Legoland New York
July 24, 2021

copyright Jay Ducharme 2021

Karen and I decided to break up our trip to Ohio by visiting a few parks along the way. Our first stop was at a park I didn’t initially have a lot of interest in, Legoland NY. My only interest was the fact that it was the first new amusement park built in New York in four decades. The pandemic had delayed its opening by a year, and initially it seemed as if this season would also be problematic. The park held a preview opening early in the summer, cautioning guests that not everything would be operational. But for our visit, the park was finally fully open to the public (mostly). And for the admission price, I would have been upset if it wasn’t. Legoland cost a whopping $80 a ticket, plus $20 parking — and that was with the online discounts. Those were approaching Disney prices.

Located in Goshen at the foot of the Catskills, Legoland was only about a three hour drive from our home. When we arrived at the park, the signage was a bit confusing and in some cases non-existent. There was nothing yet on the highway indicating which exit was for Legoland. And signs for the park entrance were so small they could easily have been overlooked. There was a long winding road leading up to the parking lots. We drove right over to the main lot. There were no entry gates or parking attendants. It appeared that parking was free. If that was the case, I definitely wanted a refund for the $20 I paid.

It was about 9:30 when we arrived, and the park opened at 10:00. Cars were streaming in. We were able to park near the front. There appeared to be three vast tiered parking lots carved into the sloping hillside. We were in the middle lot, which was rapidly filling up.

I’m not a huge fan of Legos. I never played with them when I was a kid. I never saw the movies. So I’m not the park’s target demographic (which was advertised as 2 to 12-year-olds). But what instantly struck me was the splash of bright primary colors everywhere, from the Welcome sign made with Legos to the entry arch, to the as-yet unopened hotel on the hill overlooking the park, everything was designed to be playfully bright and inviting.

We walked over to the entry gates with our pre-printed tickets and handed them to the attendant. She tried to scan them, but her scanner beeped loudly and showed a giant red X. She tried several times with both our tickets, but got the same result. She apologized and said our tickets were no good, and directed us to Guest Services to our left. So we queued up for Guest Services, which seemed to be fielding a lot of other similar complaints. It turned out that their computer system created tickets that were good only on the day purchased, even though I chose July 24 as the date we were visiting. It took them a while to straighten it all out. As for the parking pass: you paid for parking on the way OUT of the park. That was the first time I’d ever encountered that. I guess if you refused to pay, you’d just spend the rest of your life at Legoland. The woman behind the counter eventually escorted us through a side gate. She gave us a valuable piece of advice: explore the park starting with Miniland and working our way counter-clockwise through the park.

So we walked onto Brick Street, the first section of the park. In front of us was a giant Lego dragon. Behind that was a giant multicolored Lego elephant flanked by monkeys. I had no idea what the significance was (if any), but it was colorful and fun. Along the left were locker rentals, restrooms and the Brick Street Cafe, a sort of deli with pre-made food offerings. What was interesting about the design of that cafe is that there was just one attendant but three check-out lines. Like so many other parks have done over the past year, Legoland went cashless. So guests would cash themselves out using their card or their mobile device. The attendant was just there to make sure people didn’t walk off with anything. But if the place was busy, how would the attendant be able to keep track of everyone?

Opposite the Brick Street Cafe was the park’s huge gift shop -- simply called The Big Shop -- which naturally sold everything Lego. Beyond those buildings (and the elephant) was Brick Party, a whimsical Lego-themed carousel. To the right was a large earth made in the Lego style, but it was surrounded by a barrier, as if it wasn’t quite finished. The barrier had a “coming soon” advertisement for a new waterpark that was scheduled to debut this season. The midway ended there.

To the left of the carousel was a path leading into the Bricktopia section of the park. But we followed the advice the woman gave us and instead headed straight past the carousel into Miniland. Placed throughout the park were Lego characters and scenes, some as photo spots and others as thematic elements. As we entered Miniland, we encountered my Lego doppelganger sitting on a bench. From that vantage point, the highest in the park, you could view Legoland’s entire layout far below as well as the distant range of the Catskill mountains. It was an impressive scene. The park was huge, and there appeared to be only one way to get to the other sections: we had to follow the long sinuous path down through Miniland.

