Five seconds in the door, my 2-year-old spotted the giant Lego pit in the new Legoland Hotel lobby and took off without a backward glance.
We hadn't checked in yet. Not that the hotel employees minded. In fact, instant kid gratification is essentially how general manager Peter Ronchitti measures success at Legoland resort.
During the hotel's grand opening April 5, Ronchitti mingled purposefully with both dignitaries and his youngest guests. He recalled meeting "a boy last night who is 5 or 6 and he said it best. 'It's like this hotel is for us. Mom and Dad can come, but this is for us.' "
Guests of all ages will quickly recognize the truth in that statement. The three-story, 250-room hotel is built on the simple concept of family-friendly accommodations that are mere steps from the amusement park's main entrance, but the finished product astounds with its sophisticated design and attention to detail.
About 3 million Lego bricks went into creating the hotel's 3,422 Lego models, ranging from animals and Minifigures to the massive 400,000-brick smoke-breathing dragon that towers over the hotel's front entrance. Seven models are animated -- good luck finding them all; by the end of a two-day stay, I had to ask the concierge where the elusive seventh was. (Hint: You'll find most of them -- including some of the most entertaining models -- in Brick's Family Restaurant, the buffet-style dining area.)
For grown-up kids, the impressive design features include the 5,000 Lego Minifigures lining the wall behind the reception desk and a wall-length, small-scale city in the Skyline Café, where a peek inside the handful of lit building windows reveal elaborate interior scenes, including a man showering.
The Lego creations fall under the what-to-expect category. Equally impressive are the other touches that clearly are intended for children. The rooms are decorated based on themes of Adventure, Pirate and Kingdom. Separate kids' sleeping areas have bunk beds (with top and bottom night lights), a trundle bed and television. Room doors include peep holes for kids. Bathrooms have built-in toddler potty seats.
Brick's restaurant prominently places a buffet low enough for kids to serve themselves. Public restrooms have child-level sinks that talk to kids when they wash their hands. A gradual incline pool offers space for even toddlers to play.
On day two of our visit, we stumbled across pint-size port holes in the upper floor hallways that look down on a giant Castle Play area adjacent to the lobby. Two disco elevators blast lively music and flashing lights from a mirrored ball as they move between floors. Most kids love them; my 2-year-old, Carolyn, found it so overwhelming, we eventually had to take the stairs. (On our next visit, we will request a Kingdom room on the first floor.) She was more impressed with the painted Minifigure that talked every time she stepped on the in-floor Whoopee cushion near the first-floor elevators -- she's still parroting his "stinky pig" line.
Carolyn, who can't resist touching anything, also discovered a small button on a Lego water faucet built into a padded circular bench in the lobby. Rushing water sounded with a push of the button, sending her into a fit of giggles.
"It's the hidden things that really make it exciting here," said Ryan Ziegelbauer, master model builder for Legoland. "The models built at kids' eye level, the little peep holes in the room doors, it's those little details that you don't quite think of as an adult, but kids really appreciate and enjoy them."
Those nuances also distinguish Legoland from its Southern California theme park brethren while maneuvering it into a power position on the amusement landscape.
In a sense, Legoland is following the pattern set by the Disneyland empire, which led the way in park-hopping and on-site hotel accommodations (the first Disneyland Hotel opened in 1955). Fourteen years after opening its amusement park, Legoland has doubled in size, expanding to 128 acres and adding a water park and two-story aquarium.
"We're indeed a resort property now, which means you really need more than one day to experience everything," Ronchitti said. "Having a hotel right here on the property allows you to stay immersed in the Legoland experience."
That's especially true if you fall in Legoland's targeted visitor demographic of 2- to 12-year-olds. "We're carving a niche by focusing on the children," Ronchitti said, "and doing things that only Legoland can do."