Thursday, April 21, 2016

Best Bet for Legoland California Hotel and Park deals

If you have patience and are relentless about researching for deals, you can find them. Here was my approach:

Best Hotel Deal: Continuously search the Legoland hotel website for fares that are affordable. I did so every few months. Be flexible with your dates and you can wait to grab the best deal possible. The rooms typically run ~ $350-$400+ per night – but I scrounged around until I found a $206/night rate. This was the best deal I had ever heard of so I immediately grabbed 3 nights for an Adventure Room, which happened to be on the 3rd floor, the top floor. Even better! I was even more delighted to learn that the Breakfast Buffet each morning was included with the discounted rate, along with Wi-Fi on the property and in the rooms. Plus there is complimentary bottled water, coffee, hot cocoa and kid juices in the room, which are replenished daily. A really pleasant surprise was the prize in the treasure chest in the room, it had mini Lego packets and a Lego activity book – and that was replenished daily as well with a mini Lego packet.
  • If you are going to Legoland for a few days, I highly recommend you immerse yourself into the full experience by staying at the hotel. We loved it. There is an outdoor, heated pool, outdoor movie by the pool, Lego building pits in the lobby, magicians and other ‘shows’ to keep the kids entertained. Not to mention the elevator rides – which has a disco ball and a random song playing every time you ride it. I think the hotel is ideal for families with kids ~ 5-10. That’s the sweet spot. The only miserable people I saw at the hotel were families with young children (typically more than one). They tended have kids ranging from infants to 4 years old. There were plenty of meltdowns from the younger kids. But 5 and older kids were having a great time, as were their parents. To me, that’s the sweet spot age.
  • The hotel restaurant “Bricks” is where the outstanding breakfast buffet is set up. It’s by far one of the best spreads I’ve seen at a hotel. The main buffet has your choice of omelets or any type of egg cooked the way you like it, French toast, waffles, turkey sausage, polish sausages, bagels, toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit smoothies, pastries and muffins, oatmeal, cereal, coffee, juice, yogurt, etc. The kid’s buffet has Belgian waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, and more. Both buffets are all you can eat, and you can go up for a new plate as often as you’d like. We like to eat early so we signed up for the 7a-8a slot (the other slots are 8a-9a or 9a-10a). We didn’t have to wait in any lines and finished eating after 30-40 minutes when the room started to fill up. On nice days, the restaurant can seat outside, so they can hold even more families. It’s nice to be immersed with Lego structures of chef’s doing a variety of cooking related things (backing cakes, throwing pies, etc.) Note: The earlier you go, the more likely you will miss the lines. After 8am, expect to wait in line for 15+ minutes to get seated.
  • Hotel guests get early access to the park at 9am, a full hour before it’s open to the public. That’s pretty cool and we took advantage of it even though the entire park isn’t open. What is open and running we found worthwhile. We signed up for Mindstorm – the robotic programming course for 3rd graders and older. It’s a 45-minute session and we picked a mid-day slot, which was perfect since we were ready for a rest by that time. We also went on the nearby Coaster Cruise, which is a slow, relaxing and scenic ride throughout the Lego structures, and Miniland. 

  • By the way, each morning Emmett comes out to open the park at 9am and picks a child to help him. All you need to do is get your child up front by the turnstile and raise their hand eagerly and they will get picked.
  • Another advantage of staying at the hotel in the park is the ability to re-enter the park. You can go back to your hotel room for a quick rest if needed, change clothes if you were at the water park, grab a snack from your room, etc. That was nice – so you can come and go as you pleased into the park until it closed at 6pm.
Legoland Park – ticket deals and some helpful hints:
  • We bought etickets in advance from Costco. We got a 3-day pass for Legoland, the Waterpark and Sea Life Aquarium for $98/person for all 3 days. That’s a great deal as people were unhappy to discover the Water Park has a separate daily fee even though you can only access it via Legoland park. Our all-inclusive pass was very much worth it. Re-use the printed e-tickets for all 3 days. When we got there, we learned the hotel was offering a 4-day pass for the same price, but I’m not sure it covered the Water Park and Aquarium as well. I’m pretty thrilled with our Costco purchase. We saved $200/adult per day ($400 savings for 2 days for 2 adults) and $87 for my son per day ($174 savings for 2 days). Nearly $600 in savings just on Legoland park tickets – that’s significant.
  • Project X is the roller coaster the older kids and grown ups like the most. It’s mild, but starts with a nice steep drop and that’s when they take your photo that you see at the end of the ride. The photo is irresistible and you end up paying the $15 for it. Plus you get an access code for a digital copy, and the code is good for 90 days. How could we resist the pure panic look on my 9 year old’s face, my totally ecstatic face cheering “oh yeaaaah!!!” and my husband with a mediocre, ok, this is cool smile. It was hysterical and although I’m not photogenic at all in the photo, it’s one I’ve shared with friends to make them laugh. Project X opens at 10am, so even with early access to the park, you can’t get there early. You wait at the chain link gate to get access to the upper part of the park. The line isn’t long, just a small crowd, but when they open it some people try to run and trample over people to get there first. I’m not sure why they did that, as we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes that early in the day.
  • Coastersaurus and The Dragon are the other 2 roller coasters – and they are mild in comparison to Project X but still fun for kids and grown ups. We rode on them a couple of times.
  • Knights Tournament is a robotic hand that 2 people sit in – and is considered an older kid favorite. There are 5 settings; 1 and 2 are mild, and then apparently things get more intense with levels 3, 4 and 5. My son and I settled for 2, which was the max for his height (he’s under 55”). I thought it would be a lame ride but holy moly, it was intense! You are basically slammed side to side and twist and turn. In the moment it is pretty intense but it’s after you get off when you realize how rough it was on your body (and I don’t have back or neck injuries). If anyone did have issues, that ride would mess them up even more, for sure. I can’t even imagine what the ride is like at a 5. I did see 2 grown ups hanging completely upside down for several seconds while being rocked side to side and shook back and forth. I think their eyeballs were shaking. That might have been a 5. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
  • The Water Park was my son’s favorite. He met a friend there, who was his age and from Seattle. That was fun, so they each had a buddy. They loved the water slide, which is huge., the orange rafts down the back of the slide, the pirate boat that makes a huge splash when you come down the roller coaster portion, and the wave pool in Chima park.

