If you’ve seen The Lego Movie and are concerned that a trip to Legoland will be like stumbling into Emmet’s world, one in which a simple-minded hero takes on the evil of corporate domination in Lord Business, then relax. Legoland California opened 15 years ago before mini-figures were imbued with personality and is, as far as amusement parks go, remarkably low stress.
With more than 60 attractions, Legoland is part entertainment — there are mild-mannered roller coasters, such as Coastersaurus, and water-fighting pirate ships. It is part inspiration, with elaborate sculptures in Miniland USA created with millions of rectangular blocks. And like the Danish blocks themselves, which have become one of the most popular toys ever made, Legoland is about kids’ imagination.
If your kids would happily turn your home into Bricksburg, Legoland is a must-do at some point during their childhood. Here are some tips for saving money (and precious time) so you will feel less like Bad Cop guarding your wallet from those seeking to empty it. (We'd love to hear your Legoland tips as well; please add them in comments!)
1. Buy tickets online and early, use coupons
The first thing to know about Legoland pricing is that it is not straightforward — think something between a predictable movie ticket and a wildly varying airline ticket.
Spend some time on the resort website researching different options. Make sure you buy at least seven days in advance as prices increase the closer to your visit dates. More than a week out, adult admission (not including the Sea Life Aquarium or water park) is $76, children ages 3-12 years old are $66. However, if you wait until the day or two beforehand, you will pay $83 per adult (same as the walk-up admission price) and $73 per child. Kids under 3 are free at Legoland, though you will have to buy them a separate ticket for entrance to the water park.
If you suspect one day at Legoland is not enough, it is inexpensive to add more days, but make those purchases up front as well. You can also check the website of the nearby Costco on Palomar Airport Road as it sometimes sells discounted tickets. And AAA members can get reduced tickets.
If you don't yet subscribe to the Lego Club Magazine and are planning your trip a couple of months out, make sure to subscribe to the bi-monthly publications, which include "Kids Go Free" coupons where one child can go free with a full-price adult admission. Coupons include a discount code that can be used when purchasing online.
2. Consider staying off site
For lodging, you could try a vacation package, whether at the adjacent Legoland Hotel, which offers early park admission and inclusive breakfast buffets, or the nearby Sheraton, which has its own entrance to Legoland. Because we have three children and often travel with extended family, we have many mouths to feed. So our family typically rents a house or condo with full kitchens near downtown Carlsbad. Besides Costco, there is an Albertson’s right off I-5 that allows us to eat in for all of our breakfasts and for many of our dinners. Staying near the beach and watching the sunset also allows for some nice decompression after a day at the park. Three websites we have had good luck with are VRBO, HomeAway and BeachFront Only.
3. Don't arrive at opening time
If you are staying off site, rather than showing up promptly for the park’s 10 a.m. opening, wait until around 10:30 a.m. to avoid the long line at the entrance. Also, by arriving after the mass of vehicles, you may find excellent general parking up near the premiere parking rows. Instead of paying $25, you can end up pay $15 for general parking while walking roughly 12 more feet.
4. See The Lego Movie set, but go later in the day
The "Lego Movie Experience" exhibit at Legoland is a new and popular draw. Fans will queue up for more than an hour to see the giant city in Will Ferrell's character’s basement, the set on which the animated action sequences are based. Rather than waiting in line, we gambled on the timing and sure enough, by mid-afternoon we were able to walk right in.
If your family has seen the movie, it is interesting to seek out details like the monorail or vehicles from battle scenes. But if you have not seen the movie or don’t particularly care about film staging, make sure you go when there is no line, likely later in the day.
5. No FastPass, but take advantage of naptime
Unlike Disney resorts, Legoland doesn't have a FastPass system. So plan on waiting in line for popular attractions such as the Project X roller coaster. Lines may not look long, but on certain attractions such as Knight’s Tournament, which spins riders up, down and every which way, very few riders go at a time.
Over the years we've found that the best time to hit these popular rides is when everyone else is either eating lunch or back at the hotel during naptime. Those two rides are your best bets for older children seeking an adrenaline rush, and they appreciate when fewer strollers and small kids are in their way.
You can also pick rides that have other activities around as you wait, such as Sky Cruiser, where you pedal along a track above Miniland and which loops the line around a kids' play area. So rather than being restless during the wait, children are building or racing LEGOs.
5. Pack strategically to save money and stay dry
Legoland’s official policy reads that outside food and drinks are not allowed. But there are lockers in the front of the park, and we have seen people storing coolers. In our four visits to Legoland, we have brought in water bottles and snacks with no questions asked. The staff at Legoland is very accommodating. Unlike some places you visit where you feel nickel-and-dimed, this park feels friendly. We asked for extra cups so we could get more water and were not charged.
You can also share meals and snacks. Go ahead and splurge on the Granny’s Apple Fries, and dip them in vanilla-flavored whipped cream. But share an order or two. Even the normal restaurant fare at the Garden Cafe or Walk 'n' Bowl Ramen is well-proportioned so splitting adult meals may work well for children.
Bring a small dehydrated towel in your purse or bag: Many of the rides like Splash Battle in Pirate’s Cove and Aquazone set riders up to get doused. (It is usually by people you do not know, so don’t take it personally!) The Swabbies Deck and Water Works sections, where kids can play in fountains, are also fun if it’s hot, so it’s helpful to have something to pat them down. Alternatively you can pay $5 to get inside the family dryer.
6. Blocks vs. fish
Families who have not been to Legoland before might wonder if it is worth spending the extra $10 for the Sea Life Aquarium. If your kids are big LEGO fans and that is why you are there, the aquarium is easy to skip. Kids who have seen world-class aquariums in other cities will stroll through this in an hour. That said, if you have already bought a multiple day Hopper pass, it is a calming way to pass some time indoors.
7. Snap your own photos, but kits are worth it
You could let a photographer pose your family for pricey souvenir photos. Or just snap your own: With the primary-colored bricks and sculptures in every backdrop, it is difficult to take a bad picture at Legoland. You can even save $20 by just glueing (or Kragleing for those who’ve seen the movie) your own photo onto the Driving School license that your kids will want to keep.
Invest the photo money instead in the LEGO sets kids can take home and play with for years. There are kits here you cannot find at other Lego stores or online.
Mercifully, the movie’s theme song “Everything is Awesome” does not play over park loudspeakers. (Thank you, Legoland!) But having learned the ropes with our visits here in the past decade, everything truly has been … well, you know.