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Lost In Legoland

by Christopher R. Dreyer

Imagine a creative utopian society where everyone and everything can be linked together in one harmonious existence. A world interconnected by a common bond where imaginations run wild and little yellow-faced plastic people with "snap on" plastic hairdos are not considered to be shallow or fake. Imagine this ideal world where everything is made of Legos, those fabulous binding bricks that have provided educational play for decades to children from all over the world. Ideas such as these may very well have been inspiration for the founders of Legoland, a new theme park for Southern California, which opened its doors to the public on March 20th, 1999. Although not everything at the new Legoland Theme Park is made of Legos, the highly imaginative and educational amusement park definitely has itself "put together."

   In 1932, a Danish toy maker named Ole Kirk Christiansen started making small wooden blocks in his tiny workshop in Billund, Denmark. Two years later, he decided on a name for his creations, and the Lego logo was born. It was later discovered that the word Lego, a contraction of the Danish word "leg godt" which means "play well," has a Latin translation meaning, "I assemble."

   Kirk Christiansen and his family, who still own and run the company today, have continued to build their small toy factory into one of the most popular in the world. In 1947, after purchasing their first plastics injection molding machine, the company moved its product line from small wooden toys to little plastic bricks, originally called "automatic binding bricks," which are the predecessors to the Lego bricks we know today. Since then, Lego has grown to be sold in over 138 countries throughout the world. They enjoy a 98% brand awareness in most western countries, and are celebrated in Europe as the fifth strongest brand name. Lego is the only European Company who is listed among the world's top 10 toy manufacturers. In addition to toy manufacturing, a major part of the new Lego plan seems to be the highly competitive Theme Park business.

   Legoland California is the first park of its kind created in the United States. The Park is located in the beautiful seaside community of Carlsbad, just 30 miles north of San Diego, and an hour south of Disneyland, in Southern California. It is the third in a series of many Legoland Parks to come. The first park opened in Denmark on June 7th, 1968. A second park opened in Germany some 5 years later. With the opening of Legoland in Carlsbad, the company makes its first major plunge into the highly competitive 5 billion-dollar mainstream American Theme Park Industry.

   The new park, whose advertising billboards and slogans state that "It's a country just for kids," reflects an active campaign targeting children ages 2-12 and their families. Master Lego Builders intent on creating a masterpiece that is both fun and educational designed the park. Offering a full day of interactive adventures, Legoland combines 40 hands-on interactive attractions, family rides and shows, with restaurants, shopping and landscape features. Unique Lego theming dominates the entire park. Thirty million Lego bricks are used to create 5,000 Lego models, which decorate the park setting, adding to its charm and delight.

   The park, like most parks, is divided into different regions. Each region offers a variety of entertainment and features several attractions or rides. Some of the more popular rides at Legoland begin (of course) with the traditional theme park favorite, the Roller Coaster. Inside a Lego Castle deep inside Castle Hill is where the park's one and only roller coaster sits. The Dragon coaster offers several zippy curves and plunges to satisfy the need for speed.

   What makes Legoland different from most theme parks is that children have an opportunity to learn while they explore and have fun. This is evident in "Kiddy Driving School." Toddlers can actually earn an official Legoland Driver's License by first learning and then operating a real mini-car as part of a driving test. The driving school lot is laid out like a mini-city, complete with stop lights and signage, but sometimes looked more like the old favorite "bumper cars." However, most children drivers made great effort to stay between the lines and stop at red lights without crashing into each other.

   One of the best known regions of the park is called Mini-Land. Here you will find Lego-sized recreations of famous landmarks made entirely of the plastic bricks. Guests experience the wonders of Washington DC, New Orleans, New York, and the California coastline, built with amazing detail.

   In the Imagination Zone, the emphasis is on exploration and creation. In this "zone," guests can choose from a variety of Lego products to build anything they want. You can even pit your creations against earthquake simulators to test their architectural merit.

   In a part of the park called the Ridge, guests test their strength on the Kid Power Tower. On this ride, guests must pull on a rope raising their seat high into the air. When everyone reaches the top, each of the seats falls safely to the ground. For the technically inclined, the Maniac Challenge takes guests through a structured workshop and a Lego Mindstorm learning center featuring computer-equipped facilities utilizing the Lego software and interface programs. With these new toys, one can actually use download programs into smart toys (robots) that will then carry out their functions as programmed. These are definitely not your father's Legos.

   With plans to update the park with new rides and attractions annually, Legoland will continue to grow, piece by piece, brick by brick, and one creation after the other.