  • In Fun Town, the fight squadron which is geared for younger kids, still appealed to my 9 year old so we had to do that a couple of times since he thought it felt like he was really flying.
  • Then of course there’s the Driver’s License school. The kids can buy their photo to put on an official LegoLand driver’s license. Which is another $15. But makes for a happy and proud Legoland driver as he proudly displayed it on a lanyard around his neck. I guess it’s a badge of honor for all the kids old enough to drive the cars in the little town.
  • I really liked in Adventure area the Egypt ride – where you shoot bulls eye targets and rack up points. You compete against one another. We had fun and did that every day. 
  •  Xbox video game center was a lot of fun as well. We had plenty of fun hanging out there.
  • 4D Lego movie was a great way to spend a few minutes as well. If you’re a fan of The Lego Movie, you’ll enjoy this. No one gets really wet, just lightly sprinkled with lemon water from the ceiling. 
  • Many restaurants promote kids eat free after 4:30 – which was a nice treat. We took advantage of that, as it all adds up throughout the day.
  • If we lived in the area, we would have bought the 12-month membership pass, because you get a free night at the hotel, plus 20% off anything in the park that you pay for (in the stores and restaurants). That is a great perk, but not worth it for a family of 3 from out of state.
  • Mini-figure trading – you get caught up in it and parents want to do it as well. So we looked for the opportunities to trade what we had and find even more fun figurines. Bring a bag of figurines from home so you don’t have to buy any in the park.
Transportation from San Diego Airport to the Legoland Hotel, and back to the airport

We were going to rent a car but decided that would be a waste as we planned to just ‘do the park’ for 3 days. The Blue Shuttle was our preferred method but we learned for just a few more dollars per person, we could get ExecuCar service – and it’s door-to-door service without any stops to other hotels. We thoroughly enjoyed the convenience and the service provided by the drivers. We were 3 passengers and it was ~ $87 each way for 3 people ($29/person). The shuttle services typically charge $15-$25 per person each way, depending upon the company). Plus you make stops for all the other people on your shuttle. We thought it was worth a few extra dollars per person each way to have a non-stop drive to the hotel – which was about 30 minutes. We rode in older version black towncars, nice, but not fancy like a limo. It was comfortable and the drivers are quite knowledgeable and share tips on places to see. You pay in full when you book the reservation, and add the gratuity in advance (or wait until later if you prefer). I took a leap of faith and prepaid gratuity so I didn’t have to deal with payments during the trip. Drivers to not expect additional gratuity in addition to what you prepaid. We arrived at the Legoland Hotel prior to the 4pm check-in time. No worries. You can have your bags securely stored. We did that and went and enjoyed the park for a few hours. When our room was ready the front desk called us. When we returned to the hotel to pick up the room keys, they told us all we had to do was call from the room to have our bags delivered. That was a nice touch, so we didn’t feel bogged down with all of our baggage.
  • We walked from the resort towards the beach, just to find other places to eat for dinner. It was about 10 minute walk to The Burger Lounge (which has great turkey burgers), and it’s beside Costco and Starbucks. So it’s convenient. 
  • It’s nice to know people in the area. We had friends pick us up and take us to the Carlsbad beach, which goes on for miles and miles. We stayed for hours, made a bonfire and ate dinner while watching the dolphins swim in the surf. They were close enough to see them quite well. That was a magical way to spend our last night one of my favorite places in CA.
Airfare:  plenty of deals available off-peak. Did we pay an arm and a leg because we had specific dates we had to fly due to the hotel bookings? No. I just waited to see if Spirit, Alaska Air, Southwest or Frontier had a deal non-stop to San Diego. When I found it, I booked it. The round-trip tickets were just under $300 and in total with bags and seat fees for each leg of the trip on Frontier, I paid about $950 in total. Not the best deal, but nowhere near the $400+ flights on the other airlines (which would have been $1,200+) and had a stop in Los Angeles. I wanted the convenience of a non-stop flight so we had more time in San Diego and with our car service, we were able to fly, land, drive to the hotel and still have 5 hours in the park that afternoon. It was worth the fare for another day in the park. By the way, both of our flights departed on time or early, and arrived early. Don’t just go by Frontier’s ratings, because they exceeded our expectations. By pre-paying for a checked bag, and not paying for carry-ons, we saved 50% ($25 fee vs. $50 fee per bag). Everyone is allowed a laptop or purse to carry on as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. We all had a backpack as our free bag, and yes, they did fit under the seat even though my mother-in-law insisted they would not fit because they were “normal sized backpacks and too big to fit under there.”

What would I change about our trip? 
 Nothing at all. I didn’t know what to expect other than what I had heard from others -- lots of screaming kids, long waits in lines, expensive ‘everything’, etc. But that wasn’t my experience. We had a relaxing time, without annoyances or high costs. From start to finish – it was a perfect family vacation. One of the most appreciated parts of the trip – was the exceptional service from the staff at Legoland, who are called “Model Citizens.” I didn’t know ahead of time they were trained by the Disney team; however it really does show. Everyone is exceptionally courteous and helpful – and greet you with a smile and hello. I always thought that was the exception, not the norm. But at Legoland, everything IS awesome. Read my post about the value Legoland delivers.

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