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LEGO Ice Cream Pirate at LEGOLAND

As perpetual tourists in Los Angeles since we moved here many years ago, my husband and I have traveled all around Southern California. Now that we have children, it’s much more fun, because we have 2 built-in reasons to visit kid-friendly places. I recently asked our kids what their favorite trips have been, and aside from visiting their grandparents in Connecticut and Louisiana, they both said “LEGOLAND” without hesitation.

We have been to LEGOLAND as a family several times, and the kids even went with their great-aunts a few years ago (on an awesome kid-free weekend for me and the husband!). That’s a long way from our friends who are annual pass holders at other parks and pop in every time they get a free second (what fun!) but we are a good 3-hour drive from Carlsbad so we have to reserve our trips for sports-free weekends! With two active boys, our family doesn’t have a ton of those!

So why LEGOLAND? Well, it’s everyone’s favorite because:

The visitors are nice. Since the whole park is themed for kids and LEGO lovers, you’re less likely to have adults visiting without kids. And kids tend to make adults behave better.

The rides aren’t too scary. Even though my boys are getting older, they are still shy about braving the big thrill rides of other parks.

It’s not too big. Even with the water park, the SEA LIFE Aquarium, and LEGOLAND itself, a family can still go at a leisurely pace and have a great time without being overwhelmed.

We found a great place to stay. Instead of staying at the hotel on site (which is something we dream of doing one day!) we stay at the Best Western Encinitas, which is right near the beach and the groovy town of Encinitas. There is a small pool and hot tub, and continental breakfast every morning. It’s reasonably priced and only a short drive from LEGOLAND.

Legolander_logo_2016_FINAL-03

If you are planning a trip to LEGOLAND, keep your eyes on this site and social media channels, because I’m excited to say that Agoura Hills Mom is an official LEGOLAND insider! I’ll get first looks at new features and promotions from the park and I will share them here!

LEGOLAND California and Water Park

Our family first visited LEGOLAND California in the summer of 2009, right after their Sealife Aquarium opened, but before the water park opened. The kids were little then, oh so little. Didn’t seem like it at the time. Any age your kids are, they seem to be getting so big. But we visited again earlier this month – over four years later – and the differences were remarkable:

legoland then and now

Our boys are now 8 and 6, approaching the upper end of the age range of children who would still consider a day (or two) at LEGOLAND fun, young enough that they still enjoy the wonder of Miniland, can spend an hour building cars out of LEGOs to race in the derby, and are not at all concerned about looking “cool.” To take advantage of their all-too-short youth, we visited the park again and this time spent an extra half day at the water park (open weekends through October 2013 and then closed until next spring).

Overall:

We had a fabulous time. As I had suspected, my boys aren’t too old for LEGOLAND. In fact, they’re just right. They scampered off to the rides with no fear, no height restrictions, and no running away and getting lost in the crowds, either. We visited on a school day (but not for them – it was that random LVUSD “fall break”) when it was a little bit overcast at first. The park was never crowded, and we barely had to wait in any lines. Score!

legoland fun

A few things we hadn’t done before:

X-wing Fighter – this full size fighter ship from Star Wars is the biggest LEGO sculpture ever made. It sits inside its own special tent, and as we walked up I said “Wow…” and so did many other adults. The kids just ran right toward it, unaware of how SUPER COOL it is.

Miniland – we had never taken the time to wander through Miniland and we were delighted by the little cities and buildings and yes, the scenes from all the Star Wars movies.

The Ride of Insanity – The Knights’ Tournament (in above photo upper right) – either it wasn’t here the last time we came, or the kids just weren’t big enough. Now they are big and brave enough but we had to go on it with them. A robot claw tosses you up in the air and spins you and swings you. It’s insane. Luckily you can choose your level of insanity, and even level 2 was too much for me. I guess I am a wuss. The kids loved it.

LEGOLAND is showing its age, though. I noticed that some of the brick sculptures are looking faded. A few of the water features had garbage floating in them. There were cobwebs in the corners. It made me a little bit sad to notice this passage of time, and I hope that those sculptures are scheduled for some facelifts, and that maybe some regular maintenance was scheduled for Friday night.

instruments in duplo village

Water Park: the LEGOLAND Water Park is situated at the northwest corner of the park. You can only get into it as part of your admission to the main park, but it’s an extra fee. We ended up coming back the second day which required an add-on of a 2-day pass, but that only cost $15 per ticket. It was a good move though because the next day was sunny and hot. Perfect!

legoland water park

A few things that make this water park great for families:

Lockers: for $7 you can get a small locker for the day, big enough for your backpack, keys, wallet, and phone. The “key” is a wristband with a sensor in it that opens and locks the door. You don’t have to remove it to ride the slides or splash in the pool.

The park is small – just three waterslides, a lazy river, a big wading pool with water features, and a miniature version of all of those things for younger children. While that means you won’t need to spend a long time there, it’s great for keeping track of your kids. We lost track of one of ours when he got on the lazy river ahead of us, so have a family meeting ahead of time and decide on a place where you all meet if you get separated.

