Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review + Giveaway: LEGOLAND Discovery Center (Westchester): "My Best Birthday Ever! Thanks Mom!"

Two birthday boys race at the Racers Build and Test at LEGOLAND Westchester

WHAT: Crazy Cheap BUT High Quality Birthday Party Idea at LEGOLAND Discovery Center- Westchester
DOES: saves you money, makes an amazing memory, models out-of-the-box thinking to your kids, great solution for crowd-phobic LEGO kids
INVEST:  One day of absence at school and one day off work- yes- sorry but true + admission fees as needed- try to find a coupon; Tix $15-$18 for child over 2; $18-$22 for adult; 2 year olds are free.
Meant for ages 3-10 but I think 4-8 would have the BEST time.  Depending on agenda younger and older kids could have lots of fun too. My ten year old is dying to go.
GIVEAWAY PRIZE: Free Family Pack of Tix (4 total)

Do you secretly dread your kid's birthday? I kind of do.  I don't know what has become of our culture that birthdays have become headaches.


First, let me say that birthdays should ALSO be remembered as the day you became a parent (or a parent of two, three, etc... Thanks to my friend Lorna for even introducing this as an idea).  Remember, your life went through a complete overhaul that day.  Nothing was the same ever again. I still have fantasies of reading the Sunday paper in peace. So while you make your kid's day dreamy, remember to celebrate the birth of your new role as well.

Always arm kids with cameras. Bring extra juice when necessary. If your child likes subways, make sure you allot time for this. It's fascinating. There are two tunnels to view under "Grand Central Station."

Don't get me wrong.  I love hosting parties. I used to do it all the time before having children.  I had candles everywhere.  I served wine, sausages, cheese, and some crazy fusion food. But with kids' parties, I am an utter failure. I can't handle the pressure, the anxiety, and worse, I would always suffer anaphylaxis when I looked at the bills.

Something inside me will not let me spend more than $300 on my kid's birthday and in NYC, you can easily shell out $500 for just simple parties. I don't want to have a no-frills party but I don't want to spend the money for the kind of party that I would be proud to host either.  We have winter birthdays too which means no parties in the park either. And I don't have a big house either. ARGH! But I am through vexing. This year, I decided to break this parenting mold that causes annual unhappiness.

These are the Earthquake Tables. The green plates around it shake your Duplo Block building when you press a button.  This is better for preschoolers.

On the same table, older kids can stare and wonder. It is amazing.  Again, take pictures so that they can learn these techniques afterwards.

This is the "Factory Tour" It is self-guided and you have to stop and observe and read a little.  Depending on your child's energy level, they may just rush through this one.
This is why I suggest taking pictures. You can look at the little facts you missed. You know they won't stop to read this.


I told my kids that we weren't going to do parties this year. The main reason was because of money but I also wanted to make sure it was a quality moment for them. Thus, I asked them to think about what and who is really important and that got me thinking too.  I realized that kids do think about things but in their own way and so when you break the norm, you must be careful.  They may ask themselves:
  • If I don't get a party, does that mean I don't deserve one
  • Are my parents POOR?
  • What will the other kids think of me if I don't have a birthday party?
  • I always give a birthday gift but I won't get any when it's MY TURN because my parents don't give me a party. THAT'S NOT FAIR!  (Are you thinking of bridal/baby showers now? I am)

If you are able to work these questions out with your kid - in the way they see the world - AND you really want to skip having a party this year, then do what I did.... have a BIRTHDAY PLAYDATE instead.

4D movies were playing all day long at the Cinema.  They are short. When we went there were 3 different ones playing. No extra fee to watch. Oh, and I think this was supposed to be snow. He loved it!

My kid's friend is just too cool for school... literally!

TEACH:  How to Plan a Good Time

I don't know about you but even though I live in a crowded city, I hate crowded places.  I actually panic after a while.  And if I were to have a "birthday playdate" at a popular weekend destination then I would likely need an emergency red wine infusion afterwards.  Who can deal with the noise, the crying, the shoving, the looks, the internal pressure you feel that makes you say "let others have a turn."  No, this is not an ideal kind of birthday in my book.

