Topple the Evil Empire at LEGOLAND California’s STAR WARS days

Guests came face to face with pure evil at LEGOLAND California. Flanked by his 501st Legion of Storm Troopers, Darth Vader descended upon the park for LEGO STAR WARS Days. The two-day event, which ends today, consists of a number of geek-friendly activities (appealing to a guy like me) including a Droid Hunt, video game battles, building, trivia competitions and a costume contest.

According to LEGOLAND California:

One of the most popular LEGO STAR WARS™ Days events is the Droid Hunt. Guests of all ages receive collectible “droid badges” if they are among the first in line at The Beginning of the Park. When guests wearing the collectible droid badges are “caught” within the Park by members of the 501st Legion, they must respond to the question “How long have you had these droids?” to receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win fantastic LEGO STAR WARS™ and LEGOLAND California merchandise.

Showing up in costume comes with the potential to win, with prizes valued at more than $500. Packages include LEGO STAR WARS toys, collectibles and tickets to LEGOLAND California Resort.


Five fantastic Chicagoland kid-friendly trips for the holiday weekend

Stuck in Chicagoland in need of some inspiration for the upcoming holiday weekend? With so much to do in the city, it isn’t hard to find a way to entertain your family, but if you’d rather escape the traffic, heat and crowds, consider one of these five tips.

All locations are very kid friendly, and won’t break the bank. Got your own favorite you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments section!
Legoland Discovery Center

The Legoland Discovery center is located in Schaumburg – it is an all-indoor location, so you’ll want to pick this if you need a way to escape the heat or the rain. Despite the impressive name, the center isn’t really entertaining enough to occupy you all day, so be sure to plan some other activities in the area (Woodfield Mall, Gameworks, Pirates Cove theme park)

Attractions at the Discovery Center include the Dragon Quest ride, the Technicycle carousel and various model building stations. Tickets are $19 per person, but you’ll find a pack of discounted season passes at Chicagoland Costco stores – $25 for two “platinum” season passes.

Admission: $19 (adults) and $15 (kids)
Address: 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173
Web site:

Illinois Railway Museum

Located about an hour from Downtown Chicago is the Illinois Railway museum. This museum is home to the largest collection of rolling stock in the country, and operates its own five mile track offering rides on antique trains.

On the way to the Railway Museum, you’ll pass the outlet mall at Huntley, which is a great place for the grown ups to stock up on cheap apparel.

Admission: $11
Addres: 7000 Olson Road, Union, Illinois, 60180.
Web site:

Jelly Belly factory tour

This is another trip that won’t take up all day, but can easily be combined with other local attractions. This facility does not actually make Jelly Belly products, but it does store the inventory for the entire Midwest and eastern side of the country.

The factory tour lasts about 20 minutes, and all riders get a free bag of assorted Jelly Belly’s. The factory store has a massive selection of Jelly Belly products, as well as large bins of “belly flops,” misformed Jelly Belly’s that are sold at a huge discount.

Admission: free
Address:10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin 53158
Web site:

Donley’s Wild West Town

Donley’s is one of the few remaining wild west towns in the country. At the town, you’ll find everything you’d expect from a cowboy village – live shows, horse rides, a working jail, stores and more. The whole place is rather cheesy, but surprisingly entertaining, and all the staff are extremely dedicated at keeping things as realistic as possible.

Admission: $15 (kids under two are free)
Address: Route 20 & South Union Road, Union, Illinois 60180
Web site:

Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum is not where you take your kids when you want rollercoasters and fairground food, but their 1700 acre gardens are a fantastic place to unwind and take in nature. The complex is home to a large variety of gardens, garden mazes, water features and more. A discovery center and restaurant are available at the end (or beginning) of your long walk.

Admission: $11 Adults (18–64) / $10 Seniors (65+) / $8 Youth (2–17)
Address: 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532
Web site:

[Image from Flickr user Willowbrookhotels]

Legoland California Water Park prepares for May 28 opening

The water is flowing to fill up the pools and slides at the Legoland Water Park, which opens May 28 in Carlsbad, California.

Legoland brought in local firefighters for a “bucket brigade” photo op to start filling the park’s lazy river. In Legoland fashion, the river is called the Build-A-Raft River, and kids will be able to build their own raft out of soft Lego building blocks.

The new park is geared for families with kids ages 2 to 12. Attractions include:

  • Jumbo Lego models that splash or spray water
  • Orange Rush, a family tube slide
  • Twin Chasers, side-by-side enclosed tube slides
  • Splash Out, a 240-foot open body slide
  • Joker Soaker, a water play platform with water cannons
  • Duplo Splash Safari, a smaller water play area sized for preschoolers

The 5.5-acre water park is adjacent to Legoland California. Admission to the water section will cost an extra $10 on top of the Legoland admission ticket.

Lon-done? Try Windsor and Eton

If London has whet your appetite for all things English, hop on a train and visit Windsor. Less than an hour from central London, this historic city is one of the easiest and most popular day trips for foreign visitors. You can also enjoy a nice stroll to nearby Eton and visit the famous boarding school.

