Back in February, I spotted an advertisement for the grand opening of Toronto's Legoland Discovery Centre, in the Vaughan Mills shopping mega-centre in deepest, darkest Vaughan. My daughters and I both love Lego, and I'd heard tales about the splendour to be found in the Lego villages of Europe, so I thought that this would be a good excursion to take during March Break. We went on Saturday.
The kids had fun, but I'm sorry to say that I was somewhat disappointed. Lego is one of the greatest toys in the world, but the people who market the product are sometimes complete and utter dunderheads. I've talked about this before. Lego is a fantastic product precisely because its manuals are only suggestions. There's no limit to what you can build. It's a very free-form product. So why doesn't that free-form translate to the Legoland Discovery Center?
We get to Vaughan Mills, find the center, go inside and line up. We pick up the the tickets we paid for in advance, and go line-up in front of a set of automatic doors and are told to wait a while. And, fair enough: there are fire safety considerations to consider, here, and this place which has just opened is packed on this March Break Saturday. We don't have to wait long for the doors to part, either, and from here, we go into the first exhibit: the Lego Factory.
Now, note that: there's a process to entering Legoland, and you have to go through the steps. With Legoland, you don't have the ability to throw the instructions away and just go at it.
This wouldn't be so bad if the Legoland "Factory" was actually, you know, a factory. But, no. It's a very brief exhibit talking about how Lego is made that really talks down to the kids. There are Lego "machines" that allow kids to pretend to take part in the process, but they very obviously do nothing. You turn a crank to load plastic granules into a hopper, only to have those granules fall through the hopper and back into the pile of granules you cranked them up from in the first place. There's a "molding system" which is basically two big blocks that the kids have to work together to force together using two levers. And that's about it. The kids get a free brick to call their own for their "labours", and these have clearly been set out in a bowl. And once you're through that, you're off to the next attraction.
Legoland could also do a lot better with their signs. For a moment, we thought we were in a line-up for this big and scary haunted house ride that was mandatory for us to get on. The kids were starting to freak out before we found a Legoland official who pointed us to the bypass which took us to the big Legoland model.
Now, the model was genuinely impressive. You had a selection of Toronto landmarks that lit up as the room cycled from simulated day to simulated night. You were able to play baseball pinball in a Lego model of the Skydome (complete with bleachers and Legoland spectators. There was some sort of table hockey game in the Lego model of the Air Canada Center, but that didn't seem to be working. The whole thing was something that somebody (or a group of people) worked many hours completing. We walked past these displays and appreciated the work that was done.
After walking through a 20 foot by 20 foot room, we entered the main room of the Legoland Discovery Center. There was some playground climbing equipment that supposedly mimicked a fire academy. There was a classroom where a Master Builder gave symposiums (I didn't go in, but I suspect that would be cool for adults and older kids). There was a merry-go-round-like ride, and there were tables of Lego where kids and parents could play. One area allowed you to build racecars that you could race, while another had panels that you could make shake, simulating an earthquake to test the building you've built. Both of these were cool.
But I was still forced to ask: is that all? Make no mistake, the kids had fun, but here's the kicker: I'd paid $90 for the four of us to enter this place. There was still food and a trip through the gift shop to consider. We have Lego at home. We didn't need to come here for that. I probably would have felt better if more space was devoted to the Toronto Lego model, and if the Lego factory was an actual factory where we saw actual bricks being made.
And unfortunately, Legoland was having great difficulty handling the crowds that were there. This was especially obvious at the gift shop where the line-up for the cashiers stretched well into the store and made it hard to get around and browse. I was also disappointed by the lack of selection, which was no different from visiting an actual Lego store.
The kids had fun, but we all left the place after a couple of hours stressed and somewhat poorer. Fortunately, we skipped the overpriced café and had some decent burger and fries at a nearby "Five Guys Burger and Fries".
I don't regret going to see the new Legoland Discovery Center, but I don't think I'll be a repeat visitor. To justify their high cover charge, they're going to have to do more to make the experience worthwhile.