My friend Melanie whose child has a birthday near my child's birthday told me she was going to take her kid out of school and go to the LEGO Discovery Center at Westchester. I didn't even think twice about it. I told her she was brilliant and I invited myself and my birthday boy.

We raced. He won.
A fireworks show? Not real...  in lights only... but still... WOW!  This is in MINILAND.


It was THE BEST BIRTHDAY HE HAS EVER HAD.  Which is every parent's goal every year, right? Who wants to hear that last year was better?

Minifigure Trading is offered at LEGOLAND Westchester. This means that there are some employees wearing minifigures up for trading.  Kids just have to ask them if they want to trade with theirs.  #2 was very choosy but he did walk away with "Coffee Mug Man" which happens to be a minifigure character from the LEGO movie premiering next week on the 7th! One thing to note, not everyone seemed to be trading a brand  new minifigure and one employee was sporting a minifigure that he wasn't willing to trade.  He was super nice to my guy though and tried to help him find what he was looking for in those surprise packs available for purchase in the store.  I love when my kids press and feel to figure out if that is the minifigure they want. It's a good skill to build.

Shoot stuff in Kingdom's Quest. Get points. When it's not crowded, this is the best!

If you pedal, you will be elevated when you are spun around. It's awesome! Merlin's Apprentice Ride  This is no splashy amusement park ride but it's pretty cool for an indoor facility and if there are no crowds... well, it's pretty much HEAVEN!

  1. CALL AHEAD: Go on a weekday but call ahead to make sure that nearby private/religious schools are not off that day.
  2. BIGGER GIFTS: If you are doing a double birthday like we did, try to arrange to give each other bigger gifts since you're both saving a ton of money and make sure they are really wanted gifts.  These are gifts that could never come from just one kid if you had a regular birthday party. Inform your child of this if needed. One big present is always better than a few little presents, I think.
  3. PLAN TOGETHER: Plan your event together by visiting online.  Don't just depend on the company website.  Check out Facebook, YouTube, etc... to find out what others have posted.  That is the way you can see more pictures.
  4. SAVE: Get a coupon if you can.  I used one for free child admission saving myself $18! I got mine through a purchase at the LEGO store.
  5. "ME" TIME: Be ready to do things separately unless you are certain that they will stick together like glue. If so, send the other parent off for a break. (LEGOLAND Westchester is at the new Ridge Hill Mall- your GPS may not even have it listed yet! )

    Stunning! Westchester's MINILAND is unique because they have built models of New York City and Westchester County. LEGOLAND tells me that MINILAND was made using more than 1 million LEGO bricks
    There is humor rewarded to those who look closely.
    Toilet guy is funny.
    I love these displays in Miniland of NYC and Westchester County!
    Press a button to make these lights blink.  Marvelous.
  6. BE RESPONSIBLE: You may consider working it out with the teacher about schoolwork missed.  (

  7. BE PREPARED: Most venues are smart enough to MAKE YOU LEAVE through their store.  Accept your fate and tell yourself and your child that you will not buy anything or you can tell them what they are allowed to buy.  My friend said, "Pick any keychain you want."  I told my son to pick a plastic bagged set. (around $4).   It helped them focus and be thoughtful about what they really wanted. Prevent Lego-induced insanity... you know it's coming.

    It's cool to go to the Master Builder Academy class which is free with your admission however, know before you go inside: If you want to take home what you built, you must pay for it.  We were surprised to hear this when we sat down. It's okay but it is better to know before you go in.

    My little Master Builder built and brought home two of these guys.  ( the bricks for the 2 penguins cost $5)
  8. BUILD OFF THOSE MEMORIES: Let's face it, you may not be able to go very often.  So encourage your child to take lots of pictures.  He may be able to build some of the things he saw that day!  Isn't that the whole point of going there? It's easy to forget that...
  9. SEND THE PHOTOS TO SCHOOL:  Teachers! (aka Angels of America): Look at these pictures!  I needn't say that if my son went there with his class, he would think he had the coolest teacher ever. That would be one way to enjoy LEGOLAND without the crowds and not miss school like we did.  My son brought a brochure the next day for show-and-tell and discussed his special day with his classmates. Next time, I'll give him a powerpoint presentation.
How often does a child stay still here? Kind of never, I'd say.
If I was allowed, I would have joined him but grown-ups are not allowed in this part. That looks so fun! This area is called LEGO Construction Site. It was attached to the Fire Academy where they did non-stop climbing and jumping.
And they even connected. Crazy.
I have never seen these bricks before. Kids don't care. These were used in ball pit-like area but these bricks were the "balls." But you know what, you can't stand on ball pit balls... but look at this!  And I am not exactly Ms. Skinny!

