the Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, Calif., characters
roam the hallways and interact with little guests.
Calif. ó All morning, rain did not just fall. No, it
biblically lashed and pelted greater San Diego County,
horizontally hammered the entire region, particularly the
theme park dedicated to Denmarkís most lucrative
manufacturing export. Come early afternoon, though, the
storm clouds parted, and the sun had reclaimed its
rightful star billing, giving the grounds at Legoland an
alluring sheen, a glistening burst of festive primary
this time, though, the precipitation was a river of
childrenís tears. Legoland, perhaps the only amusement
park based on a toy that improves fine motor skills, was
closed and would remain so the rest of the day. A single,
blue-and-yellow-uniformed worker stood at the shuttered
turnstiles, giving the bad news. Kidsí reactions ranged
from lip-quivering acceptance to full Three Mile Island
meltdowns. Parents had that shell-shocked survivorís
look, facing the daunting prospect of finding something,
anything, to entertain the brood and restore familial
they were smart ó and, of course, had the
not-insignificant financial means ó their answer was
only about 50 paces away.
Legoland Hotel, not merely a logistical extension of the
park, is almost an attraction unto itself. Now, most kids
can be entranced for a while by the novelty of sleeping
away from home, jumping on the bed with abandon and
reveling in the wonders of the ice machine down the hall.
But rare is the hotel built and geared almost exclusively
for children, from its exclusively plastic brick artwork
lining the hallways to the room-door keyhole placed
strategically at toddler height.
the chaotic welter of the lobby on this rainy afternoon,
kids sprawled on the floor as if it were their living
rooms, scooping pieces from the pretend fountain and
snapping pieces into place on elaborate, ever-morphing
fantasy forts and (mostly the boys) weapons of mass
distraction. Parents either hovered at a safe distance,
discreetly checking their smartphones, or shed their shoes
and got down on the carpet with the little ones and
literal river of Legos, under Lucite flooring, led from
the lobby up to an adjoining Castle play area, replete
with forts and a mazelike pirate ship. Stray Legos lay
strewn across the landscape like a Pollock canvas, while
finished objets díart adorned every wall and countertop.
Around happy hour ó but, really, for kids, isnít that
every hour? ó as pajama-clad children participated in
"Elf Games" and prepped for the cutthroat
nightly Model Building Competition, many parents retreated
to the nearby Minis Lounge to nurse a well-earned craft
beer or glass or two of red wine and decompress from the
dayís prepubescent dramas.
been fantastic," said Melissa Schlichtling, of
Helena, Mont., as son Zane, 9, disappeared into the castle
and daughter Sonja, 7, put the finishing touches on a
tri-colored Lego "wand of dreams" she figured
had a good shot at winning the model-building contest.
"I donít know what we wouldíve done without (the
hotel) today. I like that itís not just kid-friendly but
actually made for the kids."
the lounge, a 30-something dad named Wayne from Littleton,
Colo., grasped a beer in each hand, which is why he
declined to give his last name. With mussed hair and a
thousand-yard stare, Wayne confided that it had been a
rough day having their Legoland excursion aborted. But the
kids, and Wayne, too, rallied gamely. They found plenty to
do, Wayne said, but the park had better be open the next
day, the familyís last in town, or who knows what fury
might be unleashed by his restless brood.
are in their element right now," he said. "The
rides at the park are really secondary. Itís really
anything Legos for them. So, the hotel was a good
good call, sure. But also a little pricey, mind you,
starting at $250 a night and running up to $349, plus a
$25 resort fee. But many parents said that what you get
for your money, this full immersion in Lego lore, is more
than worth the expense.
around the lobby awhile during check-in time, and observe
the initial reactions of the kids as they pass under the
hulking green dragon, made of no fewer than 400,000 Legos,
at the front entrance. They are, to a one, transported to
another realm. Some are so initially overstimulated that
they spontaneously burst into tears; others simply drop
their bags and sprint to the Lego pit. Their parents, too,
sport goofy grins, enchanted, perhaps, by how the cliches
of an upscale hotel (the "fountain," the
"artwork," the elegant sconces ringing the bar)
are reproduced a la Legos.
