Robert Niles' 'Inside Scoop' on Legoland California

Legoland California: Theme Park Insider's editor offers his take on Legoland California.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 20, 2004 at 1:49 PM
[Over the past two years, I've had the privilege of reviewing local theme park attractions for a certain major newspaper in Southern California. However, the nature of the daily newspaper business dictates that we review attractions only when they open. That leaves many significant local theme parks without a review.

So I am taking this opportunity to "back fill" and publish my reviews of other theme parks and attractions here on Theme Park Insider. Today, I begin with my favorite local theme park, Legoland California.--Robert]

Ah, so *that's* Prince Charming's secret: a cell phone.

Why not? Wouldn't a fast call for help have made swift work of getting past the dragon and into Sleeping Beauty's castle? Such flows the imagination of quick-witted kids who insist on challenging the stories grown-ups tell them. As well those of the creative minds behind Prince Charming's "Fairy Tale Brook" and other whimsical sights at Legoland California.

This is not a park for those who demand reverence for established formula. Legoland built a theme park the way Jay Ward and William Steig tackled fairy tales. With skepticism and cheeky humor that ultimately help craft a work of intelligence and warmth.

Bathrooms sport male and female icons with crossed legs and bit lips. Faux boulders strewn across a lawn croon "We Will Rock You." The eponymous toys reduce even menacing figures like skeletons and demons to farce. How scary can a troll be if he's made from the same toys littering the bottom of your closet?

Legoland's creations are at once that accessible... and not. Their scale and detail push them outside the ability of almost all visitors to recreate. Which only adds the wonder with which a patient and inquiring visitor will examine them. A New Orleans street scene in the Miniland section of the park awes with its detail. Look, there's Cafe du Monde, with little figures sipping cafe au lait as a funeral procession marches past St. Louis Cathedral. Who could possibly have the time and discipline to build this?

Yet Legoland's Master Builders have not limited their work to the park's stages and pedestals. It lurks also in the periphery -- where ducks float in a humble stream, birds perch on a store roof and monkeys pose in the rafters above the Safari Trek queue. An attentive walk through Legoland California takes a visitor down an amusing stream of consciousness, peeking into the imagination of creative wits who craft their fantasies brick by brick.

Don't treat this place as a museum of Lego, however. It remains a theme park, with rides and attractions that demand a refreshing level of actual participation from visitors. The Driving School might be the most interactive attraction at any theme park. Kids between the ages of six and 12 drive their own single-seat cars on a street grid, left to steer, stop and follow traffic lights on their own. No rails to hold these cars on track, as at Disneyland. It's up to the kids to take responsibility to keep this ride from degenerating into Lego Bumper Cars. And they do. Sure, a few scofflaws blow through a stop sign -- just like in real life. But most kids rise to the challenge and earn a little pride along with their theme park thrill.

The Kid Power Tower replaces the motors and lifts that power most drop rides with... a pulley. Kids and their parents haul themselves up the tower for a quick glimpse at the nearby Pacific Ocean, before dropping gently back down. Pedal power helps move the Sky Cruiser around an elevated track. And the elaborate Hideaways playground invites rambunctious kids to climb, slide and crouch through over and around its nets, slides and tunnels.

Toddlers ages three and younger will find little to do at Legoland California, alas. Most rides have some height requirement, barring smaller kids from riding. Nor will many roller coaster-loving teens and childless adults find forty dollars' worth of enjoyment in a day here. Only those with a passion for Legos will find a visit worth the investment.

But families ought to move Legoland California to the top of their theme park vacation lists. Even parents will enjoy the blending of dark ride and roller coaster on The Dragon and high-speed effects in the Racers 4-D movie. And they will especially cherish the joy and satisfaction their kids will show during a day at the park.

Disney fans who have bemoaned the increasingly strident marketing and deteriorating quality up the road at Disneyland now have an alternative. How long would it take Disney's management to free up the funds necessary to restore that company's flagship park if thousands of California dropped their Disneyland annual passes in favor of Legoland memberships?

Even if Disney balks, those who make the switch will remain the better for it. Legoland California is an overlooked gem among American theme parks.

Visiting Legoland California:

Legoland is located just off Interstate 5 in Carlsbad, one hour south of Disneyland. Take the Cannon Road exit and proceed east, following the signs. You can find reviews and room rates for local hotels on our Carlsbad hotels page.

As with all theme parks, get there early. This is especially important at Legoland, as the park often closes early. Midnight closings just don't happen here. The park also closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the school year.

