Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fun and Gender Roles at Legoland Discovery Center

It's spring break this week, so naturally I'm drinking until I pass out, sleeping until 3 pm, and enjoying one meal a day at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Cici's Pizza. Or something like that. Since the kids aren't really big on Cici's Pizza, I took them to Legoland Discovery Center on Monday. I wasn't expecting much since it was carved out of the food court at Phipps Plaza, but I favorably impressed. I bought the tickets in advance, but there was no line when we arrived at 10:30. Immediately after we entered the Center, an employee rushed around a brightly colored vestibule asking kids to push buttons and measure themselves in Legos. He handed out some yellow commemorative Legos to the kids and seemed to be stalling to keep us in the holding area. When he finally let us leave, it was clear that he was charged with slowing the flow of traffic to the next attraction, which was Kingdom Quest, a fun knock-off of the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World (which is basically the same as the Toy Story at Disney Hollywood Studios). I think the premise had something to do with saving a princess or shooting spiders or maybe vanquishing skeletons, I'm not exactly sure. What I do know is that we sat in a moving pod and used an infrared gun to shoot at anything that looked like a target.

This picture resembles the actual ride about as much as an eagle resembles a chicken.
Yes, they're in the same family, but you would never mistake one for the other.

After the ride we went into Miniland, which was a room-sized model of Atlanta landmarks made entirely of chocolate. I wish! They were made entirely of Legos. I had to keep referencing the maps because the models weren't geographically correct. So, like the Margaret Mitchell house was sandwiched between Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Memorial when they're in three different areas of Atlanta. The juxtaposition must have been for other reasons...like neutralization. The models were very impressive and the children and I kept marveling over how long it must have taken to build everything from Stone Mountain to Turner Field out of Legos.

After Miniland, you enter a big room with several attractions, plus the Legoland Cafe. We immediately headed over to an area where you can build a car out of Legos and then race it against cars created by other children. We could have spent the entire day just racing the cars because certain of my children enjoy racing especially when they find a foolproof car design that keeps besting the other racers. By the way, here is the picture of the Lego Racers attraction from the Discoveryland website:

I'm no engineer, but I feel fairly sure that the cars pictured above could not have been built with the pieces available. In addition, there were no little red mechanic figures filling tires with air. Maybe they were over in Miniland taking in a Falcons game. Just in case you go, let me readjust your expectations by showing you pictures of the "cars" that the kids made:

The Boy's "car" is five over sized wheels on an axel. He won almost every race.

At least the Girl's car had a place for a driver.
The car building area was right across from the Lego Friends area. If you remember, last year there was quite a hoopla over Lego's decision to introduce Lego Friends, which are Legos designed to appeal to girls. The "Friends" are a group of five girls who live in Heartlake, a utopian community full of karate studios, outdoor bakeries, and horse stables. Squeee! The Friends each have a distinct interest and appropriate accessories to represent that interest; sort of like the Spice Girls. I didn't really understand the need for the Friends because I think Legos are a pretty unisex toy, as evidenced by my daughters spending just as much time building cars as my son. And, I'll note, that the girls' cars actually resembled cars and not something that fell off a car. But, I get that some girls would prefer that their Legos to be character-driven and are more interested in building a cafe or a beauty salon than a model of Hogwarts. I have no idea whether Lego Friends has been a successful toy venture, but I can report that while kids were swarming all over the car-building area, this was what was happening at the Friends play area:

Those are Friends Stephanie and Emma in the tree house greeting throngs of invisible fans.
 So, that's a dad texting at one of the flower-shaped tables. I was waiting for a tumbleweed to roll past the picket fence and over the hopscotch course. The main feature of the area is karaoke and yes, it's about as cringe-worthy an idea as I can imagine to have boys engineering race cars and building earthquake-proof structures steps aways from where little girls are singing, "Livin' on a Prayer," and "YMCA," like some middle-aged suburban moms on a girls' night out. I took major gratification in observing that no girls spent any longer than two minutes in the area before deciding it was completely lame and leaving. The boys treated the area like the DMZ. As you might imagine, I could go on and on about Lego Friends, perhaps weaving in some references to Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In and debunking the famous quote from Field of Dreams: "if you build it, he will come." But, let's just leave it where it is.

