The ultimate LEGO party at Legoland California

R building her lighthouse

R building her lighthouse

If you like LEGOs, Legoland California, in Southern California, is pretty much heaven. LEGOs are everywhere. LEGO sculptures. LEGOs with which you can build. Giant LEGOs for little kids. Even humans dressed to look like characters from LEGO sets. Seriously.

Because my big kids are obsessed with LEGOs these days, I’d been meaning to take them to Legoland for a while. This past weekend, we finally made the trip.

We landed in San Diego late Friday, drove a rental car up to Carlsbad, and checked into our Kingdom-themed room at the Legoland Resort Hotel. We spent the entire day Saturday inside the park, going on rides, spending way too much money on games and food, splashing around in the water park with friends, and eating LOTS of ice cream. Sunday, after sleeping in, the girls and I stopped in Cardiff-by-the-Sea for donuts, then made our way back to the airport and eventually flew home.

One might expect that the highpoint of this trip was one particular ride or one specific water feature in the water park.

The reality: The best part was a LEGO-building party back in the hotel room Saturday night.

I’m not the only one who thinks so; both L and Little R agree, too. The three of us stayed up until close to midnight building the girls’ new LEGO sets, and that was the most fulfilling time the three of us spent together all weekend.

We loved this part of the trip for a number of reasons. First, the girls only were going to receive their new LEGO sets if they made good choices about how they behaved, so the sets represented a bit of a reward. Second, the sets themselves were super cool—L got a plane and R got a lighthouse. Third, the girls were stoked about the building party because they got to stay up late; I suspended normal bedtime for the sake of togetherness and everybody appreciated the change. The fourth and final reason: We got to build together, something that doesn’t typically happen when we all are at home and their baby sister is crawling around.

What I took away from this experience was a simple lesson I’ve learned in different ways countless times before: Often on family trips, the little things matter most.

Sure, the kids loved being inside the park. And yes, they really enjoyed the water attractions. But the combination of undivided attention from dad and a night without bedtime was MAJORLY AWESOME. Because it was so different.

Looking forward, I’d like to think this experience will change my approach with the big kids on trips. Undoubtedly I can be more lenient about bedtimes every now and again. And ultimately, I’d like to get back to a place where undivided attention from dad *isn’t* unusual. Now that I know these simple tweaks make my kids happy, I’ll do my best to replicate them again and again.

Five reasons Legoland California is better than Disneyland for young kids

R, getting busy with blocks in Duplo Village.

R, getting busy with blocks in Duplo Village.

Let me start this post by stating that I love the Disneyland Resort. It’s iconic. It’s epic. And there’s nothing like it on Earth. Now it’s time for another truth: I *also* love Legoland California Resort. It’s creative. It’s interactive. And it appeals to the engineer in all of us.

The parks have a number of similarities. Both are in Southern California. Both are big attractions in the world of family travel. And both cost about the same (around $100 for each grownup for the day). Still, after a recent weekend visit with R to Legoland, I believe Legoland is better for young kids. Here are five reasons why.

It doesn’t feel too big
Technically, the Disneyland Resort is only slightly larger than Legoland—160 acres to 128 acres. On the ground, however, Legoland feels much smaller and more manageable than the iconic theme park to the north. I think a lot of this has to do with occupied space; I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but Disneyland is using almost every square inch of its area, but Legoland has plenty of room to grow. What’s more, everything at Legoland is relatively close together; we traipsed around the park for an entire day and neither R nor I felt like we had walked very far at all.

It’s interactive
It’s no secret that kids love hands-on activities. This is one of the things that make Legos (and Duplos, for that matter) such a great toy—kids can build whatever they want, knock it down and build something entirely different. It also is why playgrounds are so popular among the 5-and-under set. At Disneyland, one of the only places young kids can do this sort of thing is at Mickey’s Toontown. At Legoland, however, the entire park is interactive. Playgrounds abound (R’s favorites were the Hideaways and Duplo Village), and just about every one of the park areas boasts places where kids can build with Legos.

It has mastered the line
Nobody likes waiting in queues—not grownups, not teenagers, and certainly not little ones. At Disneyland, even with the FASTPASS service, standing on line can be a total downer, especially when your kids (or you) are hot or tired or both. Legoland’s solution: Legos, of course. Lines for many of the most popular attractions snake around special covered areas where kids can build with Legos while their parents or guardians walk the queue. Kids can then join their grownups right before the group is ready to board the ride. R appreciated this option tremendously. Since I didn’t have to deal with whining, I did too.

It has legitimately healthy food
One of my pet peeves about Disneyland is that it is legitimately challenging to find healthy food inside the park. I’m not talking salads and apple slices, here. I’m talking snackable vegetables, meatless options, gluten-free dishes, stuff like that. LEGOLAND has this in spades. I was blown away by some of the options at the Garden Restaurant, the in-park restaurant where we had lunch during our visit. Perhaps the most impressive choice: The caprese panini, with whole mozzarella, fresh basil, pesto, tomatoes. Our traveling companions, who are vegetarians, order this every time.

There are places for downtime
Downtime is a critical part of every day in the Villano family. Our kids spend most of their waking hours moving at warp speed, so we make sure the girls have anywhere from 45-60 minutes of quiet time daily. When were on vacation, this becomes a challenging proposition. When we’re at a place like Disneyland, unless we head back to the hotel room, it’s downright impossible. Legoland offered a variety of options for in-park downtime, including the Build and Test Room, where R spent a good hour just Lego-ing around. The downtime was good for me, as well. That means everybody won.

In conclusion, I want to make sure nobody misunderstands me here: I’m a fan of BOTH Disneyland AND Legoland. After experiencing both parks with my young girls, I just think Legoland is better for the little ones. This doesn’t mean we’re abandoning The Mouse. It just means we now will embrace an alternative, as well. You should, too.

What do you look for when you visit a theme park with young kids?

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