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Two New Theme Parks Open Up on the U.S. Coasts

How many parents have cursed aloud when, rushing to a child in the night, a bare foot has stepped upon a Lego block? Ouch! And yet, the very next day, when that same child is playing quietly with the tiny bricks, blessed their inventor? I’ve often offered up thanks to Lego’s Danish creator, Ole Kirk Christiansen, whose coloured blocks kept my own three kids building worlds in outer space, constructing forts for medieval knights and damsels and even exploring the underwater world in the bathtub. Calling his little building blocks LEGO (a contraction of the Danish words meaning “play well”), the toymaker also coined the company’s motto: “Only the best is good enough.”

It is estimated that since the bricks were first molded in 1949, some 300 million children have owned Lego sets and some 203 billion plastic Lego elements have been moulded. That’s over 30 blocks for every person living on the planet! It used to be that Legomaniacs had to travel to Billund, Denmark—the company’s headquarters—or Windsor, England to enjoy large Lego creations in their own theme parks.

No longer do Legomaniacs have to cross the ocean to get their fix. This spring, Legoland California opened its gates to reveal some 5000 Lego creations made from some 30 million bricks. Designed for kids two to 12, the theme park provides a low-key day outing from San Diego ( 30 miles south) or Los Angeles (100 miles to the north). In this small child-friendly world, toddlers step into leaf-shaped boats to glide past the Three Little Pigs; preschoolers ride a train through a jungle of Lego animals including an elephant that shoots real water. At the Driving School, those six and up are instructed on driving methods and set loose in electric cars to try to earn their “license.” Older kids can rush to register for Mindstorms workshops where they build motorized creations with Lego Technic pieces and activate them via computers.

All ages will enjoy Miniland, the miniature cityscapes featuring such famous landmarks as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge or the White House and embellished with realistic details such as tiny windsurfers in San Francisco Bay or waving Clinton-watchers. Press a button on a little post and you can make the monkeys in Central Park hop up and down or let a cow in the New England farm shake its head. Too bad these scenes are limited to American monuments and regions.

Also on the grounds are a small Lego factory where kids can watch the blocks being made, an adventure playground, and Water Works, a waterplay zone. You know that this park is small child-friendly when you see the tiny sinks and toilets in the washrooms, the extra little chairs beside the adult toilets, changing tables in the men’s restrooms and a complete family care center with facilities for warming bottles or changing a lethal diaper. And humour is not forgotten—Santa sits astride a California rooftop in shorts and shades; on the Fairy Tale Brook boat ride, Prince Charming comes calling with a cell phone.

No matter how much your kids love playing with the Duplo or Lego on site, be warned—they can’t take any of the blocks home with them. That’s when they march you to one of the five shops offering the largest selection of Lego products in the U.S. So set a limit beforehand.

For those who prefer high-voltage action, namely pre-teens and teens who think that Lego is behind them, a new theme park in Orlando, Florida will provide the appropriate chills and thrills. This weekend, Universal Studios unveils its Islands of Adventure park, an 110-acre area offering five “islands” of high-tech rides and attractions. With Steven Spielberg as creative consultant and such devilish adventures as the Incredible Hulk roller coaster that mimics the same G-force experienced by an F-16 pilot on take off or the Dueling Dragons, a computer-controlled coaster where two sets of cars barely miss each other at 60 miles per hour, it’s sure to be a success.

Of course, those with a weak stomach can enjoy the park too. The Cat in the Hat patrols the streets; an old-fashioned carousel and 3-D Superhero adventures provide respite from the drops and plunges. And then, there’s that Green Eggs and Ham dish at the Seuss Landing Restaurant. Universal is hoping to give the Disney folks a run for their money with future hotels on site and three- and four-day packages. Who knows though if Spiderman and the Cat in the Hat will inspire the same kind of pull as Minnie and Mickey?

Legoland California is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. on weekends,) until 9 p.m after June 18. Admission is U.S. $32, U.S. $25 seniors and kids three to 16. Parking, U.S.$ 6. Ten percent discount for CAA members.It’s best to arrive around 9 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m to avoid the long line-ups. If your child wants to attend a workshop, register as soon as you enter the park. Call 760-918-5346. Islands of Adventure admission is U.S. $42, U.S. $34 for kids three to nine, free for under threes. Parking, U.S. $6. Call 1-888-837-2273.





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