Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Adventures Made of Blocks

Today, for the first time ever, we took both children to an amusement park.

Our daughter has been to Disney (more on that when we get to our Magic Kingdom day) and both have been to the zoo numerous times, but we had never gone to an amusement park as a whole family. That is, until today.

In Orlando there are many choices for family entertainment, but when you are the parents of two small children, there are different factors to consider than those with older children. While it may certainly cost less to take your family to the parks (children under three are free at most parks and they tend to eat less) you also have to decide if it is worth the money that you will be spending in addition to the exhausted children at the end of the day. Older children may cost more but they are also able to do more, remember more of what they did, and they usually have significantly more stamina in the sleep department than toddlers. Or at least, they are much better at pretending that they do.

We have primarily planned a week of fun and relaxation with our kids. But we wanted to do some memory creating big item things with them. We considered our options Saturday night into Sunday; we opted for the park that advertises that it is perfect for children between the ages of 2-12, and they were right. Legoland it was for the day.

Our son is an early riser, our daughter is not, so it might be a testament to their current state of exhaustion that our daughter was up and going before our son. After a quick breakfast, a tearful sunscreening (we've had a couple minor mishaps with sunscreen which makes the process a little difficult), and gathering of goods, we headed out the door and to the park.


The kids were excited and we were excited to see them so excited. But the day was complicated by the fact that we started with one very sleepy little boy who needed to stay with us for eight more hours. We had gotten our tickets for the park for a steal (thanks to going to a timeshare presentation) but that also meant standing in line for longer to validate our voucher. We were also fighting a slew of school kids and home school kids who were there for the day. When I'm on spring break I have a hard time remembering that other people are still in school, even with a niece and nephew who are visiting back and forth because they have school this week. We finally decided that it would be best for us to rent a stroller to avoid carrying tired kids (ours didn't fit in the car for the drive down). It took awhile to get E to get into the stroller, but our decision was eventually validated.

Our first ride was the "Island in the Sky," a simple ride that gave us a 360 view of the park. While far from exciting, it at least gave the kids an idea of everything there was to see. Then we walked through Fun Town and the kids saw the Grand Carousel. My husband, who HATES circles, braved the centrifugal motion so that both kids could ride with a parent. They both got their desired brown and black horses but we had to ride in separate rows. A quick lunch at a fairly decent pasta and pizza buffet and both kids were happily filled enough for us to see a 4D presentation during which both kids insisted on taking off their 3D glasses. L was a little scared (I didn't believe it was that scary but the sound and wind did heighten her already tired senses) but she did enjoy the falling snow.

From there it was Miniland. I've always enjoyed Legos. As a child I went through a brief period of architect dreams and proving that I am my father's daughter (my dad taught drafting for eight years in Detroit) I found great pleasure in building a variety of houses with all the Legos in our house. Unfortunately for me, they were my little sister's Legos and not mine, so it did mean learning to share. Miniland was like my childhood dream come true. I don't know how long it took the master builders to create Miniland, but it was more than a little incredible. I honestly think I was more enthralled than my children, but they did enjoy pushing random buttons to make the different displays do things, including mini-water cannons, moving seals, and men fishing off of a pier.

From there it was Land of Adventure. We did our first real ride, "Lost Kingdom Adventure." We weren't sure what to expect, but it was definitely a game for Mommy and Daddy as opposed to the kids. Sitting in cars through the Egyptian tombs we got to shoot lazer guns at targets and try to get the highest score. L sat with me and hit nothing but really tried, E sat with my husband and pointed his gun but never actually pulled the trigger, and Mommy was happy because she got a higher score than Daddy. Then L was promised her very first roller coaster, the wooden coaster "Coastersaurus." This is where the drama started. Our kids got along great (they usually do) and worked well together on our trip to Legoland, but when E discovered that his sister got to go on the roller coaster with Daddy and he was stuck with Mommy he lost it. I think the entire park heard him lose it. I still don't think that my hearing has recovered. When he finally settled down long enough for me to have a conversation with him (because there is no reasoning with a crying, screaming, babbling two-year-old) he agreed to stand in line at the "Safari Trek." Less than five minutes later I got the person behind us in line to take this picture of him as I held him.


