LegoLand Discovery Center Boston opens today in Somerville’s new multi-faceted, multi-million-dollar plaza, Assembly Row. Covering 44,000 square feet, if you add up all the Lego bricks of the attractions within, there are over 3 million Lego bricks. Last week, along with some local elementary school classes, my family had a chance to check it out. This has been a highly anticipated opening for my Lego-obsessed family. So did it live up to our expectations?
The adults had been antsy for days about the upcoming visit, so we didn’t tell my four-year-old where we were going. It’s a two-hour drive from Maine, and that is far more “Are we there yet?” than I can tolerate. The first inkling he had of what was happening came with the enormous giraffe made entirely of Duplo. It stands on a corner in Assembly Row, marking the entrance to the LegoLand Discovery Center. To say that he was excited is a significant understatement. And this is where our expectations diverged from his. Looking with a child’s eyes, his every dream was granted from the moment he set foot through the door, and I began to realize why they so specifically emphasize that adults aren’t allowed in without kids. While there are things in here for adults to appreciate, and diehard Lego fans will enjoy adults-only night, this place is all about the kids. And that’s exactly as it should be.
From the movie they show while you are in line, through the factory tour and minifig building of the entryway, to all of the activities inside, everything about this place is tailored for the enjoyment of the kids. So while my husband and I were hoping for Lego building classes, demonstrations maybe, a little more technical stuff, and some hands-on time with some kits, everything that we had actually been promised (and not imagined) went above and beyond our hopes. As it turns out, what we were looking forward to is everything that is provided in an in-house Lego birthday party. So that may be what we do for my husband’s 33rd birthday this year. Ahem.
By far, the most impressive aspect of the Center was the Miniland depiction of Boston. This is one of the first things you encounter here, and is the largest Miniland in the U.S. If a visit to the Discover Center is part of a grander visit to Boston at large, it might be worth using this list of buildings and going on an architectural treasure hunt, to see what you can see in both real life and Lego. Complete with underground sections where you can view marine life, trains, and in one section, the bar and cast of Cheers, Boston in miniature is a fun place to hang out. The room simulates night and day so that you can experience it fully, and all the age groups in our party enjoyed the interactive features. We played baseball at Fenway Park, went boat racing on the Charles River, and blasted cannons into the water. We had a soft spot for the rendition of Logan Airport, which took up almost an entire wall. My son often joins me in picking up his grandparents at Logan Airport, so he spent a lot of time looking for minifigs of Nanny and Granddad.
Once you exit the initial interactive factory tour and have worked your way around Miniland Boston, you enter the Discovery Center proper. This was not at all what I had expected. It was a completely open plan environment, where I had expected more of a Smithsonian feel, with different “exhibits” in several large cavernous rooms. This was one cavernous room, probably 30,000 square feet of open play rumpus. If your kids are runners, you are coming with slower grandparents, or if you are thinking of bringing multiple children, I advise extreme caution. Part of my issue with this layout was the setup of Duplo Farm. I had anticipated a quieter space where younger siblings could avoid being trampled by their enthusiastic, older counterparts. Though intended for younger children, it was not the oasis of calm from the rest of the Center that I had hoped for. It is completely open and is not roped off from the rest of the attractions in any way. Big kids can run straight through and little kids can run away very easily. The play area itself is pretty great, with life-size versions of several Duplo animals that my son loves, but I’m not sure it accomplishes what many parents would want it to.
Both rides offered within the Center were fun. The Kingdom Quest Laser Ride and Merlin’s Apprentice Ride both resemble old-fashioned carnival rides. Kingdom Quest is a love-boat-style ride where you have to defeat the bad guys, with lasers, in order to rescue the princess. It reminded me of the laser tag matches of my college years. The car keeps score of how many bad guys you shoot down. Shooting the troll gets the most points. Incidentally, the gun does not respond if you try to shoot a good guy. You neither lose nor gain points; the gun just doesn’t respond. Merlin’s Apprentice is a spinning ride wherein you pedal as fast as you can to see how high you can get. The seats are fully adjustable, for kids and adults. Both my four-year-old and I were able to pedal at the same time, though he much preferred it when I did.
When it came to the two main construction areas, The Earthquake Table and the Lego Racers: Build & Test zone, we were delighted. My husband has fond memories of his Pinewood Derby years, so we were excited to build and race our own cars. It was challenging, but one of the best sections of the Center. None of the kids we raced with managed to make a car that made it all the way to the bottom of the track, so in this section, a little more hands-on adult interaction would be good. There are two tracks to race down: A straight one for speed, and a steep, curved one, mostly for fun. Be warned, this steep one apparently looks like a slide to many kids. A staff member we chatted with had already been chastised by an overbearing parent/teacher, who didn’t appreciate the staff member pointing out that it wasn’t a slide. Be nice to the Lego staff, folks; they are there for your child’s enjoyment and safety. You have to climb over a block and up onto something that doesn’t have steps in order to use it as a slide, but that won’t stop some kids, apparently. This was the section my husband had the most fun playing with our son in, even though their cars didn’t get very far. The Earthquake Table was initially a disappointment, as it utilizes Duplo bricks instead of Lego bricks, but ultimately proved to be tremendous fun. It’s easy for an adult to build a tower that will last, but the kids got a kick out of making them deliberately fall down.