We decided to catch a movie at the 4D Cinema, which was very cool. The film is 4D because you get wind-blown, splashed, and snowed upon in consort with the on-screen action. I wasn't aware that there are three different movies which run consecutively. So, you can watch all three in a row, or you can watch one, leave and do some other activity and come back to see another one later. This is pretty brilliant because a lot of kids can only really watch one 15-minute movie before getting bored. Not to beat a dead horse on the whole Legos aren't for girls theme, but the movies we saw featured very strong female characters. Of course, this is in the context of animated movies where the characters seemed to speak the ancient language of "Lego" and don't have any knee or elbow mobility.

After we watched one movie, the kids ran around in the Lego Fire Academy, which is one of those big Gerbil mazes for children, full of tubes and ladders, and slides:

This is from the Lego Discoveryland website, but it's definitely not a picture of the
Fire Academy from the Atlanta location, you get the idea, though.

If you go, remember socks because the kids take off their shoes for this activity, and they have to be wearing socks. Right as we were finishing up with the Fire Academy, a camp showed up. Dun, dun. I know I'm a terrible person, but whenever I'm at a museum or someplace and a camp or a school trip shows up, my immediate reaction is, "oh, shit." Because you know that there's like a 10-1 kid to adult ratio, and the kids are all pissed that they're at spring break camp and not on some fabulous vacay with their family. At least the camp kids were easy to spot because they were all wearing tie-dyed shirts. This came in handy when one of the adults rounded up the kids to go into the movie and about five minutes after they'd left, I observed a little boy in a tie-dyed shirt running around on his own. Because I am incapable of minding my own business and convinced that most people are incompetent, I immediately started muttering to the Girl about how the camp had lost one of the kids and to keep an eye on the Boy and the Baby while I took him over to the movie theatre. I was heading over to tie-dyed boy when one of the camp adults came out of the theatre and said, "Ryan, we're all going to watch the movie. Come with me," and Ryan scampered off, blissfully unaware that he'd almost been lost. I'm sure if I'd gone to help him, it would have turned into a traumatic cautionary tale that he'd recount to his own children to prevent them from wandering off. Also, kudos to the camp for actually counting the children when they got into the movie theatre.

Before lunch we hit Merlin's Apprentice which was, again, a rip of the Dumbo ride at Disney World. Instead of flying up in the air in elephants, you're on a kind of rickshaw-bicycle contraption. It was fun, but in no way resembles this:

This is like the Baz Luhrmann version of the ride; all digitally enhanced with florid colors and sparkles. I didn't take any pictures because I had to leave my purse with the attendant, but here's a picture from the web:

This kid looks a little less sparkle-happy than the kids in Lego's picture, no?

After Merlin's Apprentice, we hit the snack bar for lunch. I would have preferred to leave to get lunch, but the kids wanted to play some more after we ate, so I relented. We decided on the family pizza meal, which was an 18" pizza, four large drinks, and four bags of chips for $20. This was actually a good deal, considering the prices of a la carte options. The only problem was that the pizza was made to order, so it took about 25 minutes. Oh yeah, and the pizza didn't taste very good. But, really, who goes to Legoland Discovery Center for the pizza? I don't go to Avellino's Pizza, best pizza in Decatur, to play with Legos, so it's really fine.

After we finished lunch we built and raced some more cars and caught a second movie at the 4D theatre. At this point, the place was getting crowded with a lot of Final Four basketball fans, easily identified because they were wearing Louisville, Michigan, Wichita State, and Syracuse clothing. We decided to call it a day around 2:30 and we could have stayed longer, the kids really enjoyed it.

We exited to find this all over my (newly cleaned) swagger wagon:

Oh, how I love pollen season in Atlanta!

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