I recently took Alex (now age 3.5) to Legoland. We had heard mixed reviews going in and weren't sure what to expect. Some people rave about the place and say their mechanically- and construction-oriented kids are completely in love with it. Others say it is a sorry cash-in and nothing more than a few carnival rides cheaply embellished with the LEGO license. I'm not sure I understood this before, but now I know that both can be true, and I suppose you're very lucky if you can be the former while not being bothered by the latter. A quick rundown:
Everyone who goes there has a coupon of some sort, but from what we could tell, it ends up being about $50 a person with even the best of coupons. To me, that sets a certain expectation, and overall I would say the value of Legoland is low. But, y'know, we have a 3-year-old, so it's going to be hard to come up with a $50 experience that really feels worth it. Maybe for an older kid with more independence and stamina, the price tag would be reasonable, but for toddlers, I definitely say Legoland is overpriced.
For some reason I had this unrealistically magical notion that the Legoland rides would be somehow, at some level, made of LEGOs. Clearly, you wouldn't want to ride a real ride made out of Legos. But it would be cool if the rides at least looked like someone, somewhere wanted to even pretend they were made out of Legos. Instead, the rides are B-level, if A is Disneyland and C is traveling carnival. I'm not an amusement park enthusiast, but I did grow up in Santa Cruz with easy access to the Boardwalk. Legoland rides are like Boardwalk rides, but with a huge price tag up front -- and giant Lego pieces glued on them! Great.
We went there on a summer Friday when the weather wasn't that great, so I imagine the lines were as average as you can get. And most of the lines for any rides that seem remotely interesting were long -- we're talking 2-hours-long. When you are already thinking the rides look kinda lame, and then you hear people coming off the rides talking about how lame they were, and then you mathematically calculate that you will only be able to go on a handful of these lame rides for your $50 price tag, that's when you get upset and start posting things to Twitter and Facebook and calling your husband (who suspected Legoland was so lame he didn't even want to go on the trip in the first place and is happily at home in an air-conditioned office eating catered office food) and telling him he was right he was right FINE HE WAS RIGHT and asking what you should do about your toddler who is going to go nuclear when he realizes he will never get to ride the sky train pedal cars he's wanted to go on for his ENTIRE (as far as he's concerned) life.....
Sanity Check/Phone a Friend Lifeline
Your husband, or your Facebook friends, will then talk you down and say it's just a theme park and I'm sure they have some rides that don't have long lines and if worst comes to worst you can just get your kid something at the gift shop and eat some cotton candy and go to the crappy Duplo Village playground and the kid won't really know the difference. And I guess they're all right, and no further righteous indignation or storming of the Legoland business office and demanding one's money back is necessary. Deep breath.
That's not to say there aren't some decent rides for varying ages. Alex got to drive a car and fly a plane, helicopter, boat, etc., and the lines for those toddler-oriented rides were much more manageable (10-30 minutes). The driving course was sensibly blocked off so the older kids had a more complicated course and the little kids could drive at 1/2 a mile per hour while getting stuck in walls without being terrorized. And older kids would have fun on the water rides and some average-looking roller coasters (we didn't get to ride any of the "big-kid" rides so I can't say what they're like to ride, but they didn't look that amazing). Let's just say the rides themselves should not be a motivating factor in one's trip to the park, whatever your age.
A lot of people want to go to Legoland because they have seen pictures of the giant Lego structures that seem pretty cool. And all I can say about that is that the structures, largely, are not that cool. Maybe it wasn't sunny enough the day we went, or maybe our expectations have been set impossibly high by, I don't know, Avatar in Imax 3D. But Legoland's Lego renderings of jungle creatures, King Tut, the Transamerica pyramid, etc. just didn't do much for me, and Alex barely noticed them. Some of them have sound effects, but they're mostly just static--no animatronics or movement, and the Lego pieces themselves seemed faded and shabby.
A note on Duplo Village
Parents of toddlers will probably be drawn to an area on the map called Duplo Village. This sounds like the greatest place on Earth for a 3-year-old, right? So great, you might even think of heading straight there upon arrival. DON'T DO IT! You have a choice when you enter Legoland, which is designed as a circle. You can go left or right. GO RIGHT. We went left on some well-intentioned but completely bad advice, and we were greeted with the shabby, broke down Duplo Village. There was this broken musical fountain thing that just seemed to frustrate and depress everyone involved in it, along with a glorified playground that paled in comparison to those found free in pretty much any other Orange County park. It was not a good first impression.
Are you kidding? I didn't touch that overpriced crap. Legoland had gouged me already on admission. They weren't also going to ruin my lunch! We brought snacks and ate at nearby Sammy's for really good pizza and salads. Highly advisable.
Most rides make it pretty easy for parents with strollers to hang out with their massive amounts of stuff while the other parent takes the kid on the ride. One ride claimed to have a 5-minute wait and lied about it, but was at least decent enough to have a play area where the kids could build while the parents suffered in the line. Bathrooms were pretty well-maintained, and of course Alex loved having a low sink and low hand-dryer, so he could achieve total independence.
Might shopping redeem the trip for us? I do love a good gift shop. Legoland's had some cool stuff (Lego salt & pepper shakers, a make-it-yourself nameplate) that I hadn't seen elsewhere. But in these days of online shopping, things need to be pretty rare to feel special or hard-to-find. That didn't stop me from dropping $115 there, but I wouldn't say I was super impressed with the inventory.
I give Legoland a solid 6.0 on the old EGM scale. If you live nearby and you know what you're getting into (i.e. you have $50/person to burn or know someone with season passes), it's a decent way to spend the day. Alex had a fine time there, but he hasn't talked about it nonstop the way he does about certain other experiences. I'm very glad we stayed with friends and only budgeted one day for the place. Because you know those people who rave online about how they fly in from faraway places and drop all this money on the fancy hotel near the park and go back day after day for, like, a week? Those people I just don't understand.