There are plenty of chairs where you can stake your claim with a towel and your flip flops, but not much shade. There are clean restrooms and changing rooms and plenty of working showers for rinsing off. The snack bar is small but has the requisite hot weather fare, including slushie drinks which are a big hit with my kids.
pirate reef

The best feature of the LEGOLAND/Water Park combo is the access to Pirate Reef, our family’s favorite ride over BOTH parks. It’s a simple log flume ride but you’re in a wide boat, and there’s only one drop, but it’s a big one:

We went on this ride, not knowing truly how wet we would get, early on our first day, in street clothes. Luckily we all dried off quickly, but it was key to be a good sport about it! At the Water Park, you can enter and exit the ride from a special opening, and there is a separate line for Water Park people. Riding Pirate Reef in a swimsuit is a MUCH better way!

In another post I’ll write about where we stayed and dined. We have done this trip three times now, and we have our favorites. Until then, here’s another flashback, this time to 2010:

legoland flashback

For a limited time kids get into LEGOLAND CA free with a paid adult ticket. Visit this website to get the link and the offer code. I received two free passes to facilitate this review, plus I used this deal to get two more tickets.

Road Trip Wish List: A Mazda CX-9

This post is sponsored content from BlogHer and Mazda CX-9.

Last weekend when we drove from Los Angeles to Big Bear Mountain for our first ski/snowboarding adventure, I found myself wishing we had a much bigger car so the kids didn’t even have to sit next to each other. And looking at the specs of the Mazda CX-9, I realize that as we start planning more road trips in our near future, a car that fits our growing family might be the difference between vacation hell and vacation bliss.

The vehicle size is priority number one. We still drive a boxy compact crossover with bucket seats in the back, allowing for only two kids. There’s (barely) enough cargo room for regular life, but limited space for all the stuff we want to bring on out-of-town trips: bikes (x4), food, clothing, camping gear for the mountains, boogie boards (x4) for the beach and, of course, the kitchen sink. We need more room, or we’ll start looking like the Griswolds on the way to Wally World.

With the CX-9’s 7-passenger interior and fold-down seats, we could even put each boy in his own row so they can’t keep trying to maim each other because they’re bored on a long ride. Or we could even (gasp!) bring along a friend for each brother.

Being well prepared for a car trip makes for a more enjoyable getaway, but this time I was more focused on borrowing the correct gear for the kids’ first snowboard lesson than prepping for the three-hour drive. We navigated up the mountain by using my phone’s map and trying to follow another family in their car. We would have been much better off with a dashboard navigation system, such as the CX-9’s TomTom, to help us with the most efficient route to our destination. After all, there are several ways to get through LA traffic and up to the mountains, and at one point my husband and I both said, “Where ARE we?!”

(Answer: Victorville, CA. The last big city before the mountains. Who knew?)

TomTom would have answered that question before we even asked it. Plus, the pleasant voice guidance would be better than my confused, too-late directions as I helped my husband figure out which way to go (and vice versa).

We love to leave on road trips after dinner and arrive the night before all the fun starts. That way, the boys can sleep on the ride. We avoid the fighting and the whining and the eleventy millionth, “Are we there yet?” coming from the back seat. But those times when we must travel while they are awake, we load up a bag or two of activities to keep them busy. Now that at least one of them can read, books are a natural addition, and I try to get new titles from the library for our older son to enjoy. The 5-year-old is happy to play with his handheld gaming system or, in a pinch, my phone.

Once upon a time I used to load kids’ music and audiobooks onto my iPod or CDs to play in the car, but then my husband let the kids play in the front seat while he was washing it one day. You can probably guess the rest of this story. The boys put pennies into the CD player and in every power outlet in the vehicle, so none of those features work anymore. The Mazda CX-9 comes with a standard USB audio input port, which would help me rekindle the kids’ love of audiobooks. It also offers available HD Radio, Pandora Internet radio connectivity and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. And now that the boys are listening to better music (farewell, Old MacDonald!), we could all rock out to our tunes of choice. Of course, my kids dream of “having a TV in the car,” and if I were a cooler mom, we would have at least gotten a portable DVD player by now. But with the CX-9’s optional Rear-Seat Entertainment System, we could have them watch their favorite videos on a 9″ LCD screen.

The price of the Mazda CX-9 makes me want to go get a new car right now. Today. Hold my calls. We paid $20,000 for our boxy crossover in 2005 because we financed it. At the time, my husband and I had one baby and one large dog. Now we have two gangly boys and a commitment to paying cash for our next car. At around $30,000 MSRP, the CX-9 seems like a reasonable upgrade to match the upgraded size of our family, which to be honest is growing as the boys get bigger.

We managed to make it up “to the snow,” as we say in Los Angeles, with no visible injuries on either of the boys. They took ski and snowboarding lessons, went sledding, and made snowmen and had snowball fights for the first time. They had a blast, and my husband and I enjoyed watching them and staying dry on the sidelines. We headed back down to sea level with a car full of sweaty gear and tired humans, wishing our car had a dashboard camera to better capture the beautiful sunset.

Overall, it was a great road trip. With a bit more room and more entertainment options, both of which are offered by the Mazda CX-9, there would have been a lot less whining, threatening and bargaining. And the kids would have been much quieter, too.