That's right. He was asleep. When Daddy and L returned from the roller coaster (the line was more like 10 minutes long as opposed to 45 minutes long) I handed him off. He still looked like this:


Of course by the time we got to the front of the line, he looked like this:


Apparently L really enjoyed her first experience on a roller coaster, until the second drop when her belly got pinched and she was hurt. It was an unfortunate incident that took some distraction to get her to stop whining, but she eventually got over it even though she didn't forget.

From there we ventured into Lego City in hopes that the kids would get to try driving cars at the "Ford Jr. Driving School." It's a great idea, but poorly executed. The bulk of the cars for the driving school are at the "Ford Driving School" for kids 6-12. The Junior version has fewer cars and usually only one attendant, and the attendant there yesterday was not in top physical condition to be working with small children to help them through the course. And that is putting it kindly. The advertised 15 minutes wait was more like an hour 15 minutes with two small children. Actually it was a long wait with a lot of other parents and their small children. It took out a huge chunk of our day and was irritating because we were trying to keep our children entertained in a line that was only supposed to take a couple minutes. When they finally got into the cars, a tired E struggled to figure out that he could push the pedal to go and while L got the hang of it eventually she did run into a couple curbs along the way, personally fulfilling the stereotype of woman drivers. In the end they enjoyed it, but I'm still not sure that it was worth the hour+ we stood in line. The rest of Lego City included the Rescue Academy (which involved Mommy and Daddy doing most of the work) and the Boating School. E and Daddy took forever to get around the course because Daddy let him do the driving and L let Mommy do the driving while she watched what was going on around the course.

From there we headed to Lego Kingdom with a stop back in Land of Adventure so the kids could play with balls at "Pharaoh's Revenge" and then straight to "The Dragon" so that L could try a roller coaster with Mommy that wasn't wooden and would hopefully not pinch her. By the end of the day, this kid friendly park had no waits for the lines so we got right through to the ride. This time we got through the roller coaster injury free and both of us got to have fun. When we exited, instead of getting to see our picture, E grabbed my hand and dragged me over to the foam swords and shields that he had found on display outside of the castle. He had it all figured out. He grabbed two of each, one for him and his sister, and insisted that he walk away with them. Apparently when Daddy told him that he had to ask Mommy about the swords E heard "Mommy will buy you the swords." We compromised. No shields and L got a pink sword instead of a matching dragon sword with E.

We ended the day with a water ride. The daytime temperatures were cooling off and I was hesitant. The situation brought back memories of a trip to Cedar Point the summer after my senior year of high school when we chose to go on a water ride as the Ohio weather turned from hot and sunny to cool and drizzly, but we went anyway. L had a blast, E got drenched right away and was sad for the rest of the ride (Daddy protected him from further drenching), and Mommy was just wet. As we exited the ride, the family looked like this:



I hate spending extra money, but we entered the full body dryers so we weren't quite so drenched, checked out the huge store at the front, and then headed back to the car. We were shocked that both kids stayed awake for the 50 minute drive back to the condo, but they were determined to not go back to sleep, even after their bellies were full from a Popeye's meal.

Overall, it was a good time. The ads are right; It is the perfect place when it comes to activities for ages 2-12. Duplo Village isn't open yet, which would have been an added bonus for our son, and the water park was also closed until next week, but we wouldn't have had time for that even if we had paid for it. My biggest problem with the park was the much longer than advertised wait at one stop with inadequate staff, to say the very least. While customer service may not match Disney (an unfortunate comparison in Orlando) our kids still had a wonderful experience and the price was right. All in all, it was a great vacation day and good way to break them into the theme park experience before Disney. Now to prepare for the Magic Kingdom!