Sarah Thornton - and son Max - offer great advice for a family visit to Legoland
Lego is the largest toy company on the planet. More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1949 and in the face of our children's increasing digital addictions, Lego is flourishing. In fact, it's more popular than ever and its global cult-like status is evident by carpets littered with Lego bricks in homes around the globe.
My 10-year-old son Max is a huge fan. He's graduated from building boats, trucks and police stations to more sophisticated constructions like the Star Wars Poe X-Wing fighter and strange mechanical aliens. He even has a dedicated Lego table in his bedroom, such is his adoration of the coloured brick. So it was with great excitement we added Legoland to the end of a recent month-long European trip.
There are seven Legoland parks — California, Denmark, Windsor (UK), Florida, Germany, Malaysia and Dubai, the latter which opened in October. Others are under construction in Japan and New York.
We visited Legoland California Resort, which is 30 minutes north of San Diego, a one-hour coach ride from Anaheim.
In comparison to the polish and brightness of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, Legoland looks a bit dull and tired. Years of Lego bricks baking in the hot Californian sun have rendered them faded and lacklustre. It's a shame, as the hundreds of Lego sculptures and creations dotted around Legoland are hugely impressive in scale, inventiveness and execution, but it feels as if the whole place could do with a bit of a repaint and a clean up. In Max's eyes however, these were mere adult housekeeping issues and his enjoyment wasn't diminished by faded bricks, grubby character costumes and mucky waterways.
Legoland publicity says the park is targeted at the 2-12 age group. In our opinion it was perfect for 3-7-year-olds. Max agrees.
"I'm 10 and it was okay, but it's much better for younger kids like 5-year-olds. And it's probably better for girls, especially with all the Lego Friends around and for younger boys who are still into Ninjago. If you're 18 and really into Lego then go, but there's not heaps for adults to do."
We were hoping to check out the new 4-D Ninjago ride — the first of its kind in North America. Being 4-D, you use your hands to interact with the ride "to become the best ninja possible and help defeat villains". Unfortunately, that ride and a number of others weren't running on the Sunday we visited, due to "technical issues".
On the rides we did go on, my husband Mick voted the robotic arm ride the best — a crazy few minutes of being thrown around every which way, including completely upside down, and the three of us enjoyed a leisurely boat ride around some of the world's most iconic structures and cityscapes created from Lego bricks, including the Taj Mahal, Las Vegas, the Great Pyramids and Mt Rushmore.
In an unexpected twist, Max discovered he loved Vietnamese food during our lunch stop in Ninjago Land. "I tried Dad's Banh mi pork belly sandwich and it was so delicious I got one myself! I know Ninjago Land is probably not where you discover Vietnamese food, but Mum said the flavours were authentic."
Shopping also featured highly on Max's "best things at Legoland" list. "The stores were amazing! You could buy so many cool Lego sets and things that the NZ shops don't stock.
Plus, they have a cool minifigure swap system — you take a minifigure with you (or buy one at the shop), and then you can swap it with any of the staff around the park for one they have, as many times as you like. It was awesome!"
If you're sick of coloured bricks, there is the Sea Life aquarium and a huge water park inside Legoland. However, each is an extra admission cost; the aquarium US$22 (NZ$31) each and the Water Park US$30 each. On top of your Legoland admission, they add to an already expensive day out.
Unpacking our brick treasures when we got home was a highlight for young d old. Max built his new X-Wing Fighter and it now proudly sits on the bedroom shelf where he displays his best Lego creations. I indulged my inner child in one of the Legoland stores and bought a Trevi Fountain set, one of the Lego Architecture range. I've built it and love it, and it now sits pride of place on our lounge shelves and it reminds me of our time in the Eternal City. Sort of.
Would we visit Legoland again? No. Would we recommend it? Yes, especially if you have younger children. It may be a faded primary-coloured assault on your senses, but the kids love it.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Los Angeles.
Legoland California is in Carlsbad, less than two hours' drive from LAX.