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Chicago is home to the first indoor Legoland in North America
Last month, Lego opened its first US based Legoland Discovery Center in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.
This large indoor venue is home to 8 Lego themed attractions, and should provide some Lego fun for visitors young and old. In the name of scientific research, I visited Legoland during their "soft opening" week at the end of July.
The location is right next to Woodfield Mall, and is in the middle of the Streets of Woodfield entertainment district. There is ample free parking. Schaumburg is about 20 miles from downtown Chicago, but there is no easy public transport system linking the two, unless you don't mind a 45 minute CTA ride, a 30 minute bus ride and a 10 minute trolley ride.
This is the third Legoland Discovery center in the world; previous venues opened in Berlin and Duisburg in Germany. They are operated by the Merlin Entertainments group, who also own the Madame Tussauds wax museums.
The Chicago Legoland Discovery Center is quite easy to spot, partly thanks to the 30 foot giraffe built over the entrance. Once inside, you pass through "Mini Land", which consists of almost all famous Chicago landmarks, recreated with 1.5 million Lego bricks.
Next up is Adventure Trail, where "Johnny Thunder" introduces himself, and warns you about the dangers of the Lego jungle. Kids will love having their photo taken next to a Lego lion, parrot and various other "wild" animals.
Once you leave the jungle, you arrive in the atrium where several full scale Lego heroes are on display, including Batman and Harry Potter. This is yet another great photo opportunity. This is also where you will find the Dragon Ride. This ride is not as scary as the name implies, and has no age/height restrictions. The 4 person cars take you through several castle scenes at 2 mph, and bring you up close and personal with a massive "fire" breathing Lego dragon.
The rest of the center is upstairs, where you'll find the Lego 4D theater. This movie theater combines a 3D Lego movie with several other effects, I'll leave it at that, as I don't want to spoil any surprises. When you enter the theater, you are handed 3D glasses, but smaller kids will need some help keeping the glasses on. Without the special glasses, the movie looks blurry. The movie lasts 15 minutes and lines to get in can be fairly long, so get in line as soon as you can.
Across from the theater is the Lego factory tour. In this room, a Legoland employee explains how Lego blocks are made, and several machines show the process. Kids are invited to participate by pressing some of the buttons, and at the end of the narration, everyone receives a special Chicago Legoland brick.
The rest of the attractions are across the central hall. This large and bright room has something for everyone. If you are tired, you'll be able to grab a snack from the Lego cafe. Toddlers can run around in the soft climb and slide zone and larger kids (or adults) can build Lego cars and race against others on a massive inclined racetrack.
There are tables with Lego buckets everywhere, and several soft Duplo building zones for smaller kids. In the rear corner is an entire area where toddlers and infants can play with extra large foam Lego blocks. They'll have a blast building towers and walls here (I know I did!)
When you leave Legoland, you pass through the obligatory gift shop, which sells some fairly hard to find Lego items, so prepare to deal with begging kids and parting with more of your money.
Admission to the Chicago Legoland Discovery Center is $19 for adults and $15.00 for kids. Children 2 and under are free. I found the admission price to be fairly high; a family with 2 kids will cost $68 to get in, and you'll have a hard time keeping the kids entertained for more than 2 or 3 hours. The Legoland Discovery Center is open 7 days a week from 10am till 8pm, but ticket sales end at 6pm.
Lines to get into the Legoland Discovery Center are often wrapped around the building. so I strongly advise purchasing your tickets in advance, as you'll then be able to skip the long line for the ticket desk. If you arrive with pre-purchased tickets, you can enter through the right hand set of doors. This online advance purchase service also sells off-peak tickets, if you arrive past 3:30pm, you'll save $2.50 on each ticket.
All in all I found the Legoland Discovery Center quite enjoyable, as did my 2 year old daughter. The entrance fee is steep, but unless you plan to fly to California, this is the closest you'll get to Legoland in the Midwest.