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A sneak peek at Legoland, KC’s new brick yard

A dozen grade-schoolers carried “golden tickets” Thursday: sneak-peek passes to Lego paradise.

A few minutes after 10 a.m., the “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” moment arrived. The doors opened to Legoland Discovery Center at Crown Center.

Behold! A two-story-tall glowing red silhouette of a minifigure, the iconic plastic person in the Lego universe and the entrance into Kansas City’s newest attraction.

The kids, and some parents, filed past clear columns filled with bricks in Lego signature red, blue, yellow and green to elevators leading to more plastic-brick magic upstairs: a Lego brick factory, two amusement park rides, a climbing playground with tunnels, miniature Kansas City landmarks, a “4-D” movie theater and plenty of spots for kids to make their own Lego creations.

“We could have easily spent a few more hours there,” Christy Pope of Overland Park said in the early afternoon. Her daughter Lydia, 8, and son Wesley, 7, both won a Lego contest to attend the day of gawking, riding and playing.

When Legoland Discovery Center opens to the public at 10 a.m. Sunday, Kansas City will become the fourth city in the U.S. to have this Lego concept. The others are Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth (along with centers in England, Germany and Japan).

Legoland comes less than a month after Sea Life aquarium opened right next to it. At 30,000 square feet, it’s roughly the size of a grocery store, filling a major chunk of Halls Crown Center.

Unlike Legolands in southern California and Florida that are mainly outdoor theme parks, the indoor Legoland Discovery Centers are more about creativity. Case in point: 8-year-old Demetrious Cooper, who crafted a two-wheel cycle and ran up stairs to launch it down one of several ramps.

“The ramps are taller than me,” said Demetrious, a second-grader at Della Lamb Elementary Charter School, which also was invited to the preview.

A small high-tech classroom featuring long tables inset with buckets of bricks is for serious model building. Lego Master Model Builder Jeremiah Boehr, who earned his job by winning a Lego competition in Kansas City, led a select group through the steps to build a Lego pirate ship. It’s his own design.

“To me, working with Legos is an art form,” said the 29-year-old Boehr, a former visual art, photography and yearbook teacher. “It’s sculpture because it’s working with your hands.”

Educators increasingly are emphasizing Lego building in the classroom because it encourages science and math skills. Lego Education, a subsidiary based in Pittsburg, Kan., is hosting the national “Innovation in Learning” summit July 27 in Kansas City.

“We’re coming here because of the opening of Legoland Discovery Center,” said spokeswoman Trisha McDonell. “We’ll definitely be touring it.”

The center includes an area for Lego Friends, a new line aimed at girls, with purple and pink bricks. Lydia Pope said she’s accustomed to the primary-colored bricks but likes playing with both palettes.

The big hit in this corner was the karaoke machine, where Della Lamb girls were belting out Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.,” hitting all the high notes and then some.

For younger kids, there’s a small Duplo Village with bigger bricks.

Adults marveled at Miniland, a KC-flavored exhibit of 1 million Lego bricks formed into the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Sprint Center, the art deco Kansas City Power & Light Building, the Country Club Plaza, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, Livestrong Park and much more.

The detail that geeked out people of all ages was the models’ working fountains, including the one at Crown Center, of course. Legoland representatives said more details might be added based on customer feedback. Real mini-barbecue pits perhaps?

Another favorite was the 4-D Cinema that plays a rotating lineup of four 15-minute Lego animated movies. 4-D? It’s a 3-D film with the extra dimension of wind from ceiling fans, monster slime (sprinkles of water) and fake snow that had kids screeching and reaching to grab images.

But Pope and her children appreciate the toy itself.

“What I like about Legos is that they have kits so there’s instant gratification,” she said. “But then my kids take them apart and build their own ideas. That’s the best part.”

Although it wasn’t open for the preview, Legoland includes Lego Cafe with sandwiches, salads, fruit, hot dogs and soft drinks. A sizable Lego gift store is placed strategically at the exit. (An even larger Lego shop is set to open May 17 in Oak Park Mall.)

A large section of the Legoland shop, connected to the aquarium store, is devoted to Lego Star Wars kits and gifts.

In a few months, a traveling Lego Star Wars exhibit is headed here. The Popes will be back. The Lego force is strong in this family.

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