main gate, and as a day visitor, you cannot miss seeing the hotel walking into the park.
Official check-in to the hotel is at 4 pm, so if you are spending your day of arrival at the park, you can register at the front desk, and they will take down your cell phone number and call you when the room is ready. In the meantime, you can check your luggage if you don't feel comfortable leaving it in your car during the day. I would recommend packing a separate bag or backpack with whatever you plan to use at the parks (such as swimsuits and towels if you are planning to go to the water park), instead of waiting to arrive at the park to separate what you want to use that day.
At the entrance to the hotel is a clock tower seemingly made of giant Lego blocks, with four Lego figures at the base of each of the columns and a smoke-belching, roar-emitting Lego dragon sitting in the clock tower looking out from the tower. The exterior of the hotel appears to be partly made of huge Lego blocks of various colors.
Once you enter, there are more Lego figures in the lobby, including a smaller dragon and a female surfer.
The surfer stands above a large play area filled with Lego bricks, which children are encouraged to use to build their own Lego models.
On the wall behind the registration desk are hundreds of Lego figures, which appear magnified by the plastic wheels of a Lego bicycle that rides back and forth.
Up a little ramp is a children's play area which contains a pirate ship that children can climb around in, and a castle play area with an ogre protecting its drawbridge.
According to Legoland's promotional materials, hotel rooms “start at $199,” but it's likely that rate is for off-season or weekday stays. Back in January, I booked our room on their official website for a Saturday-night stay in early June at $269 plus taxes and fees (for a total of $302), but was able to get a better rate in April from the website for about $25 cheaper.
It was probably a matter of the hotel working out the bugs in the system, but I noticed that when I cancelled the earlier reservation and booked the new one, the hotel did not refund the earlier amount to my credit card, and I had to wait on the phone for almost half an hour to resolve the matter with the hotel's customer service. We typically don't stay in hotels that charge more than $150, but we wanted the full Legoland experience for this visit, which was a reward for our children to reach some goals during the school year.
There are three floors to the hotel, and each floor has rooms specific to one theme. The first floor is Kingdom (castles and knights and dragons), the second floor is Pirate (not-too-scary Lego pirates), and the third floor is Adventure (explorers of desert treasures a la Indiana Jones). Besides the regular Themed rooms, there are more expensive Premium Themed Rooms on each of the floors which have “extra theming and Lego features” in the room, but not any additional square feet inside the room.
If you stay on the second or third floors, you will experience (or be subjected to) the Disco Elevator, which has a glittering disco ball on the ceiling and loudly plays songs like “YMCA” and “Stayin' Alive.” Kids seem to love the elevator, but after the fifth or sixth time riding the elevator, adults may start wishing they had brought earplugs.
The rooms themselves are memorable for children because they are designed to make the children feel special. Inside the door is a separate sleeping area for children with a bunk bed and a separate television and two remote controls, as well as a sign on the wall that has some variant of “No Adults Allowed.”
The inside of the room door has two peepholes, one at adult height and one at children's height. There are about a half dozen constructed Lego models decorating the room (each is glued together and glued down to its location), and a large bucket of Lego blocks for the children to play with. Lastly, there is a safe sitting near the entrance which has a combination for children to decode using clues hidden in the room, and inside the safe are small prizes (ours contained two mini Lego figures, a Lego Club magazine, and a bag of chocolate coins).
Besides room service, food is available at the Skyline Café, which has cutaway views of Lego figures inside buildings from a Lego city, and the Bricks family restaurant, which serves breakfast and dinner buffets.
We chose to eat dinner at the restaurant, which served several types of cuisine, such as Mexican, Asian, and pasta, and had a separate buffet island with kid-friendly food items set at a lower height for children to be able to reach food by themselves. There are Lego figures and models throughout the seating area, and the server will also bring out a long coloring paper roll and crayons for the children when they are done with their meal. Like the hotel, the buffet was on the pricey side ($20 for adults and $10 for children for dinner, $17 / $8.50 for breakfast), and my wife and I were not especially wowed by the quality of the food, although our kids enjoyed the whole restaurant experience a lot.
Lastly, the entertainment at the hotel carries over much of the entertainment available inside the park. There is a daily Lego model building contest for children on a different theme each day (like the areas in the park where children can build Lego models), dance parties with Lego characters and interactive sessions with hotel employees in costume (just like inside the park), and showings of Lego tv program episodes (Ninjago, Chima) by the poolside in the evening.
The swimming pool has a large shallow area under 3 feet deep and is perfect for children, and is open from early morning until late at night. The only downside is that there is no Jacuzzi or hot tub for adults.
To sum up, the main attraction of the hotel is that it extends the interactive play elements and Lego theming beyond the day at the Legoland park throughout your entire visit. But because of the relatively high cost of the accommodations, I wouldn't suggest to a first-time guest with children that you stay here unless you are confident that your children would enjoy the additional experience. Like at the Disney theme parks, really young children (under 5) probably wouldn't appreciate (and are too small for) many of the attractions at the park or features in the hotel. But for children in the target age group, maybe 6 to 12 years old, most fans of Legoland (and hopefully their parents and extended families) will have a memorable experience.
Have you stayed at the Legoland Hotel? Please rate it on our Legoland Hotel review page!
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