The main attraction is, of course, Windsor Castle. It’s one of the official residences of the Queen and she often spends her weekends here (tough life!). It’s the oldest and largest continually inhabited castle in the world. While there was a castle here as early as 1070, the oldest surviving parts date from the reign of Henry II (reigned 1154-1189). In 1189, Prince (later King) John was besieged here by angry barons who eventually forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the first official limitation on the monarch’s power. King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377) built much of the present structure.

The tours are lots of fun. One of the highlights is St. George’s Chapel, and elaborately Gothic 15th century house of worship that’s the place of rest for ten monarchs. Other stops include Queen Mary’s dollhouse, a lavish art collection with pieces by Holbein and Rubens, the armory, and fine views from atop the battlements. Windsor Castle is one of those rare sights that’s actually better to visit in winter, because that’s when the semi-state rooms are open. Built by George IV in the 1820s as living and social quarters for the royal family, they include elegant furniture and giant oil paintings under elaborately molded plaster ceilings.

Interesting trivia: Windsor Castle is not named after the House of Windsor (the royal family), but in fact the royal family is named after the castle. During World War Two the royals decided their actual name, the House of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, sounded too German and changed it!

After visiting the castle, enjoy a pleasant amble through Windsor Great Park and The Long Walk. This 4,800 acre park used to be hunting grounds for the Saxon kings. The Long Walk runs nearly half a mile from the southern gate of the castle. It used to be a promenade for the aristocratic set. Don’t go here after dark, though, because Herne the Hunter–a mysterious phantom rider who has antlers on his head and leads a pack of spectral hounds–has been known to ride by giving ominous predictions of doom to anyone who sees him.

If you have the time you should also check out Eton, the most elite public (i.e.–private) school in the UK. Eton has been educating future power brokers since it was founded by Henry VI in 1440. A tour gives a glimpse of what it’s like to live the privileged life, with a small teacher/student ratio and more extracurricular activities than you can count. The school is historic and beautiful, with a 15th century chapel and classrooms and serene grounds perfect for lazing about and spending daddy’s money learning. The Museum of Eton life explains what the kids get up to in all these ornate buildings–and one thing they get up to is carving their names everywhere. You’ll see graffiti on some of the walls that’s older than many nations.

While most visitors will only see the castle and Eton, Windsor has a lot more to offer. If the weather is fine, take a boat trip along the River Thames, which flows between Windsor and Eton. You can get some great shots of Windsor Castle from the water. A picnic at Windsor Great Park is also a good way to while away an afternoon. You can also hop on a bus near the castle that takes you to Legoland Windsor with lots of rides and attractions and Miniland, a reproduction of some of the greatest landmarks of the world. You can see Kennedy Space Center, London’s Millennium Bridge, and more. Building all this took nearly 40 million bricks of Lego. That’s some serious dedication!

Windsor and Eton are compact enough that you can easily walk around and see all the highlights in a single long day. If you decide to stay overnight, the Mercure Windsor Castle Hotel on 18 High Street offers sweeping views of the castle. This 16th century coaching inn has lots of historic flair and if you have deep pockets, there’s a good but pricey restaurant that serves English cuisine and high tea. More affordable dining can be had at the Castello Restaurant and Wine Bar at 4 Church Lane. The building dates to 1423. Original oak beams crisscross the walls and ceiling and there doesn’t seem to be a straight line anywhere. For al fresco dining, step out onto the medieval cobblestone lane. Simple, reasonably priced food, big servings, and a medieval setting-you might have to go to Italy to find this combination again.

If you want to do more day trips from London, try Bath, St. Albans, and Canterbury.

LEGOLAND is coming to Florida!

I’d normally be skeptical about another theme park opening in Florida. Does the state really need another one? But, when I saw the announcement from Merlin Entertainments, I changed my mind very quickly. After all, every city should have a LEGOLAND®. By the end of 2011, Winter Haven, Florida will open in this new attraction, which will sit on 145 acres that is currently home to Cypress Gardens. The development will involve a “significant multi-million dollar investment over a number of years” and eventually will include accommodations and other branded attractions along with the theme park. When the project is finished, this will be the world’s largest LEGOLAND.

The park is intended to mirror the LEGOLAND Parks already up and running in Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and California. But, like the others, it won’t be a mere copy. The Winter Haven park will have its own “twist” that reflects its Florida home. The theme park will be only 30 minutes from Orlando, making it easy to integrate into a vacation that includes the usual theme parks, and it’s also close to Tampa. Preliminary research showed that vacationers were extremely likely to visit the park. And, the track record of the California park, which has been voted the best children’s theme park by Amusement Today for six years in a row, making this a smart move for Merlin.

%Gallery-83789%Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments, calls LEGOLAND Florida “one of the most exciting and important projects Merlin ahs ever developed.” He explains, “It is a unique opportunity for us; Florida is the biggest family tourist centre in the world. We have been looking for the right site there for some time and in Winter Haven we plan to create one of the best and certainly most beautiful, theme parks in the world. LEGOLAND California has already proven how much US families love the unique LEGOLAND concept.”

The new LEGOLAND park will have more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, including LEGO models and interactive experiences. It’ll also bring more than 1,000 new jobs to the area by the time it opens. This is music to the ears of the state’s governor, Charlie Crist, who says, “We are delighted at this news. We are extremely happy that the future of Cypress Gardens is secure. LEGOLAND is one of the most exciting names in family attractions and a welcome new addition to Florida.”