You can also forget about any sophisticated visiting strategy. If your kids are ages 3-8, go left at the entrance, starting with the Safari Trek and making your way around the park clockwise. If your kids are ages 8 and up, go right. Start with the AquaZone Wave Racers and then continue counterclockwise through the park. In addition to those two rides, only the Kid Power Tower, Sky Cruiser and The Royal Joust see significant waits during the day. Better to suffer a few waits than try to drag kids back and forth across the park, however. If the crowds get too heavy, Legoland's been known to go to a ride reservation system for the Power Tower and Sky Cruiser.

The Upper Deck Sports Cafe, near the Technic Coaster, offers the only table service dining in the park. Others dining options are "station service" cafeterias or walk-up stands.

Legoland offers family restrooms throughout the park, and changing facilities in every restroom. While the park itself offers almost full access for the disabled, many individual attractions, including the Driving School, cannot accommodate kids with disabilities.

Look for deals at Southern California Costcos and various fast food chains, which have offered deals ranging from $5 off to half-price tickets in recent months. Legoland offers its annual pass on a monthly purchase plan -- $9.95 per month for adults and $7.95 for kids ages 3-12. (A 12-month commitment is required.) These passes have no blackout dates and include free parking.

From Justin Crast
Posted January 21, 2004 at 5:40 PM
As an MC at Legoland, thanks for the review.

I'm surprised Kid Power Tower had a long wait when you visited, since that ride usually has one of the shorter waits in the park since when it does get busy, another tower can be opened until all three are opened which is rarely necessary. Maybe you got there during a busy point and it was right before a 2nd tower was opened.

Sky Cruiser definitely gets up there in wait time though, the longest in the park. I believe that should be helped during the Summer when "Dino Island" (which will include the Coastersaurus Jr. coaster, the Dino Dig excavation site, and the Rapter Splash water baloon launch station) and the Funtown Fire Academy (which will be one of the most unique and interactive rides in the United States) open. Currently, Sky Cruiser attracts a huge number of guests on that side of the park. With both Dino Island and FTFA, I think the crowds should be dispersed more equally, thus lowering the wait up at the Ridge with Sky Cruiser. Something similar happened years ago when Aquazone and Technic Coaster were built, relieving major stress of the Dragon. This type of stress is currently very easy to see in Disneyland as well with Space Mountain and THunder Mountain down, you get longer waits at the surrounding attractions and longer waits at similar thrill attractions such as SPlash Mountain, Indy, or Matterhorn.

But anyways, thanks for the review. Most reviews on teh web are out of date and it was nice to get something current.


From Robert Niles
Posted January 22, 2004 at 12:00 AM
I forgot to mention that I'll be updating the reviews I write on TPI as attractions are added/closed/changed, etc. So I'll be back this summer to take a look at Dino Island and the other new additions at Legoland.

(There's a chance that I might write a review on some of them for that paper I mentioned, in which case I'll just add a link on this page to that review.)

I'll defer to your experience on the waits at the Power Tower. As you guessed, the two times I've walked up the hill, only one tower's been open.

From Paul Hartwell
Posted March 23, 2004 at 11:00 AM
Rather than review the rides individually, I thought I'd drop in here with my general impressions after a few years of frequent attendence at Legoland California. My family had held season passes since year two I believe and my children are now 8 and 4.

First of all, Legoland is to be applauded generally. This is a beautiful and unique park, the grounds are wonderful and immaculate, the paths are wide, the staff are abundant, courteous and helpful. We love the shows, we love the free play areas, and of course we love the central mini-land exhibit... simply extraordinary.

For parents and grandparents with very young children, Legoland will make for a perfect day. I swear we have had trips to the park where all we did was turn the kids loose around the water play area, the lego building area or any of the playground areas, they are that engaging.

OK, so that being said, unfortunately the honeymoon ends at a pretty early age. Maybe we burned them out with so many visits (my youngest since before he could walk) but even my 4-year old has had enough. One big hang-up to having more fun at the park is the seemingly ridiculous height restrictions on some very, very, VERY! tame rides. The other hang up are the rides with very slow load times which make for long waits for very short (and did I mention tame?) rides. To be fair, Legoland does not purport to be a thrill-ride heavy amusement park; just sayin' is all.

Still, I would rate the park experience overall as an 8 or 9 out of 10... the good of it is THAT good. But for older children it could actually be kind of a drag or a comedown if there were expecting anything else.

From Jeff Arons
Posted March 23, 2004 at 11:55 AM
There's some kick-ass lego place in Downtown Disney that has these kick-ass lego sculptures...this is off topic but it has to do with legos.

From Robert Niles
Posted April 7, 2004 at 7:56 PM
Legoland has renamed the Castle Hill section of the park Knights' Kingdom. (Time to update those listings, grrrr....)

More to the point, I just returned from a visit to check out the new Dino Island. Read the details in Lego's Dreadful Island: A Trip Report.

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