Legoland NY was the ninth in the series of Legoland parks throughout the world (all of them managed by Merlin Entertainment). They all have one thing in common: Miniland, Lego recreations of famous local landmarks. For this park, Lego primarily focused on New York’s boroughs. And that’s when I began to appreciate the subtle humorous details that were noticeable all over the park. For example, there was a recreation of Broadway but with all the show names changed (ex: The Lion King was changed to the Leopard Prince). There were familiar ads placed on billboards, again with changed names, like a pirate hat as the logo for Arrrrrby’s: Shiver me tenders. All of the scenes also had complicated mechanics, most of which weren’t working. There were vehicles that could autonomously travel up and down the miniature streets. There were many displays that allowed guests to control the movement of the objects, like the Central Park Carousel and the horse race at Belmont Park. But in the case of Belmont park, all the horses had been removed, leaving nothing but small metal posts protruding through the surface. There were some stunning recreations of various buildings, including the Crystal Palace and the World Trade Center with the 9/11 memorial. There were also several water features that appeared to be incomplete, with intricate pulley systems visible in the water but attached to nothing.

We continued along down the winding path where scenes left New York and depicted other areas of the US, including Washington DC, Mount Rushmore and San Francisco. I found myself enchanted by the craftsmanship and whimsy evident throughout all the exhibits. As we came to the end of Miniland, I looked back up and was surprised at how far down the hillside we had walked. Brick Street seemed like a mile away.

Something I noticed that the park might change is how guests flow through the park. Unlike any other park I've been to, Legoland allowed just two ways to explore the differnt areas: clockwise or counter-clockwise. There was no way to get, say, from Miniland directly to the Castle area. You had to follow the winding paths that Legoland had built. Already, there were problems that were evident. Just in Miniland alone, people were wearing out the manicured landscaping, choosing to take a shortcut down the grassy steep hills rather than follow the circuitous path that the park had laid out. Signs were everywhere telling people to keep of the grass, but no one bothered to heed them. People naturally wanted to take the shortest path to get where they wanted to go, and Legoland (at that time) wasn't accommodating them.

The next land we entered was Lego Pirates. There were just a few rides in this area. The most visible was Rogue Riders, something I had seen before only at European parks. There were two separate identical rides next to each other sitting in large pools that had embedded water cannons which randomly blasted water high into the air, raining down on both riders and spectators. The loud booms were audible all the way from the top of Miniland. The ride itself consisted of a turntable to which was attached SkiDoo-like crafts with rudders on them. You stood up in the craft and as the ride went around you could steer the rudder to make your craft drift outward, sort of like a Whip ride.

To the left of that was Splash Battle, where families could board pirate ships equipped with large squirt guns and fire at each other (and spectators) as the boats travelled their course. In the middle of the pirates midway was Anchors Away, a spinning pirate ship. Along the back area of the midway was Brickbeard’s Food Market, one of the park’s large eateries. The food offerings at the park were refreshingly different. There were still the usual park staples of hamburgs and fried chicken, but also hummus wraps, tofu, salads, veggie burgers and many other healthy options.

We continued along the midway and next entered Lego City, the largest area in the park. It was also the most interactive and the most family-oriented. To the left as we entered was Fire Academy, where kids and their families could extinguish a burning building and save the residents. There were a series of fire trucks that families would board. They were on tracks that pulled them over to a large building facade that had a giant video screen embedded in it. The screen showed a fire in progress with the residents calling for help. The fire truck would roll toward the building and families would use the hose on board to spray water at the screen, which would show the fire gradually die away.

