Pros:Gentle rides and play structure suitable for very young kids
Cons:Some older kids can bowl over the very young
The Bottom Line: Only 1 hour from Anaheim 1/2 hour from San Diego, it's a less crowded alternative to Disneyland.
If you have pre-school kids under 7 years old, Legoland is the place to go instead of Disneyland. It's the only theme park in Southern California that caters especially to younger kids. Someone said it best: "You can still visit Disneyland when the kids grow up, but you have to go to Legoland while they are still young". We were initially apprehensive about whether it was worth the price of admission, but given our experience with our two kids (3 and 5 years old); we highly recommend including Legoland in your Souther California vacation.
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My review consists of the following sections
- Visitor Facts about Legoland
- Where to get discount tickets
- Food options
- What I liked
- What I didn't like
Visitor Facts about Legoland
Legoland is located in Carlsbad, CA. It is about 1/2 north of San Diego and about 1 hour south of Disneyland. It's open daily from 9am to 9pm in the summer but closes earlier during the off-season. Regular admission is $34 for adults and $29 for children 3 and older, but you can get a 2 day pass for $42/$37. Add another $7 for parking your car.
There are numerous hotels within 5 minutes from the park. We stayed at a Residence Inn (about $110 on weekends) but there was housing options ranging from a Quality Inn ($60) to a full scale resort at $250 a night. Beachside condos are also available. I would consider staying in Carlsbad because most people drive down to San Diego from Los Angeles and it's only 1 hour from Anaheim. It's then simple to check in and then drive down south to the San Diego Zoo. The Wild Animal Park is also only about 20 minutes away.
Because Legoland is relatively new, it's not very busy during the weekdays during the winter. That's the best time to go because the lines are short and the weather comfortable (60-70 degrees).
When you enter Legoland, your child has the option of getting measured and getting a wristband that denotes what types of rides he or she is allowed to ride: Either ride alone; Ride with an adult; or not at all. This is an excellent idea instead of having to be measured on all rides. Plus the map is color-coded to your wristband so that you know at a glance what rides your child is allowed to ride. This idea is so good that Disneyland is now starting to do the same thing.
Attractions include gentle roller coasters, boat rides, train rides, play structures, climbing structures and shows.
Legoland is not a simply a place where kids come to play with Legos or adults come to look at buildings and animals built out of Legos. I would categorize it as a massive playground for pre-schoolers and where families can just hang out without worrying about their younger kids getting into too much trouble.
Where to get discount tickets
Many hotels offer discount tickets. I was able to get $25 tickets from the Marriott Courtyard hotel about 5 minutes away (call 760-431-9399 to confirm availability and for directions). So even if your hotel does not offer discount tickets, just drop by the Marriott Courtyard hotel front desk to purchase your discount tickets. This saved my family $25. It also helped me avoid the long lines at the entrance to the park.
This deserves it's own section because the food was a lot better than your typical theme park feed. Besides the usual hamburgers, hotdogs and fries, you had high-end cafeteria type offerings that were reasonably priced. The chicken caesar salad was excellent (with fresh Romaine, not wilted Iceberg) and you could get Philly cheese steaks grilled to order for $7.50. If you run out of cash, the main food court takes credit cards and there is an ATM by the main entrance.
The seating options are numerous. Because the park is new, the benches and tables are all in very good condition and it's nice to sit back by a lunch table to take in the sun and the sights. The official Legoland rules do not allow you to bring food into the park but no-one checked and we didn't have a problem eating food we brought in ourselves. But I'm sure if you brought in your cooler and hibachi; someone would stop you.
What I liked
The best attractions I liked were the ones my kids liked.
There is a boat ride that took you to the various cities that were built out of Lego blocks. (Update: The NYC exhibit built of Legos has been updated to reflect the new skyline)
There are electric bumper cars that very young kids (3 year on up) could ride by themselves. They just need to know how to steer and push the pedal down. Kids 6 years and up have their own bumper cars so they separate the very young drivers from the older drivers.
There is a treehouse climbing structure that is modeled on the Chuck-E-Cheese except it does not have those annoying balls and is suitable for adults to play in too. You climb on rope like nets and get down via slide. Everything is well padded and it had not problem holding my adult weight.
There is a Duplo playground suitable for very young kids where my kids really enjoyed even though it was essentially an upgraded version of standard playground with slides.
There is a train ride and a horse ride suitable for my 2 1/2 year old. There are also some of the "Disney" type rides where you sit in a (boat/train/car) that goes round and you see (dragons/fairy tales/animals) around every corner. There are more adventuresome rides that go up and down fast and the standard roller coaster that goes side by side fast suitable for older kids.
And of course, there are rooms full of Legos that kids can spend building.
Essentially, this is a very gentle place where more active kids can run wild with the faster rides, but quieter kids could build Legos by themselves or ride one of the more gentle rides. There isn't the frantic stuff that comes at your all the time at Disneyland.
Because the lines are not as long, especially during the winter, it is a much more parent friendly place since most of the stress endured by parents is placating kids waiting in long lines in the hot sun.
What I didn't like
I understand why admission to the rides are based on height. But it does seem unfair. My daughter and her friend are 2 days apart in age. But she got to ride in some rides because she is 1 inch taller. This left her friend in tears. Also, there are some kids that are tall but not very mature who I would not "trust" by themselves in the ride. I would prefer an age and height measure, but it's sure hard to enforce age while height is pretty non-disputable.
I would also have preferred a max height limit in addition to a min height limit. Some of the younger kids would have had a lot more fun if the older kids didn't do the stuff older kids do like to do. It's hard when 2 year olds and 7 year olds play together. Someone will always get knocked down. But the nice thing is that many of the older kids don't come to the park or are attracted to the roller coasters and leave the smaller play structures for the younger children to enjoy.
In some play structures, an announcement was given to "Please Stop Running. Running is not allowed". It would have helped to have attendants in the climbing structure helping with the traffic instead of simply making loud announcements over the PA system.
But all in all, these were minor annoyances.
If you have very young kids, consider skipping Disneyland and going to Legoland. Why pay $45 a person when they may not fully enjoy the many attractions that Disneyland has to offer when you can pay $25 and go to a park where both very young kids and parents can enjoy without having to fight with teenagers on every ride.
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