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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Legoland Discovery Center: Decent But Too Pricey

With my brother-in-law and his family visiting us, we needed to find something interesting to do for the weekend. After tossing around several ideas, we settled on the Legoland Discovery Center. Part of the reason for the choice was that this place is completely indoors and the weather was dreadful outside, with frequent downpours, and occasional lightning and thunder.

Even before we left home, we found a coupon in a magazine at home that promised one free child admission for each paid adult admission to this attraction. We were a perfectly balanced group with 4 adults and 4 children, but it wasn't clear from the coupon whether one coupon would suffice for all 4 adults and 4 children or whether each adult/child pair would require one coupon each. We scrounged around and located 4 copies of the magazine and cut out 4 of the coupons just in case.

Right outside the Discovery Center there is a giant lego sculpture of a giraffe (with sunglasses on!). The pieces are glued together after assembly so that passersby can not damage the sculpture by prying out blocks at random.

The admission was quite pricey, with each adult ticket costing $19 and each child ticket going for $15. At the ticket counter, the employee took all 4 of the coupons and charged me for just the adult admissions. It was a savings of $60 from a coupon found in a free magazine! Sounded like an auspicious start to me. . .

Once you enter the place, you line up to enter an attraction called the Jungle Adventure. The line forms alongside a massive lego model of the entire Chicago lakefront, including all the famous buildings, a section of the CTA elevated railway, Navy Pier, etc. It is called miniland. On the wall are informational posters about the buildings, the model and its scale, how many blocks were used, how many people built it over how many years, etc. The lighting on this model cycles through day and night every few minutes, with lights coming on inside the buildings at night and going off during the day. It was quite an impressive feat!

Below are some pictures of miniland.

Jungle Adventure is just a walking tour of a jungle constructed out of Lego blocks. There are all kinds of insects, plants, trees, etc. all made out of Lego blocks. The reason for the line is because it is a narrow walkway through the jungle and there is not much room for people to crowd in. Moreover, they had some inane children's activity for the area with some questions written on the walls for which the kids had to come up with answers based on information that is also on the walls in different places. They were given a card with scratch off spaces to mark their answers. They had to let people into Jungle Adventure in small batches so that an overenthusiastic employee could explain the activity to the kids. Pretty much all the kids lost interest in the activity right away and just spent their time admiring the construction of the jungle itself.

Pictured below is a giant spider in Jungle Adventure.

Once you walk out of the Jungle Adventure, you get to go on a ride called the Dragon Ride. It is billed as a roller-coaster, but there is no rolling or coasting involved. It is a completely flat track with the cars going past some scenes from what looked like scenes from some medieval wizards and dragons kind of story. There is a large lego dragon towards the end of the ride that blows smoke out of its nostrils while moving its head menacingly.

After the ride, you enter the free area of the discovery center where you are no longer in lines, being herded from one attraction to another. There are several attractions that one can choose from in this area. One of them is a so-called 4-D theater that shows 3-D movies with special effects that include water being sprayed on the audience and snow flakes falling from the roof at the appropriate scenes. We watched two movies in the theater (one about Bob the Builder and the other about some evil wizard who tries to conquer a kingdom with an army of skeletons). The 3-D effect was quite lame, and the stories were lamer. I guess it was good fun for the kids though. My daughters were particularly fascinated by the snow falling from the ceiling of the theater!

Then there is the model builders workshop which was even lamer. We were anticipating being taught how lego models are planned and built, but instead, each person in the room was given 8 small lego blocks. They were supposed to make one large brick out of these 8 blocks. Then the workshop conductor walked around the room asking each participant to add their brick wherever they wanted to a growing, shapeless, meaningless scupture. As expected, the final result was a blob that the conductor admired (saying it was abstract art) more than anyone in the room did!

Some scenes from the Model Builders' Workshop below.

We then went on the factory tour which talks about how plastic granules are melted at 572 degrees to form a plastic liquid which is then molded into lego bricks. The bricks are then painted. An actual documentary showing the actual factory would have been more informative than the employee who was mustering as much fake enthusiasm as he could while trying to explain all this to a restless crowd of parents and kids. There were some fake machines that show the process and as a reward for going through this inane exercise, each visitor is given a single lego brick as a souvenir.

Some pictures of the factory tour.

There is a cafe on the premises selling various snack and junk foods. Next to it is an area where there are tables set up for people to build lego models. Large number of lego blocks of various shapes and sizes are provided for people to try their hand at building whatever they want to. This is actually probably the only worthwhile part of the entire attraction. All of us had a lot of fun trying to put together various objects. Apart from simple things like stacking bricks on top of each other to form something that looked like a building, anything else was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. My models broke and shattered quite regularly, and after a while, I gave up. I watched the kids having fun instead.

Some pictures of the Build and Test area.

You can also build vehicles here (they provide wheels in exchange for a picture ID) and there are a couple of tracks where you can race your vehicles against those of others. There is also a merry-go-round kind of ride in this area (pictured below).

About every half an hour, the staff conducts a creativity contest in this area. They give the participants a theme and ask them to build a model to that theme. At the end of the half hour, they judge the models and give "prizes". The first contest was themed roller-coasters. Our group constructed a rickety model that looked somewhat like a cartoon roller-coaster. Luckily, nobody in the area constructed anything to do with roller-coasters during this contest, so by default, we were crowned champions! The prizes consisted of paper crowns designating us champions in creativity, and entries into a raffle that promised 2 annual passes at the end of the month.

Below is a picture of the roller-coaster converted into a spider!

We stayed around for the next contest which was to build animals. This time several groups of people competed, building a cow, an alligator and a giraffe. We converted our roller-coaster into a spider by adding more rickety legs to the highest point of the original structure! Unfortunately, we did not win this time (surprise, surprise!).

Visitors are routed through a retail store to get to the exit. The store sells various lego products including boxed sets of bricks and assorted bricks by the pound ($28 per pound if you are curious).

Throughout the place were amazing lego sculptures and models which really made me appreciate the creativity of the model builders who had made them, but the place did not even begin to teach you how such things are planned and built. The models could be as simple as a tree built out of a few dozen blocks, or be as complicated as life-size models of people using a few thousand blocks, or be like miniland, which is an entire city-scape, made out of a few million bricks. A couple of them are pictured below.

Overall, it was fun for the kids and they seemed to enjoy the activities. It was not as interesting for adults. The number of attractions was too low, and the actual attractiveness of these attractions was even lower. Most of the time, it was high expectations followed by low outcomes, classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. It would probably be OK at half the price, but at $19 per adult, my verdict would be to skip it and find something else to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please. Get a camera.

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