If you are planning a mid-winter getaway, one unique family-friendly destination is Legoland -- and with locations in Florida and California it's available to folks on both coasts. It's a brick-lovers paradise.
Both Southern California and Central Florida have warm climates darn-near all year, and ideal locales for beating the winter doldrums. Carlsbad, CA, typically runs in the 60s in winter; Winter Haven, FL, offers temps in the high 70s late in the year.
Plus, winter is the time of year for holiday events at these parks. October has Brick-or-Treat special events like costume contest and building brick Jack-o-lanterns; December has Snow Days and Winter Nights that include a 30-foot 270,000-piece Christmas tree and Santa scavenger hunts.
1. Become a Lego Club member
Or at least sign the kids up to be one. Members of the Lego Club receive a quarterly magazine that regularly includes coupons for a free child's admission to Legoland with the purchase of a full-price adult. It's a savings of up to $68.
2. Drive a Volvo
Really. Volvo drivers are offered a free upgrade to preferred parking (which places visitors closest to the entrance turnstiles). Maybe it's a Scandinavians- stick-together kind of thing (Legos are Danish-borne, Volvos are Swedish).
3. Speaking of cars ...
Families visiting Legoland Florida are eligible for up to 25% off on car rentals through Budget. And if you're curious, Budget does have Volvos in its rental fleet -- customers can specify a preference of vehicle when reserving a car, although Budget will not guarantee a specific make and model.
4. Just want to shop?
The Big Shop at Legoland California is more than 8,000 square feet of brick-filled shopping. Legoland shops offer the largest selection of building sets in one place. Ask for a "shopper pass" from the customer service window. In exchange for credit card information, shoppers are given one hour to check out the various Lego shops. But keep an eye on the time; exceeding the one hour limit means you will be charged the full price of admission when you go back to collect your credit card info. Bring a receipt that shows you spent more than $20 in a park store, and the price of parking will be reimbursed.
5. Go later in the day
Ticket prices are cut in half at Legoland California two hours before the park closes -- they're called twilight rates. With the lines at Legoland being short to nonexistent on many rides, it's possible to hop on a couple rides, peruse the aquarium and hit at least one of the many shops within the two hour allotment and not feel rushed.
6. Bring a towel
Someone is going to get wet, whether in the water park or by a passing attraction. Maybe put swimming suits under the kids' clothing as well. The water park portion of the parks is open through the end of October -- it's closed in November and December.
7. Bring refreshments
While Legoland parks have an assortment of culinary options, you are still stuck with "amusement park food." If you want to control your family's diet, pack some healthy snacks and water bottles -- while you can't bring a cooler, the park doesn't ban water bottles or foods needed for specific dietary needs. All of the dining establishments in Legoland will be happy to fill your water bottles with ice and water throughout the day. If you plan on being there all day, many restaurants offer a "kids eat free" option for dinner with the purchase of an adult meal.
8. Try the off-season
Weather around San Diego and Orlando is generally nice even in October and November. Heck, even January is nice. Both areas have minimal rain in the winter, and in Florida, rain is actually less likely than during summer months. Off-season visits also mean lower rates on accommodations. Winter does have more limited hours -- Tuesdays and Wednesdays the parks are typically closed, but most days the parks are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The waterpark closes for the season at the end of October. Added bonus of the off-season: Avoiding the crowds that flock to amusement parks only during the summer.
9. Stay after the show
Legoland parks offers a variety of shows throughout the park with Lego characters. Stick around afterwards to let the kids give high-fives to cast members. The cast will pose for photos, too.
10. Check out the new hotel and the elevator
The new Legoland Hotel opened this year in Carlsbad, and while it is more expensive than other hotels in the area, it is worth a peak. If you plan to stay at the Legoland Hotel, one of the best features is the elevator. Once inside with the doors closed, it transforms into a disco, complete with a mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling. Don't feel obligated to have a matching white suit or anything -- the kids probably won't know John Travolta anyway. They will, however, likely have a blast striking disco poses on the way to the room.
Not many consider theme parks as a go-to destination, but Legoland has plenty to offer to a family of brick-lovers. And with shorter lines, less crowds and winter deals, what's not to love?