Located in Carlsbad, California and opened in 1999, Legoland California was the first Legoland to open outside of Europe. In addition to the Legoland park there is also a Sea Life Aquarium and a Legoland Water Park which each require separate or ‘park-hopper’ admissions.
We first went to Legoland in 2008 and we recently returned in December for another go now that the kids are a bit older. The theming and quality of the rides is pretty close to on par with Disneyland yet it is a little cheaper and a little less crowded that its major competition up the I5. While the park only really has 1 major thrill ride to satisfy big kids, there are plenty of small coasters, a target ride, a pirate themed splash zone, and many other well themed rides to keep kids from age 5 and up to the young teens entertained. And of course, adult fans of Lego (AFOL – there’s actually an official club [www.lugnet.com]) and teenage fans of Lego will enjoy checking out the many Lego sculptures around the park. I would allow 2 full days to see everything.
Where to stay.
Legoland is in the process of building its own hotel on property, but until that’s done there are many choices for places to stay in Carlsbad. Of course, you can choose from many nice resorts by the beach not far away from Legoland, but they are usually priced like beach resorts. If Legoland is your main draw you can save a few dollars by staying staying near the park. The first time that we visited we stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton [homewoodsuites1.hilton.com]. Homewood Suites are great for families because parents get a little privacy with the suite layout, and the full kitchens include a full sized refrigerator. While it is located in a bit of a business park area away from the beach, it is only about a 5 minute drive from the Legoland gates, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets [www.premiumoutlets.com], and a Vons (plus the usual assortment of stores located near Vons).
When we visited in December we stayed at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa [www.sheratoncarlsbad.com]. The Sheraton is everything that you would expect for a Sheraton Resort – it is beautiful, well equipped, and the service is absolutely top notch. Of course, you have pay for what you get but the price that we got was quite competitive so if you can live without the kitchenette at the Homewood, I’d check the prices at the Sheraton first. Oh, and did I mention that the Sheraton is right next to Legoland and has a private entrance for guests? Don’t underestimate the convenience and value of that private entrance – especially when considering the next tip. Hopefully this perk doesn’t get cut off when the Legoland Hotel opens.
Sign-up for Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms are a line of educational Lego robotics sets that include various sensors and motors which can be programmed to perform scripted and intelligent functions. Lego Mindstorms are pretty complex and expensive so participating in the Mindstorms lab at Legoland may be your best chance to play with these sets.
To participate you have to be at least 9 (or at least in Grade 3) and you have to sign up at the Mindstorms lab which which is around the corner to the right of the main entrance. Spots are limited so you’ll want to get there early to reserve a space. On our second day we entered via the Sheraton private entrance and went right to the lab to sign up. The website currently says that Mindstorms is currently closed for renovations but hopefully it’ll be back up soon. The adults in our group found Mindstorms kind of complicated but the kids picked it up right away. And so goes the digital divide….
Bring Swimwear and towels.
Despite the fact that Legoland has a dedicated water park, there are a few water play areas in the main park including a Pirate themed area that includes all of the park’s wet rides plus Soak-n-Sail, a fully wet nets-and-slides climbing area with fountains, water cannons, and a giant bucket of water that fills and spills over everything. The Soak-n-Sail wasn’t open in December (photo below is from August 2008), but the other wet rides are open year round so you will still get wet if you choose to play in that area.
Try the Apple Fries.
Towards the back of the park is a stand that sells Apple Fries. They’re deep fried Granny Smith apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It’s nice that they’re not battered so they aren’t really greasy. Try to get them as freshly fried as possible and avoid the oily whipped topping if you’re counting calories. I think they’re actually better without the topping.
Check For Admission Deals.
The pricing structure for Legoland is interesting in that a restricted annual pass costs less than 2 full day admissions. They often also run deals where you can get a discounted 2nd day with a 1 day pass. The first time we visited Legoland we actually got a 3 day pass from the Costco right across the street from the park for not much more than the price of a 1 day pass. That deal wasn’t available this time.
Instead, on this past visit we were travelling with cousins and we signed up for a birthday party for one of our kids. If you can get 10 or more people it’s an amazing deal [secure.legolandcaliforniaresort.com]. For less than the regular one day admission price you get a full day admission, Lego invitations, a private party area with a dedicated host, generous food and snacks, goodie bags for each guest, a gift for the birthday child, and a front of the line pass! The adult food portions were generous and included pitchers of drinks, fresh fuit, a large bowl of salad, and a large bowl of chips. Certain that we will be planning our next trip around a birthday again.
Take Pictures of Miniland in the Morning
One of the biggest attractions at Legoland is Miniland, where they have very large Lego sculptures of landmarks from major American cities as well as a new Star Wars Miniland. It was never too crowded in the morning but by after lunch it was tough getting nice pictures without having to dodge all of the other photographers. This was especially true in the Star Wars Miniland where you have to crouch down to get the best shots. See my previous post previous Star Wars Miniland post [averagetraveller.com] for pictures.
What To Do When You’re Two
If you’re visiting with very young kids be sure to check out the PDF that Legoland created [california.legoland.com] which describes all of the rides with no height restrictions and activities aimed at the wee ones.