Catena Builds

27 July 2008

Legoland Discovery Center: Chicago (Schaumburg)

Filed under: Uncategorized — by catena @ 2305
Tags: , ,

I went today with my wife and 2.5-year-old son to the new Legoland Discovery Center for the Chicago region. In an upscale strip mall, Streets of Woodfield, south of Woodfield Mall, there’s a big giraffe poking out of a deceptively small storefront. They’re not offering Premium passes yet (all year for around $60/person) or Annual passes (all weekdays for cheaper), so we paid the half-price opening week rate. The only promised thing they didn’t deliver was pictures of your trip on the Dragon Ride, but that would be more a memento than a key part of the experience.

Chicago Skyline and Streets

The first room you enter is an L-shaped room bare except for the Chicago Skyline and streets model. It’s very impressive: many key buildings are there, including the all-curves black apartment building on the shoreline. All the models are very detailed, with very pleasing faux brickwork on the brownstones, a ferris wheel, the ballroom, and other key buildings from Navy Pier, an octagonal take on the Water Tower, the colored cubes in Millennium Park (which actually glow different colors when the entire skyline lights up in the dark), Buckingham Fountain with clear blocks for the streams of water, so on and so forth. As a large-scale detailed model, it’s definitely a showpiece, though it trades a little richness of detail to its scope (compared with a collection of individuals’ lego show models). There’s still a ton of detail, with a construction scene at the end which our son liked best: turning cranes controlled by two joysticks, and a little Lego guy with a jackhammer turned on by a button. There was another button closer to the entry, but nothing happened when we pressed it.

Jungle Room

We had to wait for the second room: this was a theme throughout the center, access limited by a velvet rope. It works well to make sure no attraction gets overloaded, but tested the patience of our little one. The second room was worth it though: one of his favorite rooms, it was a winding jungle full of half- to twice-scale replicas of animals. Of special note, right in the entry was an extremely cute tiger cub on its back, curled legs pawing the air. At the entry a guide played a role (the brother of Johnny Thunder needing the kids’ help) to get the kids in a sense of adventure. I won’t spoil the ending, but it wasn’t the scariest thing in the center. All the animal models were quite good, scattered liberally through the area, and there were some you wouldn’t expect them to have thought of or tried (like a pretty clear-block dragonfly). There were larger versions of beige-shirted adventurers minifigs, the size of children rather than adults. There was one odd passage near the end (around the end scene) which just seemed like they didn’t know what to do with the space—or maybe it was consideration for parents who wanted to avoid the final scene. Our son didn’t seem bothered by it at all though.

Life-Sized Models

The jungle scene, with all its richness of detail, opened onto a lifesize-model area which seemed quite bare by comparison. It takes a lot of time to plan and build life-sized models of people, so I’m not surprised there weren’t many, but you could say there was a lot of space to get different perspectives on Batman, R2-D2, Darth Vader, Hagrid, and Harry. Vader’s and Hagrid’s faces didn’t really work for me, but Batman and Harry (kid-sized, of course) were what you’d expect. This area was the one place I felt could use the most work, other than the bare wall opposite the immense Chicago Skyline and streets model (which maybe could give the kids some information about the city).


After this there’s a choice: you can go to the right through the Dragon Ride; upstairs to the mini LEGO Factory, “4D” mini movie theater, and the greatroom for cafe, Lego-play, and playground-play; or straight to the shop and checkout. We did all the above, for the full experience.

Dragon Ride

The Dragon Ride is a typical haunted-house flat-level ride, with life-size models solidly in the Castle theme. There are two chained skeletons, a dungeon of humorous tortures (one guy gets his butt kicked by a multiple-booted wheel), and some middle-ages domestic violence, but many cute rats help make this expansive series of large vignettes more cute than scary. Even the foreshadowed beastie at the end is more interesting and cool than scary. They have a few misters, but nothing you still notice by the time you get off the ride. Again, our son very much enjoyed it, and wasn’t noticeably scared.


Upstairs, via two stairs or an elevator, was (counter-clockwise from north) a lion shell with an open mouth which a child may enter from behind for a photograph (it has a motion sensor and roars, which unpleasantly startled our son); the mini-factory; the mini-theater; family’s, men’s, and women’s restrooms with cute logos and Danish Radio on the speakers; and the greatroom (where you pick up the photos from the ride, and wasn’t hooked up yet today).


