My family takes many of our theme park vacations at Disney destinations. Don’t tell, but we recently decided to cheat on the Mouse. Our destination for a long weekend getaway: Legoland California in Carlsbad near San Diego. With an 8 year old daughter and a 4 year old son, my family is firmly in the Lego-loving sweet spot. Although we treat ourselves to splurge vacations on occasion, this trip was all about budget travel. We snagged $29 flights down to San Diego during a major Southwest Airlines flight sale, so it seemed only fitting to do the rest of the trip on a dime as well.
Although theme park visits are rarely super cheap, I’m happy to report that Legoland can be done quite inexpensively. Here are the tips and tricks that saved us money so you can visit Legoland California on a budget with your family too.
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Money Saving Budget Tips for Legoland California
1. Stay in an Off-Site Hotel
While the Legoland California Hotel is amazingly cool and well-located just steps from the park entrance, it is very expensive. Rates can often start well over $300 or even $400 a night. (Note that since this article was originally published, the brand new Legoland Castle Hotel has opened too!)
In contrast, the prices for off-site hotels very close by can be exceedingly reasonable. We ultimately booked at the La Quinta Carlsbad, located only a 5-7 minute drive away from the park. Why? We found a two bedroom, two bath family suite with a fridge, microwave, and bunk beds for the kids for just $113 a night. The La Quinta brand can certainly be hit or miss, but the 4 star TripAdvisor reviews for this particular hotel didn’t lead us astray. This was a standout value property – very clean with excellent customer service and a free hot breakfast that saved us even more money.
Remember: just because you aren’t splurging on one of the two official Legoland hotels l doesn’t mean you have to miss experiencing them. We spent plenty of time in the hotel lobby of the Legoland California Hotel letting our kids play and build on the giant pirate ship. We also treated ourselves to character dining at one of the restaurants, Bricks (more on how we saved money on that later). The kids were none the wiser and we saved hundreds.
2. Snag a Ticket Deal
If you are used to Disneyland where ticket discounts are very minimal, refocus your thinking. Legoland has bigger deals, particularly for multi-day tickets.
We pre-purchased 2 day tickets online from Get Away Today, a travel agency that specializes in SoCal family vacations that I partner with and recommend (putting my money where my mouth is!). Get Away Today had a two day Legoland hopper tickets for both adults and kids that include admission to both Legoland California and the Sea Life Aquarium for just $89 total. Quality theme parks simply don’t get much cheaper than $45 per person per day.
(GET AWAY TODAY BONUS: Visiting SoCal on a longer trip? Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all vacation package stays of 2 nights or more.)
If you are wondering whether two days at Legoland is too much, I’d say no. While you can certainly get the flavor of the place in a day, ride lines are too long to ride the majority of the attractions in a single day.
Whatever you do, definitely do not wait until you get to the gate to purchase your tickets. Gate price for a single day non-hopper was a whopping $125, making our $89 two day hoppers a crazy value in comparison.
3. Order Kids Meals
Legoland only has counter service restaurants and snack stands throughout the park. There are no sit-down-and-be-served dining options. What does that mean? Adults aren’t limited to the adult menu! Kids meals can be a great way to save money and even sometimes to have more variety in meal choices. And the food at Legoland California is much better than standard theme park fare so you feel like you are getting your money’s worth even more so.
All the kids meals at Legoland California come with a drink (Honest Kids Juice Boxes, Milk/Chocolate Milk, or upgrade to a soda for $2 more) as well as a side of fruit (either raisins or a fresh apple). Most kids meals we saw were $8.99. While probably not enough food for hungrier adults, my husband and I found them to be enough, particularly since we wanted to save room for some of the snacks and sweet treats Legoland is known for – like apple fries!
4. Bring Snacks
Technically, Legoland bars outside snacks. Realistically, they are totally cool with families bringing small amounts of food and drink into the park. We had no problem bringing some bottled waters, cokes, and kid snacks like goldfish and peanut butter crackers in my purse.
5. Focus on the Cheap Souvenirs
As you can probably guess, stores at Legoland are plentiful. They are well-stocked with nearly every Lego set imaginable – Star Wars, Lego Friends, Disney Princesses, Knights, Elves, and more. If your kids have Legos, you know that those little pieces of plastic are expensive. My advice? Skip buying the big expensive sets while you are there and go for the cheap souvenirs instead.
