Young ladies enjoys new Sea Life Aquarium at LEGOLAND. (Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND)
By Richard Irwin
Vacations fuel the imagination. Especially in young children, who invariably have to write a school essay on “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”
There is still time this summer to give your kids something to write about — and you can get there on a single tank of gas: Legoland in Carlsbad.
The place sparks the imagination in children of all ages. Yes, even doting grandparents enjoy this unique park.
The 128-acre park caters to 2 to 12-year-olds. It advertises “Adventurers Wanted,” and youngsters can indeed stretch their imaginations on the bluffs overlooking the deep, blue Pacific.
Little pirates can battle it out on sailing ships with water cannons. (Innocent spectators beware: the water from the cannons easily spurt past the nearby fences.)
Older knights can take on The Dragon, a spirited roller-coaster housed in a magnificent castle. One young rider admitted to being a little scared on his first roller-coaster ride, but he ended up whooping and hollering with the rest of us.
Families trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Indiana Joneses that is, will like the new Land of Adventure. You’ve probably seen the endless TV comercials for it, but the ride is quite fun. Explorers board jeeps on the Lost Kingdom Adventure, and blast away at targets in the fabulous Egyptian temple. (A word of warning; this new ride often has long lines with a waiting time of more than an hour. It’s best to go there first thing when the park opens at 10 a.m. or shortly before closing at 8 p.m.)
Families will also enjoy “Journey to the Lost Temple,” a new musical adventure. The park’s first year-round musical production was written for children ages 2 to 12. More than 30 young volunteers get to act in the funny show.
The littlest firefighters will love the Fun Town Fire Department show. The volunteer firemen are hilarious as they learn “to put the wet stuff on the hot stuff.”
Then the whole family can jump on a shiny red firetruck next door to become the hero in their own 911 emergency. It takes teamwork to propel the large truck along the tracks to the fire. Then parents pump while kids point hoses at the burning buildings. Fun!
And now there’s even more to see with the opening of the Sea Life Aquarium this week. The voyage begins in the rushing waters of our own Sierra Nevada Mountains and continues to the pounding surf of San Francisco Harbor.
Deep sea explorers will end up in the depths of the ocean, where they’ll discover the lost city of Atlantis. The 175,000-gallon aquarium features real creatures in real water and several Lego sculptures, including a 10-foot-tall statue of Poseidon.
“I’m really excited to see the reaction of sharks, sting rays, snappers and other creatures to this underwater world full of Lego models,” said senior curator Chris Spaulding.
But don’t worry about getting wet. A 35-foot-long acrylic ocean tunnel allows guests to walk through the “lost city” without a wetsuit and scuba tank.
The aquarium’s “Save Our Seas” (SOS) campaign teaches children about the big problems facing our oceans, as well as suggested solutions, Spaulding said. It does this through many interactive activities, including the Southern California Tide Pool, play zones and quiz trails.
Sea Life also offers a seahorse kingdom, a bay of rays and a shoaling ring, where kids will be surrounded by shimmering schools of fish.
Legoland has a two-day ticket to both the park and aquarium for $65 for children 3 to 12 and $80 for adults. That’s a great deal when you consider that a one-day ticket to both is $60 for kids and $70 for adults.
If you buy the two-day tickets online at sandiegonorth.com, it’s only $56 for adults and $52.50 for kids.
But a hotel package may offer the best deal. Check the Web site for more ways to save. For example, a one- night stay at the Quality Inn of Carlsbad with one-day admission to Legoland for a couple with two children under 12 is about $320.
I chose to stay at the new Sheraton Carlsbad located next door to Legoland. Sheraton has its own private entrance to the park. In fact, it’s only a five-minute walk across the hotel’s parking lot to Legoland.
I like the convenience of not having to drive to the amusement park and pay for parking. The private entrance also lets you get to the most popular attractions before the lines get too long.
The Sheraton has a Legoland package, starting at $262 a night. This package includes two park admissions, a full American breakfast in your room and a 4 p.m. late checkout, based on availability.
After a hectic lunch in the park, I was anxious to get back to the hotel for a nice relaxed dinner. The Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar welcomes families.
The children’s menu is reasonable, including all the kids’ favorites: three-cheese or pepperoni pizza, pizza oven hot dogs, crispy chicken fingers or Blue Box macaroni and cheese. All are $6 each.
Adults will enjoy a menu that features vineyard cuisine. Specialties range from chargrilled lamb loin with roast red grape ver jus, warm potato croutons and a wild berry salad for $28 to a hearth-baked three-cheese pizza for $10.
I ordered the Waikato chicken, a pan-roasted breast with herbs and focaccia crumbs, accompanied by crushed Yukon potatoes, spinach, tomato bisque, fresh lime squeeze and French feta for $18. It was delicious.
The servers were friendly and efficient. The wine bar offers many interesting wines by the glass, as well as bottle. And it has a lot of handcrafted suds, too.
After a long day of rides and shows, there’s nothing like knowing you have a nice room right on the other side of the back fence.
After a restful night, we were back at Legoland for Day 2, ready to build more memories for the whole family.
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801
1 Lego Drive
5480 Grand Pacific Drive
Directions: Take the San Bernardino Freeway east to the 57 south. Merge onto the 5 Freeway south. Take exit 48, turn left on Cannon Drive, then right on Legoland Drive. Slight left to stay on Legoland Drive, at the traffic circle take the second exit to stay on Legoland Drive.