Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Thanks to a little scheduling snafu, my parents arrived at LAX the morning of Laurie's students' violin recital. So Brian and I will drive down to Carlsbad to meet them and Laurie will bring down Natalie later that evening. Smooth driving until I hit the 5, which is its usual gridlock all the way to the Orange County line. Fortunately, Brian snoozes, so I settle back for a couple hours with the delighful Air America on the radio. (And if any Dittoheads want to give me grief for that, remember that you've had over a decade to listen to your drug-addled, draft-dodging, dole-taking windbag Rush and his imitators. I've had Air America for all of what, a week? Hardly equal time. KBLA had a strong signal all the way to Carlsbad and no studio glitches, unlike the first couple days. Anyway, back to the trip report....)
Brian awoke as we arrived at the Grand Pacific Pasilades Resort. (Which, by being in Carlsbad, is nowhere near Pacific Palisades. Be warned, Googlers.) My parents, unfortunately, we stuck in traffic back in San Clemente, as their flight on Song got delayed due to a last-minute plane switch. Guess some maintenance worker found a screw lying on the tarmac, and had to wonder "Oh, where does *this* go?" So, bam, time to switch planes.
While we waited, Brian and I lunched at the Karl Strauss restaurant next door. Pleasant, yet unremarkable, fern bar food. I had the cheesesteak, Brian the hot dog. Or should I say, a bowl of ketchup, using the hot dog as a delivery system. (The voice of Clint Eastwood echoes... "You don't put ketchup on a hot dog!" But, hey, he's three. Whaddya gonna do?)
My parents arrive as we're finishing, and order themselves up some lunch while we chat. Then we're off to the grocery to stock the condo.
The Grand Pacific's an odd facility -- part hotel and part time-share. We had a two-bedroom condo for our stay, as no three bedrooms were available. The resort also offers standard hotel rooms. But what the resort offered most was construction. (Get ready, *this* is gonna be a recurring theme.) A new wing was going up, and crews were touching up areas throughout the property. Construction in a hotel also disturbs me -- I know it must be done from time to time. But it destroys the illusion of tranquility that I want on a vacation. That's why I try to avoid hotels under renovation or expansion whenever possible. Talk to me when you're finished, guys.
If only someone could renovate these beds, though. Better yet, chuck 'em in the bay and make a nice artificial reef. Thanks to the lack of a three bedroom condo, we tried to cram into the two-bed. Mistake. We ended up putting the kids to bed in the second (child's) bedroom, then transferring them to the sofa bed in the living room when Laurie and I wanted to go to bed. (They were the first ones up everyday, so it made sense for them to be in the living room.) That left Laurie and I to suffer with the lilting double beds in the second room. (Grandma and Grandpa got the master.) We're looking forward to our first decent might's sleep of the vacation -- in our own bed, tonight.
The Grand Pacific did offer a nice pool, with a small water playground. And a traditional, castle-themed play area adjacent.
But location stands as this facility's strongest virtue: Overlooking the Pacific and the Carlsbad Flower Fields, with Legoland just steps away across the street.
The next day, we walked over the to park, picking up annual passes for me, Laurie and the kids, with my parents getting two-day ducats. We started with lunch at the Upper Deck Sports Cafe (my parents live on Eastern Time.) Natalie, who refuses to do "kid food," agreed to split the salmon with me, while Brian hit the kids' buffet, with some help from Grandpa. Brian returned with some yummy mac n' cheese, a melon slice, some fries and... a hot dog with ketchup. Guess what he ate?
The salmon, not normally considered a valid theme park entree, surprised me, coming with perfectly steamed rice and some of the best asparagus I've tasted. Natalie and I demolished the fish, while the others ate their reportedly mediocre sandwiches and salads. Score one for Natalie the fussy eater.
And what better way to wrap up lunch than with a ride on the Bionicle Blaster? That's where Natalie ran as I paid. (Lest you think she has an iron stomach, wait for part two.) After that, we relaxed on the Coast Cruise, then wandered through Miniland while we awaited the next Racers 4D show.
Miniland remains spectacular. But some of the brighter colors are beginning to fade in the Southern California sun, so this land deserves some love from the powers-that-be, lest Legoland's signature attraction deteriorate like, oh, say, Disneyland's Main Street or something. But I love finding new subversive details here whenever I visit, such as the phenomenal Afro and the videotaped street arrest. This ain't Disney, folks. And I love it for that.
