Legoland California

Legoland from the Sky Cruiser

Our son is old enough to appreciate the cult of Lego now so the big incentive for him to get in a plane to San Diego at some risk to his personal safety was the promise of getting to visit Legoland. I had no idea what to expect and neither did he; at our most specific, I would say we were all imagining a place where there were a lot of Legos to play with.

At the risk of ruining the surprise, Legoland is not like that. It’s like a Lego-themed Disneyland. Admission is heart-stoppingly expensive. There is a weird tie-in with Volvo, raising the question of whether all Scandinavians signed some kind of blood oath of mutual commercial support (but if you’re visiting San Diego and going to Legoland, try to rent a Volvo).

VIP Volvo parking

Although the whole experience primarily made me miss the charms of Fairyland, the most underrated amusement park attraction ever, we had the good fortune of visiting Legoland on what was evidently the least busy day of its entire history, and never waited for even a second in line for a single ride, attraction, or concession, so I have no complaints.

Our kids thought it was awesome, and there is a lot of thought put into what would entertain them.

"Yes, we have no bananas..." (I have no idea why this song, no)

In the water play area, very welcome on a hot day, they can step on dots in the ground to make the fountains go or make music play. The rides are pitch-perfect for a six-year old boy, involving helicopters and boats and trains and fire engines.

However the Volvo sponsorship deal led to some weird moments for us. This was particularly true for the rides that involved driving; kids of various ages can drive little cars around a track, for example, and at the end of the ride they are issued little driver’s licenses.

Legoland driving school

There were, on occasion, opportunities to pedal things, but they were always purely decorative, like on the train in the sky, a surreal experience where a train car with helicopter blades mounted on the tail fin rode on an elevated track through the park, ostensibly moving thanks to the two riders pedaling but in fact powered by an engine. Our kids were both disappointed to discover it was not in fact a train that you pedaled like a bike.

Why include pedals at all if they don't do anything?

Like nearly every amusement park I’ve ever seen, Legoland was surrounded by a sea of parking, and if there’s a way to get there other than by car I can’t figure it out. We were traveling from the city proper by rental car, and expected that we would drive, but it startled me a little. As mentioned our usual amusement park venue is Fairyland, which is so old-school that parking was an obvious afterthought and you can walk there from a nearby BART station (if you are used to city distances, at least; a recent visit from a suburban family member reminded us that there are people who view a half-mile walk with a preschooler and no stroller as something akin to a polar expedition).

Although we had a nice time, I found myself confused by the whole experience (and it was reassuring to read that we are not the only people thinking about this). Have the scales fallen from our eyes? Is it as crazy as it seems to me that we were alone in the carpool lane both there and back yet driving the smallest car on the road? It’s hard not to think of hundreds or thousands of people driving alone in giant trucks as laughable overkill, as if people were walking through the streets with rocket launchers strapped to their back for “personal protection.”

Legoland helicopters can be moved up, down, and around

Is it as bizarre as it seems that the pedals on the Legoland rides were all purely decorative while the controls to operate a small car worked and the ones for a helicopter ride that actually flew it up and down and in circles were functional?  Or am I now a bicycle-crazed crank?

I have a feeling I know the answer to that. At the same time, I don’t feel crazy. That should be worth something. At my old office I somehow got on speed dial at the locked psychiatric ward across the street, and would end up with endless messages on my office voice mail from the King of Hawai’i. He said his name was Raymond, and he would croon nonsense songs into the ether while complaining that I never visited. These calls were the introduction to a wide cast of characters in inpatient lockdown, all of whom seemed harmless enough, although finding a dozen random messages in my voicemail box every morning got to be annoying. Eventually the psych ward staff figured it out and changed the speed dial settings (which I heard happening in the background of the last message). But my point: these people knew that they were off the charts crazy and they didn’t shrink from telling my voicemail about it. When I think about transportation, I don’t think that cars are bad, although I think they’re overused and inappropriate for many conditions (it’s a rare day I don’t ride my bike faster than the cars on the road in San Francisco, and I am slow and frequently carrying an extra person). It doesn’t feel crazy to me to think this, but the reaction I get is often comparable to announcing that I am the King of Hawai’i, and I’ve got a lovely song for you today…

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