Next to that ride was Driving School, which allowed kids to navigate cars along simulated city streets. Attached to that was Junior Driving School for small fry. Across the midway from that was Coast Guard Academy, a boat ride. According to its description, it was supposed to be an interactive ride like Fire Academy, and I really liked how many of the rides at Legoland got families to do things together. But this just had boats passively following a winding course. Next to that were also some nautical-themed play areas for kids. At the back of the Lego City area was the Palace Cinema that featured 4D movies, plus Brickolini’s Pizza and Pasta, an all-you-can-eat buffet.

We were then at the bottom of the hillside. From there, the midway began sloping back up toward the entrance. We passed Granny’s Apple Fries, a concession selling thinly-cut deep-fried apple slices, and headed for the Lego Castle section of the park. As you might expect, the signature building in this area was a large castle. The signature ride was the Dragon Coaster, part dark ride and part family roller coaster. So I queued up for that. Since it was still fairly early in the day, the ride was pretty much a walk-on. My eyes had a lot of trouble adjusting to the darkness of the station. It was very dimly illuminated. I wasn’t too particular about where I sat and took the second seat in the train, the front of which sported a large Lego dragon head. The coaster used tire drives to smoothly propel the train through a series of animatronic scenes depicting gold being stolen from a dragon’s lair. When we passed the giant angry dragon’s head, the ride picked up speed and we rolled up a lift hill and outside the building to go through a series of mild twists and turns before arriving back at the station. It was an enjoyable family coaster.

The food concessions didn’t open until 11:00 and by then it was 11:30. Karen had been checking out the food offerings along the way. Although the restaurant in the castle area served Beyond Meat burgers, we settled on Brickbeard’s Food Market. I had planned to get a grilled cheese and a salad there. When we arrived at the nearly empty building, we discovered that half the offerings weren’t available. Once again, that post-pandemic staffing issue was evident. They didn’t have enough staff to open all their concessions. What they did have, though, was the tofu dinner. So we opted for that. We started by building our own salads. With the tofu, it was similar: there were side dishes that we could add onto our meal. So I got rice and broccoli. Karen got rice and mixed vegetables. There was no guidance as to where to go after we got our food. There were no typical queue lines at a cash register. We found one, though, and then sat in the vast dining hall. We were about the only customers there. Karen watched as other people entered, got their food and then just sat down at a table without paying. No one approached them or stopped them.

Our food was quite good. The broccoli and rice were perfectly cooked and flavorful (as much as rice can be flavorful). The tofu was more like eating chicken nuggets soaked in duck sauce. They had a bit of a Szechuan kick to them but were mostly like candy, really sweet. We probably didn’t need even more sweetness, but afterward we stopped by Granny’s Apple Fries. I wanted to find out what they were. That was the longest wait we had that day; they seemed really popular. The fries came with a small amount of caramel dipping sauce and some whipped cream. They had the shape and consistency of French fries, but were definitely apples. We really liked them.

We walked back up through the castle area. Another ride there was Tower Climb Tournament, where parents sat in swing-like chairs with their kids. There were four groups per tower and they would pull on ropes to hoist themselves to the top of a tower before the other groups did. It was another great way to give families something to do together. Nearby was a soft serve ice cream concession that Karen had read about. It tasted like typical ice cream, but came in bright primary colors like red and yellow.

The path continued winding upward. A sign indicated that we were passing through the Lego Friends Nature Trail. Scattered about were various Lego recreations of wildlife, and they looked pretty impressive. From a distance, a pack of wolves looked pretty convincing. There were also deer and other woodland creatures. Even though there were large signs asking guests to keep off the grass and not climb on the statues, most parents either couldn’t read or didn’t care and let their kids climb all over the figures.

Although it seemed we were leaving the Castle section the theming continued with another small collection of rides: Dragon’s Apprentice, a kiddie coasters, and Merlin’s Mayhem, a curious ride that was sort of like Disney’s Dumbo ride except on this one you had bicycle pedals. The more you pedaled, the higher you flew. The path led past the Legoland Theater, where a slapstick performance was in progress based around fighting a fire. I thought that would have been more appropriate in the Lego City area. It seemed out of place near the Castle.

