Does Legoland California, on 126 rolling acres in San Diego County, California, really mean it when they say that Surfer’s Cove, the newest addition to the theme park’s Water Park area, opened in June is for kids “ages 2 to 12?”
C’mon, get real. Who’s going to drive the kids to the park and pay for an overnight stay at the television series-inspired Ninjago Hotel? That’s going to be you. Who’s going to put on a bathing suit and challenge the eight-year-old twins to a thrill-a-minute contest on the just-built Riptide Racers water slide? Who’s going to sample the Wipe Out Lagoon ride? That’s you, too, holding back just a little, so the kids can win.
Chances are you’ll be the one who buys lunch at Beach Street Tacos, then retreats to a chaise in the shade to beat the heat. The one who’s oblivious to what some people might call chaos: kindergarten kids splashing in the Joker Soaker pool, moms pushing toddlers in strollers, three-year-olds playing in the Splash Zoo and an endless chorus of happy shrieks as dozens of parents and grandparents suspend the notion of grown-up rules and – like everyone visiting Legoland – relax and let the kids be kids.
Legoland California is probably not on your bucket list. It certainly wasn’t on mine. But after my own overnight in the Ninjago Hotel – among dozens of fantasy sculptures built out of hundreds of thousands of Lego blocks and dozens of excited, chattering kids and parents – I’ve been enlightened.
Not your usual theme park, Legoland’s nine themed areas are connected by landscaping and a maze of paths accessing 60 different attractions. These range from thrill rides to learning exhibits and restaurants, all built out of the world’s best-known plastic toy, rectangular blocks so famous they’ve inspired films, Youtube videos and fans. And it isn’t just for kids.
Legoland is, actually, a parent’s best friend.
What other public entertainment venue can you name that promotes itself to adults but is geared up for kids? A place where mom and dad don’t have to say, “Don’t run,” or “sit still,” or “stop yelling; it’s bothering those people,” because “those people” are parents, too?
In the Ninjago Hotel, kids rushed into the elevators, ran down the corridors and pointed out every famous Lego block representation of Kai, Nya, Jay and Skylor. They chose their own food at the child-height buffet and went back for seconds. Dropped spaghetti and spilled milk attracted no attention, other than a smile from the waitress who mopped it up and offered to bring seconds.
Indeed, the atmosphere was so free-spirited and tolerant that it encouraged camaraderie. In lines, on rides and in the hotel, couples said hello, exchanged names and asked each other’s children’s ages. Dads talked about building swing sets and buying bicycles and moms compared neighborhoods, pre-schools and piano lessons. Families who discovered they lived near each other made plans to meet again.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Lego blocks, invented 83 years ago, were the product of a similar mind-set. In 1934, Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, began to make wooden toys and blocks, which he sold under the name Lego, a word derived from “leg godt,” (meaning play well). Business was so good that he began experimenting with plastic blocks. In 1958 he opened a factory making the plastic blocks still sold today.
When the Lego block sculptures he displayed at his factory (and sold as kits) attracted so many sightseers there wasn’t room to hold them all, Ole decided to build a park to show off what Lego blocks could build, opening it in 1968 near Copenhagen.
As Lego’s popularity grew, sales spread worldwide. By 1980, when the first of the millennials were born, Lego blocks had found their way into nearly every American home. No wonder that for today’s millennials, now raising children of their own, a visit to Legoland California is a home-coming.
For most parents, the Ninjago Hotel is even more overwhelming, its interior a visual whirlwind of sculptures made of thousands of multi-colored blocks. From the reception hall to the guest rooms, every wall evokes memories of Lego kits tucked under long-ago Christmas trees and weekend afternoons building battleships and mini-doll houses. No wonder that Legoland – and Disneyland, too – have found such a ready audience.
If it’s a hot sunny day when you arrive, buy a separate Water Park ticket and plan to spend the day at Surfers’ Cove, sampling the different water features. The kids can do some on their own, but others either permit or require parent participation, with listed height and weight restrictions. Four of these start near the 45-foot tall Tower, built in the middle of a large wading pool.
The Orange Rush, a family-size slide down a curving track, large enough for four, takes either adults or children, or a combination. Others are the Twin Chasers, two side-by-side, 130-foot long tube slides that end in the pool; the Splash Out, a single 240-foot long body-slide ride into the pool; and the Splash Zoo, where toddlers ages 1 to 3 can play sprinkled by little fountains and sprays, either on a teeter totter or with funny fat animals, including a lion, a giraffe and a zebra.
Kids can build a raft and float down a short river. Or splash in the water under the Joker Soaker platform, where they can shoot water cannons (very small ones) at each other or hang out under the Big Splash, which “erupts” at intervals. And there’s the Imagination Station, where the kids can use DUPLO bricks to build dams, bridges, and test water flow patterns.
As far as I could see, there was something for almost every child. And some adults. That’s why the next time somebody asks me why I went to a park built for toddlers I plan to explain that I made a couple of new friends and tell them how they can do the same. Yes, really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Stay overnight at the 250-room Ninjago Hotel, located at the Park, with parking in the adjacent lot. Entry passes are included in hotel packages or sold separately for Legoland California, for the Water Park, for the Sea Life Aquarium or for all. Or try one of the other large (and more affordable) hotels located in the area. The Water Park offers rentals you might consider: life jackets, cabanas, chaises, official towels, lockers for changing clothes and even mini-fridges. For more, call Water Park Guest Services at 760-438-5346.
Prices for entrance tickets, hotel rooms and all extras change too often, by the season, the month and even the day, to be listed on brochures. But all are available on the internet at www.LEGOLAND.com. Or call 760-918-LEGO.
Anne Z. Cooke, writer and people watcher, keeps adding to her bucket list. Tweet @anneontheroad, or find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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