My older child loved adding to her pressed penny collection while we visited Legoland California. Machines were just about as plentiful as they are in Disneyland. At just $0.51 each, it’s easy to let your kids pick a few as the day goes along.
Another inexpensive souvenir to consider is a Lego minifig. You can custom build a set of 3 of your own at the store right at the park entrance for just $9.99. Alternately, opt to purchase a packaged single minifig for $4.95 each. Then, spend time trading minifigs with the Legoland California employees. It is just like pin trading at Disney and provides hours of funs for a one time, low cost investment. (Get the scoop on how to trade minifigs at Legoland California).
6. Be Smart About Parking Fees
Legoland currently charges $20 for regular parking and $30 for preferred. It probably goes without saying that budget travelers want to opt for the cheapest choice. Since we were arriving straight to the park from the airport our first day of vacation and arrived at the park a bit after opening, we splurged on the preferred parking our first day. The $10 upcharge was actually well worth it to be a very short walk from the gates.
On our second day, we arrived more than a half hour before park opening expecting to again find out how smart we were paying a little more for preferred parking. We soon realized that the regular parking available at the earlier hour was just as close as the preferred parking. D’oh!
My advice? Plan to arrive early and pay only for the basic parking because you’ll be able to snag a cheap spot very close. Or even consider a hotel that has a free shuttle to the park and save on parking costs altogether!
7. BYOS – Bring Your Own Stroller (And Towel. And Sunscreen. Etc.)
While Legoland certainly has the essentials to purchase or rent if you need them, the best way you can save money is by preparing and packing all the gear you need yourselves. Stroller rental fees are $14 per day for single strollers ($17 for doubles) at Legoland, so definitely bring your own if you think your child cannot quite walk all day yet. We were glad to have our ultra-compact gb Pockit for my 4 year old son. Even though he goes without a stroller at our local theme parks, Legoland California is big enough and hilly enough that you will want a stroller for preschoolers.
The same principle holds true for most other supplies. If you plan to visit the water park during the times of year it is open, for example, bring your own towel and sunscreen too.
8. Skip the Prize Booths & Extra Fee Based Attractions
One thing I didn’t love about Legoland was the plethora of state fair style “win a giant stuffed animal prize” booths that seemed to be all over the park. They are quite expensive and rarely very rewarding. Naturally, my kids definitely noticed them and begged to participate. We held firm and instead focused on the free offerings at Legoland California. Frankly, the rides, playgrounds, food, and Lego buildings are more than enough entertainment.
9. Skip Photo Pass & Reserve ‘N’ Ride
Similar to Disney parks, Legoland has a skip-the-line product called Reserve ‘N’ Ride as well as its own Photo Pass service. Both offerings cost extra.
While Fastpass is free at Disney, Reserve ‘N’ Ride costs between $25-100 per person at Legoland, depending on how much you want to reduce your wait times. We found that the rides weren’t iconic enough to justify paying extra for faster access. My advice is to get to Legoland early, hit the few rides you really want to do most then, and then be flexible beyond that point. The play areas and Lego scenes to explore are really the highlight of the park.
As for Photo Pass, we were initially really excited to see it priced at just $25 per day. We thought we might be able to justify the cost if we could get a few great family shots together. The problem? There were almost no photographers in the parks to make the product worthwhile. The offering seemed to only really give you access to a few ride photos. But since we rode so few rides with the cameras (thanks in part to lines and also to a 4 year old who wasn’t having the coasters), it simply wasn’t worth the money.
10. Take Advantage of Deals Offered in the Legolando App
While the Legoland app isn’t necessarily up to date with wait times, download it and use it. Why? In addition to having a helpful map, it fairly regularly showed deals. On both days we were in the parks, an offer for kids to eat at 50% off at Bricks (the character dining restaurants in the Legoland Hotel) appeared for us in the mid-afternoon. Since we were already planning to dine there our final evening, the unexpected discount was a nice surprise.
Have you been to Legoland California? Share your other money-saving tips in the comments.