If you build it, they will come. Model cities, dinosaurs, people, and even the planet Tatooine from Star Wars. All built brick by colorful brick -- out of several million Lego blocks -- and displayed at Legoland, alongside rides big and small in the middle of sunny southern Carslbad, California. If you’re dazzled by the ability to put blocks together to create giant dragons, miniature Star Wars replicas, or a 10-ft-tall Empire State Building, Legoland will delight you. And if you’re a kid between the ages of 2 and 12, then the rides will be just your size.
Legoland is basically designed in a large loop, and although at 128 acres it’s not as mammoth as, say, some mouse-themed parks, since it’s primarily geared at grade schoolers, a well-built plan of attack will create a much more pleasant day. Here’s a simple strategy that can save you time, tears, and trouble: are you with kids 6 and under? Then head left. Older or no kids? Head right. Read on for more insider tips on how to build a perfect Legoland visit.
5…Junior builders step to the left
As noted, if you have small kids in tow, veer left as soon as you enter the park. Preschoolers will probably be happiest starting off at the first two areas you encounter here, Dinoland or DUPLO Village, where the rides are tame and there are lots of water playground features. However, that’s not where the lines are. So before you settle in anywhere else, head straight to the Sky Cruiser where the lines build fast. Kids and adults work together here to peddle fantastical Lego-themed cars that loop around on an airborne track with views of the rest of the park.
When you’ve finished the ride, head straight across the sidewalk to the hot kid attraction: The “Volvo” Driving School (yes, the cars are boxy looking). Here, kids get to drive cars that are NOT connected to an electronic track and use real gas and brake pedals to maneuver through stop signs and working traffic lights. At the end they get a driver’s license (note, there are versions for sale with your kids’ pic, but they’ll get a free pictureless version at the end of the ride). Finally, at the top of the left arc, hit Pirate Shores and be prepared to get wet on Splash Battle where Lego pirate ships slip through a watery maze while you shoot -- and get shot at -- with water cannons.
4…Master builders step to the right
Starting off to the right in Legoland brings you to the big Kahuna rides at a park that isn’t necessarily known for them. This is where older kids will want to head first. There are no fast lanes, passes, or other front-of-the-line options at the park, so the early bird avoids waiting on the massive lines. Coaster enthusiasts should go straight to Technic, Project X, which is directly to the right and is the fastest ride at the park. Regain your balance, and then cross the walkway to Bionicle Blaster for quick-spinning watery action or the high-speed AquaZone Racers. Now keep going right around the circle where you have two choices: The Lost Kingdom Adventure, where you shoot laser guns and hit targets with your score tallying up in front of you. (Four can fit in a car and it’s a good group activity.) This isn’t a thrill ride, but since kids 42” and up can ride, the lines build to massive levels by noon. If you feel like you still want thrills, make a quarter loop to the top of the Legoland circle and the Knight’s Tournament, a slick piece of ride technology that makes it appear that you’re in the hand of a mechanical giant. Two people per “arm” are hoisted up, and spun like a shield in the sun.
3…For the love of Legos
Are you here for the love of Legos? Then you, my friend, will want to head straight to Miniland USA where busts of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln and more -- fascinatingly rendered in multicolored bricks -- line the sidewalks of this all-Lego miniature displays area. Like the original Legoland in Copenhagen, which was a collection of intricately created cities, the minilands here are all architectural recreations of U.S. cities using millions of plastic pieces. New York City, with skyscrapers taller than the average adult, is a crowd pleaser, as much for model boats operated by remote control in the “Hudson River” as for its building finesse. However, if you have Star Wars fans in tow (which from the crowds seems to be any boy in the 3 to 12 year range), you probably won’t have much time to ogle New Orleans and Washington, D.C. Instead, do not pass go, do not look at the painstakingly puzzled Golden Gate Bridge, and report directly to the platoon of drones immediately to your right as you enter the much-hyped Star Wars miniland. Even if you’re not a Star Wars groupie, you’ll be impressed by the sheer size and detail of the Millennium Falcon, but it will help your enjoyment while you’re viewing the displays if you’re somewhat familiar with the Clone Wars, Tatooine (where Luke Skywalker spent his youth), and Darth Maul’s home of Naboo.
2…Build your perfect…
Inspired to start building your own Elvis head, or maybe something a bit simpler? Then it’s time for the Imagination Zone where you can finally get your hands-on with some Lego building (if you’ve started the Minilands tour at the top of the circle at Castle Hill, it will be at the end, or go directly to the right of the entrance.) Some of the unique building opportunities here include Hero Factory where you can create your own “Hero” figure, the Build & Test model car racing, and a DUPLO play area, with mega-sized building blocks for little hands.
If all of this creative play has built up an appetite, you’re in luck. Legoland is held in high regard for its menus, which offer California-style cuisine and healthy options. Some stand outs include the barbecued chicken and ribs at the Knight’s Table, tasty salads at the Garden Restaurant, and sit-down service at the Upper Deck Sports Café. However, the one item that everyone here seems to be eating is the apple fries: flash-fried granny apple sticks doused in cinnamon and sugar and served with vanilla whipped cream. You’ll find them at the absolute top of the circle, in Castle Hill, which means a lot more walking when you decide (and you will) that you need another batch for the road.
1…Want some water with those blocks?
Legoland has been pushing its perimeters and has built both a waterpark and an aquarium adjacent to their main theme park. This is a perfect Day Two if you’re local or staying in the area, especially since it’s only $10 to add a second day extension to your park pass (day passes start at $59 for kids). Otherwise, if you’re here with the target age group of 2 to 12 year olds, and only staying one day, they’ll run out of steam before you ever hit the massive waterslides, especially since Legoland closes around dinner time. Speaking of additional costs, be warned that each section of the park has one ride with a separate fee. There’s plenty to do without paying for these peripheral activities (ie, miniature golf, which will suck up your time and virtually guarantee you won’t get your day’s Lego’s worth). Steer clear of these and save your cash for the uniquely stocked Lego stores by the exit, so you can continue the building fun when you get home.