Brick by Brick
When I was 6 or 7, I received a giant box of Legos as a gift. I want to say it was a Christmas gift, but my memory fails me in remembering exactly when I received it. It was a large, white, flat box, maybe 2' by 3' and 2-3 inches high. The box had a plastic window, but was still very sturdy, and revealed a plethora of Lego building bricks when flipped open. It was short enough to fit under my bed, after I had finished playing, but the bricks inside kept me building and re-building for hours.
I remember that this set included not only roofing pieces, but windows that had removable shutters. Compared to today's toys that do everything for a child, it is hard to believe that was a delightful surprise. I remember being so excited that I could build a 'real' house, and wish I had held onto it for our kids.
They have their own sets, but there is something special about sharing your toys with your children, even if they are stored in a battered and bedraggled old box. Given that they are from Lego, the shiny bricks would probably look as though I had purchased them yesterday, and the kids wouldn't know the difference, but...
Despite my love of the toy, I was clueless about the existence of a play land constructed around the simple toy. I don't remember thinking about it until we were in Iceland, and then began musing that we should get there while the kids were young. We tried to plan many a trip to either Denmark or England, and neither one ever worked out. It certainly didn't help that the Legoland in London closed for the winter (the nerve!) or that we never actually made it out of the airport in Denmark.
When we learned of our move to San Francisco in 2008, we figured we would just add the trip to the list. Not only was it not that far away (just 8 short hours), but given that Peter has immediate family working for the company, it seemed inane to pass up the opportunity. And having been there, I can only say that I wish we had gone sooner, and I hope we will revisit soon. We did not do it all, or even come close, but we all had such a great time. And, any place that offers waiting areas for rides with building stations gets an A+ in my book!
Legoland is not Disneyland and does not open at the crack of dawn, nor does it close at midnight. The hours are (in our opinion) European-style and quite reasonable...unless you are trying to complete the park in one day. We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and walked out not long before the park closed. Despite our best efforts to see a bit of everything, I don't think we really 'did' more than half of the park, if that.
Perhaps our mistake (if you can call it that) was starting in Mini-Land. Oh, after we stopped (well, paused) to see Santa and Thomas. Part of Nicholas's new-found interest in trains includes Thomas, and he could not pass up a chance to see/touch/try to climb all over him (despite giant signs shouting, "DO NOT CLIMB"). We cut him a break this time seeing as how he hasn't quite started with the SRA lessons, and thankfully the Lego police were nowhere to be found.
Miniland = Fantastic. Simply no words to describe the little land that they continue to build upon. From the cable cars to the Golden Gate to Vegas, Washington and New York City. It is absolutely amazing, and one could probably spend half a day just engrossed in the small world of colorful, plastic bricks. Nicholas loved it (in case you can't tell) and we were thankful that the small metal garden fence held him back (just barely).
We headed into the Imagination Center after finishing Miniland. Peter and I were dizzy just watching Caitlin and Kelsey on the Bionicle Blaster (think Tea Cups from Disneyland, but made out of Legos), and this was one those moments that all of the sibling bickering became worth it. Even though Caitlin was shooting looks at me from the ride (guessing Kelsey looked in her direction), they still had each other, and none of those "Who will I ride with?" worries.
We followed along the trail and visited the Land of Adventure. Cargo Ace was a hit with Nicholas, while the girls preferred the jarring drops of the Beetle Bounce. Nicholas and I lasted about five minutes in Pharoah's Revenge as the 500 balls per minute flying at my face lost its allure pretty quickly. He thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Peter distracted him with a better option: food.
The park food was decent, and I would even consider my salad to have been tasty. Gordon Ramsay, I am not, but far better than the park fare I remember as a kid. The kids each found something they liked, and Nicholas made short work of his fish fillets, which were supposedly hand-crafted from Icelandic cod. I am sure it probably was Icelandic, but when you know exactly what fresh Icelandic fish tastes like, mmm, not quite the same.
By the time we finished lunch, it was nearly 2 p.m., and the shadows were getting longer. As it is now pitch-black by 5 p.m., we knew we had to be quick or miss out on a lot. We tarried for a bit in Castle Hill, pausing to let the girls ride the Royal Joust (Caitlin regretted as it was "too young" for her mature self), and play for a few minutes on the Hideaways. Funtown followed and was a hit with the the Factory Tour and a Fire Dada (truck) built out of life-size Legos!
We raced to the Sky Cruiser that is routed over Funtown, and endured our first true wait of the day: 30 minutes for a 5 minute (at best) ride. We powered our brightly, multicolored cars on a track while Peter attempted videos from below. Both girls enjoyed the ride, but it was over way too quickly. We ended the day with a tour of Explore Village for Nicholas, while the girls and I headed to the Coastasaurus on Dino Island. We couldn't pass up the store, but didn't acquire much other than the Christmas Village (which I am under order to begin as soon as we return home), and a Bob the Builder set for Nicholas.
The end? It was the end of our day at Legoland, and probably sounds a bit too idyllic for us. Honestly, it really was a good day. We started it off right with (large cup of coffee for me) and just went from there. Yes, there was a weak moment, but not until the end of the day at the cash register when I heard the words "I want" and "but she's getting" about key chains and candy just one time too many and briefly snapped. All in all, not bad for a 7 hour day at a theme park.
Now how did we get that happy, happy, joy, joy day (minus the key chain business?)? Here a few tips, should you decide to go:
- Do not be afraid to go in the winter (it's San Diego, you won't freeze), as you will be fairly sure to eliminate the kids desire to swim in the water areas (this means less stuff to lug around, and no wet bums in the car, a bonus!) and an emptier park (not empty, just not as full).
- Bring the carrier AND the stroller if you have a toddler. I love schlepping Nicholas in the Ergo, but he sometimes prefers to nap in the Bob, and, if nothing else, there was a place to stash the backpacks and such while we were on rides.
- Lower your expectations! Seriously, I just wanted to get through the day (at first). I was excited, but tempered it as sometimes too much excitement leads to crankypantsness. Don't expect to get it all finished, and be happy with what you accomplish. This is especially true if you have a wide age range in your group.
- Expect to spend money. It's a theme park, folks. I wouldn't recommend going overboard in the stores (you can get most of it anywhere), but don't beat yourself up if you go a tad over budget.
- Be the first ones out! Preferred parking rocks, and gets you out quickly at the end of the day.
- Save money on the tickets, to assuage guilt on other purchases. Kids under 3 are free, and free tickets for older kids seem widely available. Look and ye will likely find.
- You really aren't supposed to bring in food (unless you have food issues...do rules count?), but water bottles and snacks will go unnoticed, so take what you need within reason.