I am not a huge fan of amusement parks.
When I was 17, I went to Disney World for the first time. It was every bit as magical as I had hoped it would be, even as a skeptical teenager who was worried that I was already too old to appreciate it. I had a fantastic time. And, after college, I took a trip with friends to ride roller coasters in Ohio, and I loved that, too. In fact, going to amusement parks generally seemed like good fun when I was younger, even though each trip left me sunburned and vaguely ill. But, now, as a grouchy old adult, my enthusiasm has waned somewhat. Most of the time, when faced with the prospect of an amusement park trip, I struggle to get beyond the expense, effort, endless lines, crush of sweaty humanity, hours in the burning sun, general uncleanliness and near certainty that at least one of us will get sick after (or during) the visit. It’s just not really my thing these days.
That being said, it’s not really about me anymore. As a mom, I try to embrace my kids’ enthusiasm for such places. With one set of grandparents who live in central Florida, a visit to Disney was inevitable. We went a few summers ago, and it was EXACTLY as I imagined it would be: hot, crowded and a test of patience. I spent the day feeling like I was enduring something rather than enjoying it, and, I thought, based on the numerous tears and tantrums, that the kids felt the same way. Surprisingly, though, the boys came out of it feeling like they’d had a great day and with seemingly no memory of the misery that we experienced while we were there. (I vaguely suspect that the chicken nuggets may be laced with whatever brain chemical it is that makes mothers forget the pain of childbirth.) Regardless, my boys were left feeling like they’d had a great day, and honestly, that’s more than good enough for me.
Even so, when my in-laws suggested a trip to Legoland this past December, my enthusiasm was all for the sake of the family. I could not get the episode of “The Simpsons” where they visit “Blockoland” out of my mind. I could not imagine what Legoland had to offer that would be better than Disney. I anticipated a life-sized hours-long ad for everything Lego and not much more. I was not excited. But, I’d take one for the team. However, after the projected 90 minute drive turned into more that twice that, with a nightmare of a parking situation (whatever my gripes against Disney, they do know how to park cars), I was 100% ready to go home before we got through the gates. I was hot, grouchy and already over Legoland.
After waiting in a long line for the bathroom and an another long line for tickets, I was not happier. Plus, the very first thing the boys saw when they went into the park was a giant Lego sculpture … which was not fenced off but was not meant to be touched. Being told off by the guard assigned to protect it and then wrestling a sweaty, exhausted 4 year old off of it, I was ready to run for the hills, but we persevered. By 3:30, we had ridden on the (admittedly cool) merry-go-round (with giant Lego horses!) and had an awful $80 lunch. By 4:00, we’d ridden a water ride that got us completely soaked and had Liam in tears. I decided I hated Legoland.
But then . . . we discovered The Dragon.
The Dragon is a roller coaster, designed for small kids, and everyone else, too. My previous experience with kid-friendly roller coasters was restricted to tiny, carnival-type roller coasters which have not been a lot of fun (for anyone). This wasn’t tiny, and it wasn’t rickety. It was a real roller coaster, just set up to be safe and functional for little kids (as well as adults). I was skeptical at first, imagining waiting through the 45 minute long line only to have one (or both) of the kids chicken out at the end, or, worse, getting them on and having them hysterically beg to get off after it was too late to do so. The boys were absolutely determined to ride it, though, and so we did.
And I’m so glad.
It was great fun. It was exciting enough to be scary, but not so scary as to not be fun. There was no moment when I was worried that the kids were going to fly out or get hurt, but it had enough drops and turns to count as an actual roller coaster. The kids loved it. We all loved it. It was the beginning of turning our day at Legoland around.
The boys had such a blast that we ran around and got straight back in the line. We rode The Dragon several times (even dragging my reluctant in-laws on it) and had a great time each time.
After that, and some face painting, we wandered down to “Miniland” which recreates well-known sights and cities from around the world (extra credit because we got to see a lot of places we’ve actually been to). We didn’t get down that way until dusk was falling, and I think it would have been even more impressive in the daylight (though it was well-lit at night), but we all enjoyed looking at the Lego recreations of the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the monuments and museums of Washington, DC (which is quite near where we’re originally from).
We all would have liked to have spent more time exploring the scenes in Minland, but it was almost time for fireworks, which the boys really wanted to see. On our way to the stadium to see the fireworks, though, one of us had a brilliant idea . . . why go see the fireworks from the stadium when we could try to go see them from The Dragon?!
And so we did. We ran back up the hill and through the park and into the line, hoping that our idea wouldn’t be one that everyone else in the park had already had. We were completely in luck. We climbed aboard and started our ride, holding our special Lego glasses on our faces while we rode The Dragon (again). And we were lucky enough to have an amazing view of part of the fireworks show while riding our favorite ride in the park. (The special Lego glasses made the fireworks appear to be made of Lego bricks, which is also pretty cool.)
After that, we repeated our run around to the line again . . . and again . . . and again. In all, we rode The Dragon 8 or 9 times total (including an extra bonus ride at the end of the night, where the ride operators let us all go one last time before they shut the ride down).
So, I admit it. I was wrong. I thought I was going to hate Legoland, but I actually didn’t. We had a great time, enjoyed the park, and spent some really fun time together. The park didn’t end up being just a giant Lego ad (though there were plenty of places to shop for Legos, too). In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’d like to go again, and I’ve already started looking into the other things in the park that we didn’t get to do our first time (like Lego jousting — only for kids, though). I was pleased with the number of things they had for the little ones to do (though we did end up doing the same thing over and over again — they had other stuff) and the members of the staff that we interacted with were all friendly and pleasant. Instead of having an awful day, we had a great one. I was impressed, and we will go back. (Or, possibly, we may go to Legoland Germany instead, which all of B’s school friends have been to. They all think it’s weird that he’s been to one in Florida. I hear they have their own version of The Dragon!)