Monday, August 19, 2013

Birthday Bash at Legoland Discovery Center, Chicago

We try to do something special for the kids birthdays each year. Last year we visited Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, MI. The kids loved the waterpark and all that goes along with it and begged to go back, and while we look forward to our next visit, we like to keep things fresh, so we planned something new this year.

Nat wanted to visit the American Girl store located in Watertower Place on Michigan Ave right in the heart of downtown Chicago, while Godzilla has been begging to go to Legoland D.C. just up the highway in lovely Schaumburg, IL. So, to make things easier, and to keep me from going crazy at the A.G. store (seriously, have you ever seen that place?) Kate took Nat for her special day, and after dropping them off on the Magnificent Mile, I took the boy on the short drive out to the 'burbs and the glory of a day full of a billion bricks.

As we drove the half hour from Michigan Ave to the Streets of Woodfield, the boy kept telling me he wished we were there all ready. I could only tell him we were getting closer every minute. Once we pulled in and before parking, we knew we were in the right place by the giant Lego giraffe you could see standing over the entrance. Godzilla was surprised and impressed that it was made out of real Lego Duplo bricks.

But that was just the tip of the proverbial plastic iceberg! Stepping through the doors, you meet a life sized Batman and Spongebob, and a larger than life Einstein face. You know, the one where he's sticking that genius tongue of his out at you.

Legoland isn't so much a theme park, as it is one of the coolest children's museums around. Their website advises allowing 2 to 3 hours for your visit, but our trip lasted the better part of 5 hours, and only ended when it did because we had to pick up the girls for dinner back downtown.

Seeing as how we were celebrating a birthday, I took the time to purchase our tickets online before going, and when we got to the counter, we simply presented the confirmation code and walked right in. Once through the gates, you get your photo taken and a claim ticket to purchase it later if you like. We had the option to purchase it online with our tickets, and dropped $30 for a special printed, buildable brick wall with our photo on it (to be delivered by mail within 2 weeks).

Immediately after the photo-op, you walk straight into Lego Miniland Chicago, a miniature replica of the second city, complete with 6 foot tall skyscrapers: replicas of the skyline including the Sears Tower, the John Hancock building and Navy Pier. I'm told there were more than a million and a half bricks in this room alone.

The next room was a jungle. No, a literal jungle. You walk straight into hanging vines, some monkeys swinging from the trees, a hippo, snakes, an alligator, even Indiana Jones makes an appearance. Godzilla felt right at home, petting the snakes, trying to stick his head in the gator's mouth and prowling the jungle floor with the tigers

We walked out of the jungle right into Star Wars Episode I. We can save the debate of the value of the Star Wars prequels for some other time, but for Godzilla, seeing a giant pod racer course with two working pod racers and a grandstand full of Lego mini-figures plus a life sized replica of Darth Vader put him over the little plastic moon (that's no moon).

After a short interactive ride where we used laser guns to shoot trolls, skeletons, spiders and bats to save a princess and see a baby dragon egg hatch, we made our way to the main event: the build and test tracks and the "Construction Site"

Imagine a room full of Lego with ramps and a soft play area with a slide, some obstacles and over sized foam "Lego bricks". This was Heaven. We would have closed the place down in this room, played through the night and greeted the staff the next morning! The room is scattered with tables loaded with bricks and wheels for the kids to build cars or use their imagination to make whatever else their hearts desired. They could then take their car to the ramps and test them out to see how well they rolled downhill, how they stayed together, how fast they could get them to go, or how far one would jump.Even with the large number of kids in the room, there was enough space and enough blocks for him to be well occupied.

After the better part of an hour just building, we made our way into the "Construction Site" where he was again infatuated with building. The large foam Legos provided the perfect medium for building walls, and he just set to it. Even the offer of pizza and icecream for lunch from the cafe there inside Legoland could not drag him away from his project.

Once we finally finished there, we ate lunch and made our way to the 4D cinema, a "Clutch Powers" short 3D movie enhanced with fans, sprinklers and "snow" in the seats to help immerse you in the action of the show as you sky-dived with a character, or a monster slobbered on you.

The next thing we did was take the "factory" tour, a small room with interactive machines to show you the process of creating the bricks, taking the plastic from granules through to the moulding process and culminating in each person taking the tour being given a special printed "Legoland Factory" Duplo brick.

A quick stop at the photo booth to confirm our photo from when we walked in and it was down to the Lego store on the way to the exit. I could tell you we walked out empty handed, but that would be a bold faced lie. It was his birthday after all, and we picked up a few sets to keep the magic growing.

We drove back downtown and grabbed dinner at the Rainforest Cafe just a few blocks off the Mile and compared notes with the girls, showing off photos and telling stories. Nat had a great time getting her American Girl doll's ears pierced and hair done. They had a 7 course meal, bought a pet dog for her doll and outfitted their wardrobes with matching shirts. Both of the kids were so well behaved, neither one whined or begged, which really made the day as big a success for us as it was for them.

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