The biggest surprise for me was how much my son and I enjoyed the Lego Friends section. I admit, try as I might to leave them behind, I carried prejudiced expectations with me. I wanted to dislike and dismiss the area as sexist, based mainly on my dislike of the Friends minifigs. But this area was easily one of my favorite aspects of the Center. The karaoke area is pretty fun, but there is more Lego in this area than in other areas of the Center, and that was inspiring to all of the kids we witnessed using it. My son had a great time making us a Lego lunch, while we relaxed at one of the diner tables. While we were there, kids of all ages and genders were running in and out making Lego food, and just hanging out. We came back to this section several times. Funnily enough, this section used a fake house facade and so was closed off in the way I had expected the Duplo Farm to be.
The Lego 4D cinema was enjoyed by all. I’m not so sure that I like the foam used as snow, but a new adventure from Clutch Powers is well worth a small sprinkling of rain in my book. If your child isn’t a fan of 3D glasses or of a tactile experience being literally thrown at them, then I would definitely avoid this. Interactive as it is, it’s also a nice place to cool off and chill out for 10 minutes.
If your child has no interest in chilling out, then the Lego City: Play Zone is the place to be. Climbing walls, slides, and a jungle gym will ensure that your child sleeps all the way home. There are even house brick-sized Lego bricks made of sturdy foam, for life-size construction. There is only one access point to this area, so your child isn’t going to sneak out unnoticed, but be warned: It goes all the way to the ceiling and can be hard to keep track of where your small child is. This is not a play zone for the younger ages or for children who might respond badly to being closed into a small space with other raucous children.
Unlike the access point of most children’s museums, you are admitted into the Discovery Center in batches, more like riders at a theme park attraction. After going up to the second floor in the elevator, you line up according to a color group. Then, 24 people at a time are allowed into the control center. Shut into this room, you watch a short video of a factory tour, do a little interactive minifig creation, and the doors then open up to the main Center. It will be understandably frustrating to be waiting on the other side to get in, but the controlled release of visitors is a sensible method that, as the mother of flighty children, I appreciated. The occupancy limit of the building is 700 persons, including staff and parents. So with only 24 people allowed to go through the entryway at one time, there is a system in place for controlling the flow. Though the website says online pre-purchasing of your tickets is optional, the PR group assures me that tickets should be pre-purchased online for specific windows to guarantee admission. This is a bit of a bummer if you happen to just be in the area, but I think we all travel with at least one smartphone per family group these days, for just such a reason as this. The attraction has seen overwhelming demand, and tickets for opening weekend were sold out two weeks ago.
I was not impressed with the cafeteria for several reasons. The options are limited and the prices are high. Also, much like the Duplo Farm, the cafeteria is not roped off in any way. There is no buffer between your meal and the regular crazy of the attraction. I would have no luck in keeping either of my children at the lunch table, with all of the things going on around them. I would definitely eat before going in, or upon exiting the center.
The last thing we visited before leaving was the in-house Lego Store. While the options seemed just as good as those found in a stand-alone store, the vibe just wasn’t there for us. It had fewer display models than a regular store and less innovation by staff. But fear not, the nearest Lego Store is in the Burlington Mall, a mere 8 miles or 30-minute drive away. If you don’t get what you are looking for at the Center, it’s not that much of a haul to get to the store. We went at the end of the day and had a great time with the staff in Burlington. It is worth noting that since the LegoLand Discovery Centers are owned by the Merlin Entertainments group and not by Lego, VIP programs and rewards won’t work in the on-site Lego Store.
We were at the LegoLand Discovery Center for about 90 minutes and while we were ready to leave at that point, our son cried when his time was up. The recommended two-to-three hours would definitely be a good time frame for a busier day than we encountered.
Will we return? The price tag and the chaos I expect to be contained within after opening day may deter me. But the love my son bears for the place may be the deciding factor. Every time we ask him what his favorite aspect was, he has a different answer, a different reason for the answer, and something he wants to try next time. Needless to say, it was a hit with him, and if asked, he would be there everyday. If older grandparents or younger children want to go, I would go during one of their quieter times, weekdays or later in the afternoon would be best. If you live nearby and are looking for birthday party options, the package they offer seems well worth it.
GeekMom visited LegoLand Discovery Center Boston on Press Preview Day.