We were then nearly back up to the top of the hillside and entering the next section of the park: Lego Ninjago. I know there was a movie based around this, but beyond having a vaguely Asian look I didn’t know anything else about it. Obviously, it was a Lego ninja. The big attraction in this section was Lego Ninjago: The Ride (a simulator), which we bypassed. There was also Jay’s Gravity Trainer, which was a themed Matterhorn carnival ride. From that vantage point there was another spectacular panoramic view of the entire park.

We entered the final area of the park, Bricktopia. The big attraction there was the Lego Factory Adventure Ride. It had a long queue line but moved swiftly. Like Disney, half of the ride experience was in the queue. There were Lego facts placed along the walls, plus numerous displays about the ride. For some reason, there was also a full-size Lego recreation of Indiana Jones. When we arrived at the station, it was fascinating to watch the empty cars approach autonomously in a carefully choreographed dance and then docked next to the entry gates. Thankfully, this wasn’t an interactive shooter, nor did it require 3D glasses. We boarded our vehicle and a large lap bar secured us. Then we rolled over to the first scene. This was a trackless ride, so the vehicles had a lot of freedom in their movement. They also had pneumatic rams underneath that could make the cars pitch and roll.

The ride began sort of like Hersheypark’s Chocolate Factory ride, explaining the process of how the products were made. After that I lost the thread of what was going on. But there seemed to be some sort of battle we were thrust into. It didn’t help that apparently the projectors weren’t working during a few of the scenes, so we were staring at blank walls while the echoey sound blared around us. The cars moved forward and backward, danced around each other and eventually rolled to the exit dock. Our picture was taken, and we had the opportunity to purchase a Lego character that looked vaguely like us. The ride itself was a fraction of the length of the queue. I didn’t understand much of what we went through. But I loved watching those cars.

Back outside, there were a few kiddie rides in the area. There was also Stepping Tones, and a display of musical instruments in a sort of trough. If you stood in front of an instrument, a sensor on the side of the trough would trigger the instrument’s sound. But because it was called Stepping Tones, guests seemed to think they had to step on something to trigger the sounds. So a lot of people were stomping on the concrete in front of it, which didn’t do much. Next to that was Bricktopia’s big eatery, Smokey’s Brick-B-Que. To the left of that was the Creative Workshop and Build & Test, which allowed guests to work with Lego products. And then we were back at the entrance.

Surprisingly, by that point we had been in the park five hours and we hadn’t even experienced half of what was there. We had thought about getting more treats, like the Lego ice cream. We had thought about thought about doing some of the other rides. But by that point the temperature was in the 90s and we were wearing out. I filmed a walk-thru of the park. Then we briefly looked around in the gift shop. I bought a small magnet and after that we decided to head out.

We understood the advice from the woman at Guest Services: the climb through Miniland was a lot longer than through the Castle and Ninjago sections, which had more activities to break up the walk. But at least the park was considerate enough to put benches all along the Miniland route. We saw lots of senior citizens resting in them as they tried to make their way up the hill. As we left the park, the parking lot we were in was completely filled, and the upper lot was nearly full. So it appeared that the park was off to a good start. And paying for parking on the way out did make a lot of sense, allowing people to get into the park quicker. The exit gates were all automated; you scanned your pass to open the gate (though we did see several people cursing when their passes didn’t work and they had to back out).

We had an unexpectedly good time at Legoland. Management has some hiccups to fix, like the high-maintenance Miniland issues. The landscaping is going to be beautiful as it matures. But even now, the park looks pretty stunning and they have plenty of room for expansion. For Lego neophytes like us, I thought we’d be either bored or disappointed. But the park won us over with its visual charm and subtle humor. The food was good and unusual for a park. For me, it was especially delightful to see so many families engaging with each other in physical activities, getting the kids away from TV and video games. As the word spreads and the park works out its kinks, I’m sure Legoland will gain a reputation as one of the northeast's must-visit destinations.

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