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New park on the block
Miniland and maxi-fun at Legoland New York
Legoland New York isn’t brand new exactly. But when it first opened in 2021, the pandemic was still raging, attendance was limited, and its operating calendar was truncated. This year, therefore, marks its second full season. When I visited last week, it still had that new park smell.
Located about 65 miles north of New York City in bucolic Goshen, the sleepy town seems like an improbable spot for a major theme park. Set on a hilly property with plenty of elevation changes, visitors have to do a lot of trekking and climbing to navigate the sprawling, 150-acre resort. Like its sister Legoland parks in Florida and California (as well as other locations around the world), it has a quirky sensibility that is perhaps indicative of the toy brand’s roots in Denmark. Nearly everything here is either made out of actual Lego blocks or designed to appear as if it is fashioned out of the bright, plastic bricks.
Designed for the 12-and-under set, the delightful park engages its inquisitive, young guests with an array of hands-on activities. Children and their families can work alongside master builders at the Lego Creative Workshop, for example, or custom-craft a car and race it at the Build & Test lab. Our gang quite enjoyed building a crazy-tall skyscraper and then watching it topple spectacularly after we cranked up the earthquake simulator on which it sat. When Legoland’s new Water Playground opens this Memorial Day weekend, kiddos will be able to build a Lego boat and race it as well as frolic and splash among the slides, fountains, sprayers, and other water gizmos.
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Even many of the rides and attractions include a surprising degree of interactivity. When families pile into a Lego-style fire truck at the Fire Academy, they have to work together to hand crank the engine and then pump a water cannon to douse the fire. Kids don’t simply make a pre-determined loop when they get behind the wheel of an automobile at Driving School; they need to properly follow the rules of the road. On the fun and surprisingly fast spinning ride, Rogue Riders, guests get to steer their own mini pirate ships in and out of the wake.
There are more traditional rides as well, although they are infused with the company’s distinctive look and feel. Instead of horses, guests go up and down on a menagerie of Lego and Duplo animals aboard the Brick Party carousel. Before careening outdoors on The Dragon roller coaster, passengers make their way through a castle with cute, dark ride-like sets featuring animated Minifigure wizards, knights, and princesses.
Legoland aspires to Disney-quality E-Ticket attractions as well. Lego Ninjago The Ride combines 3D media on large screens, special effects, and a sophisticated hand gesture recognition system embedded in the ride vehicles that enables guests to become martial arts badasses and rack up points. I found myself madly karate chopping virtual serpents, skeletons, and other villains while anxiously eyeing the score of the video game-savvy 10-year-old next to me.
The tricked-out Palace Cinema shows a selection of 4D shorts punctuated with water spritzes and other sensory enhancements as well as in-theater effects. While the wildly funny The Lego Movie 4D A New Adventure is not on the bill, the films featuring characters from Mythica and other Lego toy lines are engaging and quite well done. There is no dialogue in the movies, probably so Legoland audiences around the globe can enjoy them.
I had high hopes for the Lego Factory Adventure Ride, which is exclusively available at the New York park. It’s clear that Legoland spent a ton of money on the dark ride, and it has all the trappings of a great attraction. The queue is lavishly outfitted with sets from Professor Brick’s workshop that help establish the story. There are cutting-edge, trackless vehicles that can independently spin and move in tandem with action projected on immersive screens. Practical sets are jammed with props.
But the audio was boomy and all but unintelligible, and the storyline was muddled at best. The premise is that guests are magically transformed into Minifigures, although I only know that because I read the press release. It was intriguing to see me rendered as a Lego character, eyeglasses and all. When I prompted them, my gang enjoyed seeing their Minifigure doppelgangers mimic their movements. But they did not intuitively understand what was going on.
The expansive Miniland that bridges the upper and lower levels of the park is fascinating and among Legoland’s highlights. It’s hard to believe that the incredibly detailed dioramas of Manhattan, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and other locales are entirely made out of Lego bricks. I can’t begin to imagine the painstaking work and craftsmanship that went into producing them. The displays include lots of interactive elements. Press a button, for example, and the Mount Rushmore presidents start belting out a silly song.
Adjacent to and overlooking the park is the 250-room Legoland Hotel. With a huge play area dominating the lobby, Lego artifacts and themeing stuffed into virtually every nook and cranny, and a decidedly kid-centric vibe, children are in their glory here. Wonderful, often wacky surprises abound. “Disco elevators,” complete with spinning, mutli-colored balls and Donna Summer and other divas on the thumping soundtrack, whisk guests up to their rooms. The soap is molded like–what else?–Lego bricks. Solving an in-room scavenger hunt yields a code that unlocks a safe stuffed with swag. The generously sized rooms include alcoves for children with themed bunk beds and their own stash of building blocks. The room rates include a hot breakfast served family style.
There is lots of room to expand within the new park. And at 500 acres, the resort could easily add additional gates (another Peppa Pig Theme Park, perhaps?), hotels, or other attractions and features should the seasonal property be able to attract enough visitors to warrant such growth. Here’s hoping everything snaps into place.
Do you have kids in Legoland’s sweet spot of 2 to 12 years old? Have you been to a Legoland park? Might you visit one? What do you think about Legoland opening a park in the Northeast U.S.?