Natalie skipped Racers 4D with Grandpa, while Brian hauled the rest of us into this three-dimensional celebration of being a prepubescent boy. This film hits every button: race cars, motorcycles, friendly gadgets, the good guy on a skateboard, and the bad guy in the office upstairs. There's even a hug for the hero from the cute girl at the end. But not a kiss. That would be yucky.
Lego knows its market.
We wrapped up the day with a visit to Lego's newest land, Dino Island, which opened two days before. I'd wondered why I hadn't gotten an invite to a press event for this. But when we walked by, I understood.
This land ain't done yet. Or, rather, please tell me this land ain't done yet.
We found the kiddie coaster, Coastersaurus, up and running. And the promised Dig Those Dinos play area crawling with kids.
But there wasn't a blade of grass on this mound of fertilized dirt. And just two (okay, one and a half) Lego dinos to be seen. Hardly the immersive theme and richly detail that we've seen elsewhere from Legoland. If this is all Lego plans to offer here, this will be the park's first major embarrassment, one that will make Disney's disappointing Bug's Land look like the second coming of Seuss Landing [corrected, see below] in comparison.
Coastersaurus desperately needs some theming, because the ride is nothing. To Legoland's credit, operators were sending the train around twice on each ride, making the 35-second quickie a respectable one-minute, plus. But will the park be able to get away with that in the busier summer months? Get some extra Lego dinos in here for folks to look at, quick!
I then dropped a fiver for a couple buckets and shovels and turned the kids loose on Dig Those Dinos. They loved it, though they'd have loved doing the same thing at the beach without the Legoland admission and five-buck bucket rental. At least
Legoland expressed some institutional guilt for the rental fee by giving kids a cheap "Dig Those Dinos" lanyard when they turn in their buckets.
We start with an early lunch in the Fun Town Market. I go two-for-two with the carne asada plate, while Brian had the... take a guess. Natalie stared at some chicken nuggets while Laurie and I debated with my parents whether carbohydrates or high fructose corn syrup is the greater enemy to western civilization. Meanwhile, Natalie sucked down a high-carb, syrup-laden chocolate milk that left her wired like the Electric Parade. (Hey, I didn't buy it for her.)
We tried the helicopters, but found longer lines throughout the park than I'd ever seen at Legoland. This is spring break week for most of Southern California's students, but I knew from experience that Legoland's lines typically thin after two, so we let the kids hit playgrounds for the bulk of the afternoon. They had a blast and we wrapped up the day with some ice cream and rides on the Fairy Tale Brook and the Royal Joust.
The kids feel asleep during dinner at Claim Jumper up the street, and Laurie and I vowed again to split an appetizer and a side salad for dinner next time we eat here. Of course, we make that promise everytime we visit Claim Jumper and always sucuumb to ordering a full meal. Why do I trust a restaurant that uses an entire apple as a garnish?
The Grand Pacific Palisades offers a fabulous location, lousy beds in the kids' rooms, a good pool and playground and beyond that I can't tell you, 'cause it was under construction. Once they wrap it up, though, I'd give the place another look.
Legoland remains the best darn theme park, and the best bargain, for families with kids between ages three and ten. For the price of three days at Disneyland, we get the kids in here all year. By the way, can someone explain to me why anyone would buy the kids' Membership Plus pass, instead of the regular kids' Membership pass? All the Plus pass gets you is a food and merchandise discount with free parking. But if the kid is coming with a parent who has a Plus pass (and the discount and the parking), what's the point of shelling out the extra 40 bucks for the kid?
Will a model citizen online please, please, please tell me that more is to be done with Dino Island? Because I would hate to see Legoland start throwing up crappy attractions to make a buck like every other theme park in the region's been doing for the past several years. Legoland, please, I though you were better than that.
Anyway, the trip's not over yet. After another night's fitful sleep, it's time to caravan northward on the 5 to Anaheim for a mini family reunion and a day at Disneyland. Stay tuned.
Continued in part two: This Pier Ain't Paradise
And Seuss Island? From the editor of the website that voted IOA the best theme park on the planet? Seuss LANDING. Sheesh...
Our model builders are busy getting Miniland Florida designed and built, but there are still some surprises on the way. Thank you for the great reviews. It is exactly what we try to accomplish.
You can expect more great things to come from our wonderful park!
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