The limited-access mini-factory room was appropriately but not too unpleasantly warm (the guide actually mentioned it), with non-Lego models of a few of the Lego-making machines. The guide got the kids involved, having one press the buttons and the others jump to make the machine spit out a piece. All the other kids (and a few of the parents;) picked double-height 2×4 yellow bricks with the center logo from a cardboard box.


After that, it was time to stand in queue for seven of the longest minutes in any child’s life, before admittance to the theater, while they handed out 3D glasses. While it was novel and pleasant to actually sit in a movie theater with our son, I don’t think he got much out of the movie: he didn’t wear the glasses, so missed much of the effects. The stereoscopic images so effectively combined the split images into one, that many children reached out to touch the images which very much seemed to float just within their grasp. I heard one little boy ask if this was real. A few children were very frightened, and cried loudly by the spiders and other beasties that came out into the audience. So between the glasses and the scary bits, this is the one attraction to avoid for very small or sensitive children, or ones who won’t cooperate with the glasses (probably a blessing in our case, actually).

Personally I found that the glasses worked, but I occasionally had a slightly uncomfortable feeling that things weren’t quite in focus, like my eyeglass prescription was wrong. In addition, they had a variety of wind, confetti, mist, and other effects to enhance immersion, which were very effective. I consciously noticed them twice, but just out of curiosity about what they were doing.


The greatroom is the key place to spend time here. We were definitely hungry by the time we got there, and got a chef’s salad, turkey sandwich, plastic cup of grapes, parfait, cheesecake, root beer, and water for $26. All the cafe tables had Lego bins, but few of them had any. This was more than made up for by the uncountable (because they’re constantly moving in kids’ hands;) pieces elsewhere in the room. As an adult fan of Lego, what I was happiest to see was a concerted effort to engage girls, by a dedicated area with pieces in the girls’ colors and themes. There were many there, all busily engaged in building.

Build and Test and Buy

The boys did have the lion’s share of the space, but you do need more to send all kinds of wheeled vehicles down three six-foot-high ramps to their destruction. There were stairs to the top, but our son was too short to see what happened when he released it unless I picked him up through the bars. About a quarter of the ones released from the highest ramp made it over the center Junkyard of Destruction(tm) to bash against people or the floor. I don’t know whether this was intentional, but it was the prize of the contest for the older boys. From building two models, I can say that the most difficult thing with the piece selection was to find enough pins to attach wheels without the black axle rods. They could add more pins or pin-and-1×2-brick for this type of construction. That said, almost all the car models were a lot bigger (and, um, effective) than my minimal design with relatively small tires.

One of the coolest things about this area is that it doubles as an immense pick-a-brick: you can take downstairs, weigh, and buy any model you make upstairs. I assume it costs the same $30-per-pound as the small selection of pick-a-brick in the store (the wall in the store in Woodfield Mall is bigger and more varied).

Also in the greatroom, with which we did not do much because of our son’s particular age: an earthquake machine to test your custom skyscrapers (too young); soft, shin-high couch rings with Duplo inside to pen the youngest children who will play with them (too old); and an enclosed McDonald’s-style padded climb-and-slide (too young).


We spent the most time in the greatroom, and only left when it looked like he was getting picky and frustrated because of his postponed nap. He melted down in the store, so we got a bag of $5 in treats for him from the pick-a-candy wall (mostly gummy bears, worms, and jelly beans), and a bag with $42 worth of bricks, plates, flowers, and grasses from about 60 color-sorted bins. The store had a good selection of interesting sets, including an “Educational” 42-figure townspeople set; an old-school town set with a cinema; the yellow Creator house; Duplo dinosaurs, horse farm, and Thomas; and all the various themes, including the Mindstorms NXT. I’m sure all of this was full list price, and for me just supplemented the key build, test, and buy mechanic that would keep me coming back even if I didn’t have a small boy to tug on my arm and say “Lego! Lego!” 🙂

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1 May 2006

Restored tech pages

Filed under: castle theme,dark ages, tags — by catena @ 1813

Recovered, from the Wayback Machine, two important pages of my old web site: LEGO Castle Tech, and Archer Loops. Last modified in 2004, so some links may not work.

I will not maintain the tech page, as a page. Since it's really just a collection of links, I'd rather use to record them. I also want to leave the tech page alone to keep the links to pages in the Wayback Machine.

I might create another page to extract and maintain the definitions on the tech page.  Or, create many posts here, and tag them "definitions".

25 April 2006


Filed under: dark ages,Storage Room — by catena @ 0146

On-again, off-again. Now on-again, at least enough to post at, and collect links at  I am also reworking my building-block storage room, again, with frames and bin-shelves from Ikea.

Blog at