For kids of all ages who are fascinated by model constructions of anything, Legoland — the theme park that grew out of building blocks — is paradise. Here, you can see the most fascinating places and things in the world perfectly miniaturized, down to the last detail, in 1:20 scale, with everything constructed from those little plastic LEGO bricks — rectangular and other shapes — that you can acquire at FAO Schwartz or any toy store.
If you recently received a LEGO set as a seasonal gift, this place will fill your head with lots of grand ideas about what you can build with the bricks — although, figuring out exactly how to do it might give you a massive headache — or, perhaps, a severe anxiety attack of LEGO-envy. But forget all that while you're in the park. Just stop and smell the miniaturized flowers, and enjoy the miraculous miniature architecture that surrounds you.
Southern California's Legoland (it's actually in Carlsbad, a San Diego suburb) is one of four LEGO theme parks. The original in Billund, Denmark was built in 1968 and many of its features are duplicated (or improved) in the California park (built in 1999), as well the Windsor, England (1996) and Gunzburg, Germany (2002) parks.
All four parks have thrill and kiddie rides, interactive attractions, shops and eateries — but what really sets them apart from other theme parks are their Minilands, wonderful self-contained sections in which famous landmarks and entire cities are reproduced in miniature.
Each park's Miniland has its own unique features and charm; they're like world-class road trips at a glance. And, they're wonderful.
Legoland California's Miniland boasts an all-American theme, with seven famous U.S. tourist destinations and their major attractions reconstructed in 1:20 scale by means of inventively interconnecting some 20 million LEGO bricks.
Yes, Miniland USA is an awesome achievement, and an amazing feat of intellectual prowess and phenomenal fortitude.
The featured destination that's closest to Carlsbad, Calif. is the city of San Francisco, with its recognizable landmarks including the famous Pier 39 and its historical carousel (which looks exactly like the original, and works too).
But during this campaign season, the Miniland area that gets most votes for popularity is most likely Washington, D.C., and its biggest draw is the White House (actually constructed in Windsor, England and transported to the U.S. — which is a story in and of itself).
To be up-to-date and politically appropriate, the D.C. area's presidential motorcade is changed every four years to represent the new president and spouse. There are LEGO-made Hillary and Bill Clinton miniatures waiting to make a return appearance. Or, depending upon the election's outcome, another LEGO-made first couple may have to be used for the display.
The Miniland model of New Orleans (built in Billund), was spared the natural disaster and aftermath the real town suffered. Here, the Crescent City's charmingly intact, with Mississippi River boats plying a lazy and manageable river and a hometown baseball game in progress in Lafayette Park.
Miniland Florida has two outstanding attractions. The Daytona International Speedway (also constructed in Billund) presents cheering fans engaged in a wave cheer (yes, created from LEGO bricks) while their favorite LEGO race cars careen around the track. Daytona lives! The second landmark is Cape Canaveral (actually constructed at the park's very own model shop), which shows the space shuttle preparing for liftoff.
In the recently refurbished Miniland New York City, the model of the Empire State Building gives you a good idea of how clever Legoland's miniaturizing architects are in their use of scale. The model's construction uses four scale sets: The lower floors are built at 1:20, so they fit with the size of people walking on the street; the main body is built in 1:40 scale that transforms closer to the top to 1:60; and the very top tower is set to 1:80 scale. Why? Changing the scale tricks you into thinking the building is taller than it is. Were it miniaturized entirely in 1:20 scale, it would measure more than 62 feet in height. With the changing scale, it stands only 20 feet tall. (Yes, all built with LEGOs.)
The model also features a lot of other famous buildings, including the United Nations and Citicorp buildings, and dozens of others. It also gives you a preview of the Freedom Tower, the monument currently under construction at the site of the World Trade Towers in the real Big Apple not due to be completed for another four years. It took Legoland model makers just four months to construct the miniature version, which stands 28 feet tall at a scale of 1:70.
The Miniland's fabulous reconstruction of Central Park in miniature is a whirl of activity, with LEGO-made New Yorkers enjoying all the fun the public park is famous for — rollerblading, sailing model boats (yes, miniature people sailing miniatures of model boats) and riding in horse-drawn carriages.
Before you leave Miniland USA, two things will probably occur to you. First, if you're a model maker by nature, you'll wonder how you can get a job here. Second, if you're a traveler by nature, you'll wonder how you can get to see the real places so perfectly miniaturized here.
For information about Carlsbad Legoland: www.legoland.com/California.
For information about San Diego: www.sandiego.org.
To find out more about Jennifer Merin and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.