really is another world. From a distance, what looks like
a pixelated Lichtenstein pop-art piece behind the check-in
desk is a wall-scape of 5,000 mini Lego figurines. An
animated bicycle slowly pivots the length of the work, its
wheels serving as giant magnifying glasses showing, on
closer inspection, intricately built action figures.
one of, according to Legolandís crack PR staff, 3,500
models placed around the three-story hotel that takes up
perhaps two city blocks. Thereís a human-scaled Lego
concierge across from the Lego fountain, a
miniature-scaled city with a skyline and detailed domestic
scenes inside apartments lining the walls of the Skyline
Cafe (where five IPAs are on tap), elaborate models too
numerous to mention inside Bricks, the buffet-dining
restaurant, and even, next to the elevators, planters made
solely out of the ubiquitous plastic cubes.
the first floor, in a corner, is a painting of a Lego
worker in full hazmat suit. The dialogue bubble reads,
"Hey, was that you?" Below him is a circle
painted on the carpet with words every parent dreads (at
least after repeated usage): "Whoopie Cushion."
Yes, when kids step on it, audible flatulence ensues,
followed by a voice of the put-upon hazmat guy saying,
"Oh, you stinky pig!"
that doesnít send the little ones into paroxysms of
mirth, wait until the arrival of the elevator, a prime
example of the kid-centric nature of the place. When the
doors open, you hear a Muzak version of "The Girl
from Ipanema." Then the doors close. The light goes
out, a disco ball overhead illuminates and the Bee Geeís
"Stayiní Alive" fills the space and envelopes
the senses. One middle-aged woman was so overcome, she
broke into full dance mode, single-finger arm thrusts, a
la Travolta, while her ítween daughter tugged on her
sleeve to please, Mom, for the love of God, stop.
kid-friendly touches are more practical, but things not
encountered at most hotels.
buffet table at Bricks is 18 inches lower than standard
size, and there are port holes cut into the restaurantís
walls in case a child feels the urge to climb in and eat
his or her pancakes there. Lego characters roam the dining
room during breakfast and lunch, posing for selfies with
kids and making balloon animals for them. The pool is
shallower than standard dimensions, and even the health
club has kid equipment and Lego "exerciser"
in-room bathrooms are equipped with flip-down potty seats
for those in training and a wooden foot stool so they can
reach the sink faucet.
Lego sculptured creations meant to hew to the themed
floors ó Kingdome, Pirate, Adventure ó are the only
Legos that arenít hands-on. Most of the models can be
found in the 250 guest rooms, where cards explain the
estimated value on each "model" at between $90
and $960 and warn that damaged or missing pieces
"will result in a charge to your pre-authorized
worries, though: The hotel knows its clientele and
provides a bucket of Legos for kids to create
masterpieces. Thatís in addition to the "treasure
chest" (doubling as an in-room safe). Guests must
solve four clues in something of a scavenger hunt around
the lobby area to get the numbers for the combination
lock. Inside is a trove of goodies ó two packages of
Lego Mini Figures and chocolate gold coins.
best part," said Schlichtling, the Montana mom,
"is thereís a new treasure every morning (courtesy
of the house cleaning staff). Thatís a nice touch."
impressed mom was Brittney Allen, of Lake Elsinore, Calif.
She said she liked that her two children, ages 7 and 4,
had what she dubbed a room-within-a-room, calling it
"very cool and decked out."
three-quarterís partition separates the sleeping areas
in the average 350-square-foot room. Itís a fun alcove
for the kids, with bunk beds (plus a trundle bed), a
flat-screen TV mounted to look like a fireplace and
theme-appropriate signs. Example from a
"Kingdome" room: "Ye Olde Adults Keep
Out!" Parents, meanwhile, enjoy a modicum of privacy
in their portion of the medieval castle (or pirate ship,
or safari hut). It, too, is fully themed, right down to a
Lego-constructed cask of ale sitting on the shelf above ye
one stays in the room long, though, because the hotel
staff keeps things hopping in the lobby. On the night of
the rain-induced park closure, the Castle Play Area was
SRO, with pajama-clad kids running headlong into one
another prepping for the Model Building Competition,
presided over by Princess Snowflake and Rosie the Elf.