I think planning will help you avoid this pitfall.  Water and breaks will help too.  You can talk about what to do the next time you come.  May you be blessed with a day when only your child's school has a staff development day and the rest are in session.  I am already scoping out my kids' school calendars for such days. You never know... I don't think I could be there when it is crowded but on a weekday....  well, let's just say that they are only young once. 

Other tips:
  • Call in advance and ask where if there is a coat check at your local discovery center. Westchester didn't have one when we went but parking was closeby and I could have used my car as my coatcheck if I wanted but I'm not sure if I am allowed to go back and forth to get things in my car.  Actually, try the email if you have a very specific question. I couldn't find a number to talk to a person.

  • No outside food allowed unless you have allergies (says website) or baby food (says recording on the phone).   I think they serve hot food too. I forgot to look for that.
That is hummus up top. apples, milk, juice
Sandwiches appear to be from local source. I had a salad. It was fine. My son is allergic to everything and no one had a problem with him eating what I brought for him.
There are also some chips near the register.  If you are looking for more snacks.
  • Take frequent breaks to enjoy the moment to snack, hydrate and rest.
  • Like party packages? I totally understand. They have birthday packages starting at $25 per child.
This store had a lot of keychains!

Wish I bought the Wonder Woman one.
My son's friend went home with this guy.  Excellent choice! I wish I did too.  You can make this doggy into a glam doggie with translucent studs!  I think this was maybe $4?  Worth it! Cute eyes!
For $4, you get a car AND a coupon for one free child admission with paying adult. And he was thrilled that this was his "party favor."  Of course, I was thrilled about the coupon.

Last thing: There are other parts of the Center that I did not cover here with photos so please consult their site, the internet, YouTube, and find the most recent pics if you want to see what you'll see when you get there.

And now try to win the a Pack of Four Tix for your Family! Sorry, this is only for the Westchester location but you can use the tips here to plan your exciting day asap!

Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter to win!
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a Rafflecopter giveaway

More LEGO stories:

Thanks to my dear friend Melanie without whom this day, this post, this brilliant birthday for my boy would not have been possible. 

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the proprietor for the publication of this review.  Admission was paid by yours truly and a snazzy coupon that I got from yet another purchase at the LEGO store. The prize is being donated from LEGOLAND Westchester. 



  1. I think I'm more excited to see the movie than my daughter. Yes, we are going!

  2. The Lego Movie will be my son's first film. We all can't wait!

  3. My son, who is 5, has been asking for months to go to see the LEGO movie. I keep having to tell him it's not out yet!

  4. My kids are extremely picky eaters. One thing that works for the whole family is pizza.

  5. I don't think there is anything that could make meal time easier in our house. Meal time is usually pretty good unless you give me a magical genie to prepare our food in an instant.

  6. I wanted to drop a comment to this post. We took our 5-year old son to LEGOLand two weeks ago for a birthday party. Prior to doing so, we asked some other parents who had first hand experience about the noise, crowds, and general conditions for a child on the autistic spectrum. Plus we were going on a crowded Saturday afternoon. I was very grateful for Jenn's advice on what to expect. At first, our son absolutely refused to go inside: he covered his ears and tried to pull me away from the door (and this is a hardcore LEGO-loving kid who was looking forward to LEGOLand all week). But once I calmed his anxiety down, he had a blast. From the ball pit made with rubber LEGO bricks, to the race car builder zone, to the climbing/trampoline/tunnel area, he absolutely loved it all. And he even was very still and quiet while watching the 15-minute Clutch Powers mini-movie. No headphones! In the dark! And loud action! We were so impressed.