I stepped into the hotel elevator along with a young mother and her 5-year-old daughter. The doors closed, and what happened next was pure delight.

The lights dimmed, a disco ball started spinning and the sounds of ABBA singing “Dancing Queen” filled the space. Without a word being spoken, the three of us started to dance. I, however, was the only wearing a business suit.

Welcome to the brand-spanking-new Legoland California Hotel in Carlsbad, Calif., where kids rule the castle and whimsy meets interactivity for an experience that feels like a  Madonna Inn (the landmark hotel on the California coast that features such room themes as “Caveman” and “Jungle Rock”)—but for munchkins.

I was in town to represent Children’s Fairyland at a board meeting, hosted by Legoland, of the California Attractions and Parks Association. I was joined by representatives of industry giants such as Disney, Universal and Paramount who gathered to discuss a range of topics, from emergency ride-evacuation procedures to e-cigarette policies. But the star of the show was the new hotel, the first I’d seen that was designed with younger children in mind.

I was particularly interested in this concept because Children’s Fairyland’s creators had the same vision. Have you ever noticed that adults have to bend over to enter our “Old Woman in the Shoe” entrance but kids get to stand tall? The clear message to adults is that it’s not about you anymore. That was the same feeling I got when I walked into the hotel.

As you might imagine, Lego blocks are everywhere, for display and for play. A big pit filled with Lego blocks sits in the middle of the lobby, and kids have a blast creating whatever they can imagine. Every night, there are contests to acknowledge their efforts. There are flower arrangements with calla lilies and birds of paradise made from Lego. There are 3-D Lego sculptures and pictures in frames made from you-know-what.

But what really blew my mind was the remarkable themes through 250 guest rooms. There are three floors, each with its own theme. The first floor has a “kingdom” theme, the second floor is “pirates” and the third floor is “adventure.”

My room was on the third floor, and it lived up to the theme. It had a separate sleeping area for kids with bunk beds and a flat-

At the new Legoland California Hotel, rooms are completely themed out and interactive

At the new Legoland California Hotel, rooms are completely themed out and interactive

screen TV. A monkey, a scorpion, a butterfly, a scarab beetle and a parrot were made of Lego in 3-D.  An Indiana Jones-type hat made of Lego hung in the bathroom. The wallpaper depicted pyramids and jewels; the carpet featured lizards, snakes and a tarantula.  Scary? Not a bit, judging from the delighted smiles and shrieks on display from every child I saw at the property.

Also in the room was a tub of Lego blocks to use during your stay, as well as information about a scavenger hunt that, when completed, would unlock a treasure chest in the room. I can imagine families working together to solve the puzzle, and it made me happy.

The phenomenon that is Lego began in 1932, when Ole Kirk Kirstiansen, a skilled carpenter, started producing high-quality wooden toys in Billund, Denmark. Two years later, Kirstiansen chose the name Lego—a combination of the first letters of the Danish words “leg godt,” or “play well.” Lego made its debut in plastic in 1949, and in 1958 the Lego interlocking principle was patented. The company’s motto—“The more you have, the more you can build”—refers not only to the fabulous structures that can be built, but to the very successful franchise itself.

In 2005, the company was purchased by the Merlin Entertainment Group, which owns 100 attractions in 22 countries and four continents, including the London Eye and the Madame Tussauds wax museums. Merlin has invested heavily in the Legoland brand, opening new properties from Florida to Malaysia. In Carlsbad, the company added an aquarium and water park, doubled the number of rides and built the hotel where I stayed.

I attended a presentation made by Peter Ronchetti, the general manager of Legoland California. He talked about the business side of a very successful enterprise: the importance of positioning hotel and park together, clustering properties for economies of scale. He also spoke of how Merlin’s vision is to become the world leader in branded, location-based entertainment.

I asked him about the remarkable level of interactivity that kids are offered at all of their properties. “It’s in our DNA, and what sets us apart,” he said. “We start our designs with a child’s-eye view, and then the adults on the team pay the bills.”

Later that day, I watched an ecstatic young lad jumping on a whoopee cushion built into the floor of the hotel’s landing. I realized the immaturity and seeming pointlessness of the act, and I loved it.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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