The LEGO brand with its iconic brick building toys, successful LEGO Dimensions and LEGO Worlds video games, and blockbuster movies is at an all time high in popularity. So parents with school aged children at home have most assuredly been asked countless times if the family can go on a vacation to one of the LEGOLAND theme parks by their kids. For those families who don’t have the time or budget to travel to California, Florida or one of the foreign countries that has a LEGOLAND theme park (Dubai, Germany, Great Britain, Malaysia) there is another option that can make for a fun road trip.
Merlin Entertainments, which operates the LEGOLAND theme parks, has opened ten facilities across the USA and Canada that provide an immersive 2 to 3 hour LEGO experience for visitors. These LEGOLAND Discovery Centers are located in Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ontario, Canada. My family has visited our local LEGOLAND Discovery Center, which is at Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall in the suburban Detroit community of Auburn Hills, on several occasions. My kids have had a great time on every visit!
Each of the LEGOLAND Discovery Centers has a similar layout with primarily the same attractions at each one. So if you live in Massachusetts making a special trip to Philadelphia just to visit the LEGOLAND Discovery Center won’t be much different than if you’d driven to the closer one in Boston instead. There is one caveat to that point though which we’ll get back to in a minute. Before you plan out a visit, be aware that children must be supervised by an accompanying adult. Also to maintain a kid-friendly and safe environment no one over 18 years old is allowed admission who isn’t specifically accompanying minors. For older LEGO fans, they do routinely host a monthly “no kids” allowed Adult Night with a variety of special activities and contests.
From my observations while being at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan, the children that will probably get the most enjoyment out of a visit are between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. There won’t be much those under that age can participate in and teens may find themselves getting bored or in trouble. For those kids in the preschool through elementary school age range though a visit to a LEGOLAND Discovery Center can be an amazing experience. Here are some of the highlights of a visit:
It starts off with a virtual reality LEGO Factory Tour experience that lets you discover how LEGO bricks are made to get their shape and color. You are guided through each stage of the LEGO brick making process; mixing, heating, molding and decorating. Plus everyone gets to build a customized digital version of a LEGO mini-figure that is then displayed on a big screen which will always get all the kids in the room excited.
Where each location is different and why you may want to visit a multiple number of the LEGOLAND Discovery Centers is to check out each of their unique MINI-LANDS. Every location replicates area landmarks in miniature made out of LEGO bricks. In the Metro Detroit location for example, the MINI-LAND features the Renaissance Center (world headquarters of General Motors), Comerica Park (home of the Tigers MLB team), Ford Field (home of the Lions NFL team), and numerous other spots that Detroiters are proud of. The lighting changes every fifteen minutes so that visitors can see the display both in daylight and night time views with the cityscape illuminated. If your family is really into model building with LEGO bricks, you may want to travel around and see all of the various MINI-LAND displays at the different LEGOLAND Discovery Centers which each average using more than 1.5 million bricks to build some spectacular creations.
Kingdom Quest is an interactive ride that has people jump into chariots and use laser guns to zap evil doers in an attempt to rescue a Princess. Compete against friends and families to see who can achieve the highest score. The better your aim at hitting a mix of physical and digital targets the higher your score will be. I hate to admit it but my wife always beats me and wins at this game in our family competitions! This is one of our favorite activities at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
Merlin’s Apprentice Ride has you soar up into the sky within enchanted carts. How high you fly is determined by the speed in which you pedal!
Master Builders Academy hosts creative workshops throughout the day that provide insider tips and super tricks when it comes to building with LEGO bricks.
A 4D Cinema shows twenty-minute long 3D cartoons featuring popular LEGO characters and adds some extra special effects like wind, rain, snow, and lightning to bring the on-screen experience to life.
LEGO Racers: Build & Test lets you build your own vehicle and race it on a test track. Times are recorded to the hundredth of a second so it might be a close competition between friends on who has the bragging rights to claim the fastest LEGO racer. My son always wants to rush over to this section to play and this is where he spends most of his time while we are there.
Earthquake Tables let kids build LEGO brick towers and see how long their creations can withstand the shaking of the table it is built upon.
A LEGO Friends area is a space inspired by the toy line of the same name that features a miniature cityscape to play in. It also has life-size models of the mini-figures from the LEGO Friends collection.
The DUPLO Farm provides a special space for preschoolers 5 years old and younger to play where they can climb around a barn then slide down into a farm yard full of big, soft LEGO bricks to play with.
There is also a LEGO City inspired play zone filled with challenges, obstacles and interactive features for children to run about in. Despite all the other unique, interesting things to do at the Discovery Center this playground spot is where my daughter always races to and seems to have the most fun.
LEGOLAND Discovery Centers are open seven days a week. There are a variety of ticket packages to choose from ranging from a one day ticket to an annual pass. Many of the locations have a SEA LIFE Aquarium, also operated by Merlin Entertainments, in the general vicinity and offer discounted combo packages to attend both attractions on the same day. Also keep an eye out for special deals that are available from time to time such as “Free adult entry with the purchase of a kid’s ticket.” It is also highly recommended to purchase tickets online because if the facility reaches capacity they stop selling them at the door. You absolutely don’t want to trek to a LEGOLAND Discovery Center with your kids only to find out they are sold out for the day.
Keep an eye out for special themed events taking place throughout the year as well. Over the last few months for example, the Discovery Center’s have hosted Nexo Knights and Batman LEGO Movie weekends which I’ve attended with my family and we’ve really enjoyed. During these events the MINI-LAND displays are taken over by LEGO toy sets tied to the theme. Joker, Harley Quinn and Clay Face threatened Detroit MINI-LAND but fortunately Batman, Robin and Batgirl came to the rescue during the Batman LEGO Movie weekend for instance.
There will also be photo-ops with LEGO characters, themed LEGO brick building projects and demonstrations plus chances to win prizes in activities such as costume contests, construction contests, and scavenger hunts during these events. These themed weekends are a lot of fun and worth keeping an eye out for. Each location has their own dedicated Twitter feed and Facebook page which are a great way to learn about upcoming discounts and special events. Customized sections for all the locations are accessible through legolanddiscoverycenter.com and provide links to the individualized social media accounts. There is also a helpful app available on the Apple App Store and GooglePlay.
Now here are a few things to be aware of from a parent’s perspective before taking your kids for a visit. Whenever I’ve visited they’ve always had really clean bathrooms that have been accessible without waits so don’t worry about having to leave for a potty break. When planning the timing of your visit though make sure your kids are properly fed so you don’t have to interrupt your family’s fun to leave to get something to eat. There is a Café within each LEGOLAND Discovery Center but it is pricey and honestly doesn’t have a very good selection of food to choose from, especially if you are dealing with picky eaters. That being said if you need it the Café is there for you. Also weekends are normally peak attendance so if you can swing a Monday through Thursday visit do that; plus prices are lower when purchasing tickets online for a visit during these week day times.
Also to leave the attraction you have to walk through a LEGO store. Be prepared for this in advance to avoid child melt-downs over not being bought something on the way out. It is easy to walk through and get out of fairly quickly but despite that most parents can probably be assured that something on a store shelf is going to catch a kid’s eye as they head to the exit.
If your kids love LEGO building blocks (seriously what child doesn’t?!), they will absolutely be excited about a family road trip to a LEGO Discovery Center. My family has had a great time whenever we’ve visited. I’ve highlighted a few of our family visits at ageekdaddy.com that you can read about or go to legolanddiscoverycenter.com to learn more about what they have to offer.