Schlichtlingís daughter, Sonja, checked out the
competition, while Mom mused that perhaps some families
were unsure on the rule that parents cannot help their
kids in construction.
saw one man down here making the state flag of Colorado
(out of Legos)," she said. "He was having way
more fun than his kids were."
kids entered their Lego creations, proudly displaying them
on the stage while being interviewed by Rosie the Elf,
whose job description must include cat-herding, because
she deftly kept the kiddies in line and in order of
registration. One kid, holding a sword/candy cane, cut in
line and tried to make Rosie believe he was the registered
contestant, a boy named Ethan. Rosie was not fooled:
"Youíre not Ethan! We need to take our turns."
With that, the kid released his sword like a comedian
doing a mike drop and bounded off the stage.
to gender-stereotype, but a good three-quarters of the
boys brandished "Christmas swords," while the
girls favored snowmen and women. The winner, however, was
a Frank Gehry-like castle by another boy named Ethan.
Yeah, no parental help there, right?
the end of the pajama party, near 10 oíclock, and the
onset of "Quiet Time," kids were strewn on the
lobby carpet as if cast by a sleeping spell. Parents
scooped them up and whisked them off to bed, hoping that
the weather would hold and Legoland itself would be open
the next morning.
10 a.m., the rain that had resumed at first light had
passed, the sun shone brightly and the park was drying
out. Turnstiles twirled, and kids and parents gladly left
behind the fun of the hotel for the fun of the park.
the older kids (12 is about the upper range for
Lego-goers) gravitated toward the rides or to Miniland
USA, where 1:20-scale models of New York City, the Vegas
Strip and New Orleans, among other locales, were on
display alongside displays from the various "Star
Wars" episodes. The main attraction for the younger
set was the Junior Driving School, where kids can drive
scaled-down electric cars through a city neighborhood.
really fun," Sonja Schlichtling said. "You can
earn a driverís license. Itís very simple. The red
pedal is the stop and the green pedal is the go. There are
traffic lights and stop lights."
goodness," her mother added, "itís not bumper
cars. People donít go crazy."
seems a theme at Legoland. Itís a more laid-back
experience, perhaps because itís smaller and less
frenetic than its theme park rival 80 miles north on
Interstate 5, Disneyland. Legolandís lines were almost
nonexistent during the off-peak season (mid-December in
this case), but even at the height of summer, there arenít
two-hour lines for two-minute rides. Many of the
attractions were hands-on Lego-building involving children
STORY CAN END HERE)
Gutierrez, of Yuma, Ariz., brought his son Omar to
celebrate his eighth birthday. The two were fast at work
in the Hero Factory, where kids can construct superheroes
with heaping mounds of Legos and accessories.
a good idea, Gutierrez said, "for parents to spend
time with their kids actually doing something, not just
watching them on a ride."
though, parents go hysterically overboard. Dad Aaron
Lewis, of Simi Valley, Calif., accompanied his two boys,
12 and 7, to the City Build and Test Track, which
simulates drag racing of cars you build out of Legos.
While the boys made functional, speedy cars, Dad went all
out, producing a foot-long, aerodynamic contraption with
all sorts of spoilers and do-dads. When they got to the
starting line, the elder Lewisí car failed to move from
the starting line ó repeatedly. Then, it fell apart.
Finally, on the fifth try, it shot down the track,
crashing in 3.2 seconds.
called a design flaw, honey," mom Nagwa Khilla told
"Iím no master of physics, thatís for sure."
"Thatís OK. The kids have fun playing, and we have
fun playing with the kids. This is their place."
1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad, Calif.; Legoland Hotel, 5885
The Crossings Drive, Carlsbad
hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
Legoland: $73-$83; Resort Hopper (including Sea Life
Aquarium and Water Park): $97-$107
california.legoland.com; (877) 534-6526