Discover LEGOLAND fun much closer than Florida
At LEGOLAND in Florida – and presumably the California location, too – there is a "miniland" of American urban skylines recreated diminutively with LEGO bricks. It's one of the highlights of the huge parks.
But, if you can't get there to see it, don't worry. The LEGOLAND Discovery Center in suburban Chicago is itself a mini version of the outdoor LEGOLAND, though entirely inside. And, best of all, even the Discovery Center has a miniland.
The one in Schaumburg – there are also Discovery Centers in Dallas/Fort Worth, Kansas City and Atlanta – features a mini Chicago, complete with Navy Pier, Willis and Hancock towers, an el and more.
Our house is in the grip of LEGO mania these days. Last year we visited LEGOLAND Florida and had a great time. Hoping to extend the fun, we recently trekked down to the LEGOLAND Discovery Center, located adjacent to Woodfield Mall, in the Streets of Woodfield, at 601 N. Martingale Road (at Higgins Road).
Though the website suggests allowing at least 2-3 hours for your visit, I'd boost that up a bit. We were there longer and were it not for the desire for a sit-down lunch and a nap, the kids would have been happy to stay much longer.
Immediately after buying tickets to the two-story venue, you step into LEGO fun, so make sure the camera is fired up from the get-go. On the first floor is the Jungle Experience, a short stroll through a full-on jungle constructed of LEGO bricks, with huge hippos, monkeys, snakes and other creatures.
Nearby is the miniland, which – like LEGOLAND Florida – has two parts. One features Star Wars, with impressive displays chronicling the adventures of "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace." This one is most popular with the kids.
We adults, on the other hand, were more wowed by the miniland Chicago display, crafted from nearly 1.5 million bricks. The lights come up and its daylight in the Windy City. They dim and the twinkling lights in the buildings are illuminated.
Also downstairs is the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride. A family can strap into a car – sorry, I mean "mighty chariot" – un-holster some laser guns and head off into the tunnel to try to zap skeletons and trolls to rescue a captured princess. The ride isn't long but kids will love it (I admit I did, too).
Upstairs there's more. Like the bigger LEGOLANDs, there is a 4D theater that shows short films based on LEGO lines. We watched a Chima short and a City short – each about 10-12 minutes long and each featuring gusts of wind and spritzes of water to bring the action off the screen and into your face.
There's an area for kids to build and test their own LEGO racers and a master building academy. Adjacent to those is a guided tour of a LEGO "factory," which explains how LEGO bricks are made. Kids get a souvenir brick at the end of the tour.
The Duplo Village lets younger kids build with blocks, while the City Construction Site is a system of crawling tunnels and oversized soft bricks to build with. Earthquake tables allow visitors to build structures and see if they can withstand an temblor.
Our youngest child most adored the rotating Technicycle Ride, on which you pedal to make your seats go higher and higher. We went on this one at least three times. I suspect we could've spent the suggested 2-3 hours just getting back in line for this again and again.
Upstairs there are also rentable birthday party rooms and a snack bar offering a range of items to keep kids and adults fueled, but that won't really constitute a full-on meal.
Back down the stairs and you're in – natch – the LEGO shop. Just as at LEGOLAND, you can't earn points with your VIP card, but the card will get you a discount.
The day of our visit, the Discovery Center was pretty crowded, but we still had no trouble getting to the 4D theater or hopping on the Technicycle repeatedly. The center was clean and the staff was cheerful and helpful.
Walk-up admission is $18 (kids 2 and under are free) but it won't likely cost you that, since you need a kid to get in and a kid can't get in alone.
You can get discounted tickets and guaranteed and priority entrance tickets in advance online. Online saver tickets are $16. You can also buy after 3 p.m. saver tickets for $12. Annual passes are $40 per person for 12 months and include unlimited entry plus discounts in the shop, the cafe and on birthday parties (the passes are $45 in person, so buy it online).
The LEGOLAND Discovery Center is open daily in summer from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., but the final admission is at 5 p.m.
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