When we got home from our vacation, I wrote two letters. One, a letter to the Fairview Inn and Suites thanking them for an amazing stay. Seriously. The best part of the trip! Indoor pool, clean room, unbelievably courteous and helpful staff (one person offered to bring us more popcorn to our room if we ran out), fitness center with state of the art equipment, continental breakfast that included a make-your-own-waffle bar and fresh fruit. We’d go back again just to stay at the hotel.
The second letter was not as happy. It was to the Legoland Discovery Center in Atlanta, the biggest disappointment of our trip. If you’ve got a Lego fan in your life, here’s what you need to know before you pay a visit.
It’s expensive. Tickets for the five of us set us back about $80. The site encourages visitors to order tickets online in order to receive priority, so we did. We learned that “priority” doesn’t mean that you get to the head of the line at anything. It means that you get in the door. And if you arrive an hour after your scheduled time, they don’t actually have to let you in if it’s busy.
It’s poorly laid out. After getting our ticket, we were sent into a room that measured about 20×30. Maybe less. It contained five or six large elements and some Lego statuary and was apparently their “factory.” A guide explained how Lego bricks are made, which was interesting. The problem was that the doors on either side closed on us, essentially trapping us in the room, as both sets of doors were automatic and had no handles on the inside. They allow 25 people in this room at a time, which is too many to move comfortably.
When the doors finally opened, we were walked toward a rats’ maze where we were to stand in line for the shoot ’em up game. Except that the line actually blocked the exit from the factory completely. In order to get out, we had to walk through the wall of people waiting in line. I was claustrophobic and ready to leave at that point.
Duplos rule the day. In the whole facility, there were only two areas to build with actual Lego bricks. There was a master builder classroom that can hold a max of about 20 people. Classes were held about every half-hour. The instructor taught them how to build a cube. The other Lego construction area was a build-your-own-race-car area. Builders could test their constructions on two five-foot “J” shaped ramps. Sadly, every single car flew up at the end of its run and either hit someone or left the area completely and became a tripping hazard. There were no attendants at this element. Squish was hit in the head twice.
If your kid considers Duplos to be beneath them, there won’t be a whole lot for them to do.
There are height restrictions and requirements. The informational map you can pick up at rest stops and restaurants is actually the same one you get at Legoland. It indicates there are such restrictions, but it doesn’t tell you what they are. The soft play area (what my son considered to be the only decent element in the place) is for 54 inches and under. The wizard ride is for 36 inches and above.
caveat: Height restriction applies to parents, too. Unless parents are smaller than 54 inches, they are not allowed to accompany their child into the soft-play area. This means that younger children may not be able to navigate the climbing portion of the structure unless they have an older child to help them. It also means that your toddler may get stuck in a high elements with much bigger and rougher kids, and you can’t see them at all from the ground.
There are lines for almost everything. Lines were shorter at Dollywood. There’s a section where kids can create a construction out of Duplos and see if it withstands an earthquake. There were stations for five or six kids at a time. There were at least 150 kids there that day.
The Lego store has no exclusive items, and their prices are very high . For the die-hard collector, there’s nothing better than laying hands on something you can’t get anywhere else. Look elsewhere. Everything in the store can be purchased at Target or Wal-mart for a much lower price. One set we saw was 50% more expensive than it is at Wal-mart.
Other Lego stores are better stocked. They have a little bin where visitors can build three mini-figures for a set price. At other stores, you get a body, head, hat or hair, and an accessory. At this store, there were no accessories at all, and only couple of kinds of hair, three different hats, and four bodies. They also have a small section of “pick a brick” where you can buy Lego bricks by the ounce. The selection of bricks, though, is poor.
My son had been saving his money for months for this trip. He ended up buying nothing. His assessment of the store was “I can get it for less somewhere else.” Dear Lego store, when a 10-year-old Lego freak with a pocket full of cash refuses to spend any of it in your store, you’ve missed the mark somewhere.
You can’t get real reviews on their website. In addition to picking only positive reviews to post (they’ve only got two reviews up at the moment), they reserve the right to edit your post. I would expect that they would only pick the good ones since it’s their site, but it’s creepy that they can edit your post.
One positive: The one thing in the facility that isn’t exorbitantly expensive is the food. The larger combos are for a family of 4, but individual portions weren’t that costly.
My advice: If your child is between the ages of 4-8, it is not a weekend, the tickets are free, and you’re in the Atlanta area anyway, it might be worth visiting Legoland Discovery Center. Otherwise, take the money you would have spent and buy a really, really cool Lego set. You’ll have something to show for it, and you may not lose your faith in the Lego company.
***Update: I did get an email response from someone at Legoland. He assured me that right after our visit, the Lego store restocked their merchandise and now has exclusive items. It’s not worth my money to travel back down there to verify. It appears, also, that all exclusive items can be found on the website. Save a trip and order online.