Legoland San Diego 2011
It is good to be five
It is getting cold here in the desert!!! I like rain--all desert rats do--but I was sure I had reached an understanding with snow that kept it north. Ah, well, at least I can drink hot coffee and remember the good times of summer while I wait for the weather to regain its sanity.
My son is five. This is good news for my entire family--gone forever are Barney, any possibility of some other child introducing him to the Teletubbies and him liking it, Kipper the Dog, and other inanities of toddlerhood. This was especially good news this past summer, for a five year old is certainly old enough to go to the shrine of little plastic blocs, Legoland California. He had Legoland on his mind for over a year, and we finally packed our troubles in the Dodge Charger and went.
What a shiner!
The Dodge Charger is a comfortable ride, which is good when you are in the car for two days driving through some of the dullest country in the United States with a boy who thinks San Diego should be a lot closer than it actually is and a wife who wants to stop every time she thinks some dusty little town sounds even slightly interesting. One day she may convince me to stop for one of her meanderings, but this time I had my boy as a good excuse to keep on schedule and keep on the road.
I was sure traveling with a five year old was going to test my patience, and I had prepared for it with a wise purchase: a portable DVD player for the car. The screen/player was strapped to my wife's headrest where he could watch Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Looney Tunes from the safety and comfort of his car seat. The first day of our trip, he was stuck in the car for six hours, from El Paso to Tuscon, and did not get bored. The next leg of the journey was even longer and he did just as well. A win for Dad, and for son.
There is not much to see between El Paso and Tuscon: Fraggle Rock, a few ghost towns, Texas Canyon, Cochise's Stronghold. There are places to stop and take hikes, get some local history, but the landscape is bleak and repetitive, so the car window tourist takes a beating. My wife and I listened to the radio. She read books. I counted trains. But we all survived to reach the hotel I had booked for us online.
In the hotel, my son had his first adventure of the vacation. He was leaping around on his bed, as my wife was telling him not to, and, bam! down he went, hitting his head below the eye on the headboard. He didn't cry, but sat on the edge of the bed looking shocked and insulted. He had been betrayed by gravity.
Finally, we get there
I am glad my son has no siblings. And that he does not listen to the music my sister and I listened to when we were young. I clearly remember she and I singing a duet of "We'll get there, heaven knows when we will get there" over miles and miles of Texas road on the way to a family reunion. I respect the patience my father had now in a way I could not then. Then, I just wanted the driving to be done already.
My wife had a list of places she wanted to see in San Diego that she would not get to see, and she knew it. She thinks we should go again, when the boy is older and she won't feel as guilty forcing him into something cultural against his wishes. She wants to see the missions, the museums, the beaches--all that stuff. My son had one object--Legoland. Nothing else existed for him, and as I am the fool who introduced him to Legos and the existence of Legoland (heehee--WIN) and his driver, I had to go along too. My wife went because the boy loves her and he would not go anywhere without mom. And, after all, he knew she would love Legoland. They have Darth Vader there. (This additional information was delivered in his imitation of Darth Vader. He really is pretty good at the breathing.)
So, an afternoon of rest, a good night's sleep, and we are off to Legoland. I opted for the two-day parkhopper pass, which gets you into Legoland, an associated aquarium, and a water park, for which, unfortunately, my son was not yet a good enough swimmer. We have hopes that on our return he will be. If they had a week-long pass, and we had a week to spend there, my son would have been happy with that. As it was, he got two days. We charged in, with his shiner, my camera, and my wife in tow.
First Roller Coaster and other thrills
My wife did not think she was really going to enjoy Legoland herself. She thought it was going to be one of those things she had a good time doing because it made the boy happy, and she is happy when he is happy. She was, surprisingly, wrong. The detail, imagination, and sheer artistry of the Lego displays that occupy the park is amazing, and she had as much fun admiring them, examining them, and finding the hidden ones as my son and I. Really, we thought it was going to be fun for the kid, but it ended up being a thrill for all of us.
Legoland has roller coasters. Not big, monstrous put your stomach in your eyeballs roller coasters, but good starter models. The problem with roller coasters is that you do not know if a kid is going to like them, or be scared out of their wits, until after the ride starts. Then, it is too late. You deal with the aftermath when the ride is over. We took my son on his first roller coaster and he loved it. He laughed the whole way through and wanted to go again as soon as it stopped. We had unwittingly started him on the most advanced of the Legoland roller coasters. We should have started with the coaster in Dinosaurland, which is really tame and even, to him, a bit dull, and worked our way up through the Dragoncoaster to the Technic coaster we started on. But it worked out fine. He loves roller coasters. His mom and I love roller coasters. A future of speed and turns await us. We watched one little girl leave the coaster crying, trying not to vomit. Just minutes before she had been begging her parents to let her get on the ride. You just can't tell if a kid is ready until it's too late to stop them. That poor kid wasn't ready.
We took pictures with Darth Vader. We examined every Star Wars model they had--and those were impressive dioramas: the Ewok village, the Death Star, the battle at Hoth. Each piece done so well, and at such a huge (for Legos) scale that it left me in awe. I thought of my Millennium Falcon, still half-finished, waiting for me at home and felt ashamed. We strolled through a Lego America, with Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and the New York skyline. We rode a boat through dioramas of elephants, a jazz band, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, and Mount Rushmore. It was amazing.
My son rode into the Lost Kingdom to shoot lasers at targets to trigger ride effects, and bragged that he was a better shot than me. He wasn't, but at five you can let them have the little victories. He shot other boys and girls with soft Nerf-like balls at a playroom conveniently next door to the Lost Kingdom ride. Attendants made sure no child was hurt and parents could get a few minutes rest while their children confined their mayhem to the play area. He rode the Dragon coaster, with its dungeon, magician, and trapped monster. He went on safari. He filled his two days with Lego adventures and chattering with other kids as excited as he was.
We could have gone to Disneyland up the road. We were close enough, but at my son's age, and given his interests, Legoland was the better choice for his first theme park. The park is geared for children to enjoy, with tables of Legos set up throughout the park for free play should the lines, an ever present annoyance at theme parks, or the walking tire you. We couldn't afford to buy much in the way of souvenirs, but that didn't get to him. He was where he wanted to be, making discoveries and conquering this new world of rides and mayhem by himself. There was not a single ride he was too young for; there was no activity our responsibility as parents forced us to deny him. He had two days in which the world DID revolve around him.
Tucson Children's Museum
Another day in Tucson
On the way back to El Paso, we stopped in Tucson again and met my wife's uncle one morning to go to the Tucson Children's Museum. This was another hit with our boy. The Children's Museum is designed to involve children with the displays, so they do not walk around under scrutiny being told not to touch anything, but are invited to touch almost everything. And more than touch it, they are invited to play with it. My son's favorite element was the largest game of operation he had ever seen. We brought home new friends from the museum, a puppet turtle named Turchill (after Churchill) for my son and a dragon puppet for my wife.
The summer vacation was a success, but I did learn a few things which I want to share with you.
- When posted signs instruct you not to touch the displays, so as not to damage them, be a good citizen and do not instruct your children to climb on them for a photo op. I saw far too many people behaving in this manner at Legoland.
- DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EAT THE PIZZA AT LEGOLAND. It is the one thing in the park that was unredeemable.
- When you begin to feel irritable, let the kid play in a safe area. Legoland provides plenty of these and you can get the peace you need to regain your equilibrium.
- Focus on what you did do, not on what you did not have an opportunity to do. Few of us have the time or resources to spend our lives on vacation, and you can't put every activity available into one day. It's a vacation, so go with the flow. Enjoy every moment, don't fill them.