I go to theme parks as often as possible, but most of the time I find myself there in my professional capacity as somebody who writes about theme parks for a living. As such, I often go to parks alone and only spend a day or two there, not really getting the same experience that a family on vacation would have. But earlier this month, I did take my family to Legoland Resort in California, one of the first full theme park vacations for my family as it currently is, (my Dollywood trip was the first) and I realized something… something about Universal Destinations and Experiences.
You see, Universal is building a new theme park, one that is specifically geared toward families with young children. While most details are still unknown, the concept makes it sound a lot like a Legoland park, and having now spent some time there, it makes me realize just how different this sort of park is from what Universal has done before, and just how much work it will be to get it right.
Universal Destinations & Experiences Is Building Universal Kids Resort In Texas
Just over a year ago, Universal announced plans to expand its themed entertainment locations in a big way. In addition to the already-under-construction Epic Universe at Universal Orlando Resort, Las Vegas was set to become home to a spot we now know to be called Universal Horror Unleased. On the other side of spectrum, we had Universal Kids Resort, which is currently being developed in Frisco, Texas.
While nothing has been officially confirmed as far as attractions, reliable rumors have indicated there will be lands dedicated to Shrek, Trolls, Minions, Gabby’s Dollhouse, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous and Spongebob Squarepants. Concept art shows that the resort hotel will be at the front of the park, and will seemingly double as the park’s front gate.
It’s understandable why the Legoland comparisons are being made. Legoland Resort in California has two hotels, both steps away from the front gate of the park. The lands of Universal Kids Resort are specifically chosen to appeal to younger guests, and while there will likely be a roller coaster or two, the “thrill” in the thrill rides will likely be kept to a minimum. It makes sense Universal would go after this particular demographic, but it’s not as simple as building a park with Spongebob rides.
Legoland Takes Care Of Its Guests Like Few Other Theme Parks
By some people’s definition, the Legoland Resort might not even qualify as a resort. It has a theme park and a couple of hotels, but those hotels have no spa and there is no golf course. However, what makes a place a “resort” for many is the way it takes care of you, and in that regard, Legoland does a better job than some. I had been to Legoland Resort in California before, but I don't think I fully appreciated it then.
Legoland’s hotel rooms are designed with kids in mind. Even the basic room essentially has two bedrooms, a traditional hotel bed for the adults to sleep in, and a separate room with bunk beds for kids. This gives kids “their own room,” which most will appreciate, while also giving the adults a bit of a break.
And, of course, there is plenty of LEGO. The room has a small toy box of pieces. Each room also has a “treasure chest” with a combination lock and a simple scavenger hunt-style game you can play on a mobile phone that will give you the combination, revealing LEGO the kids can take home.
Legoland's Model Citizens Know Their Audience
When it comes to making a theme park successful, it all comes down to the people. The employees of Legoland, known as Model Citizens, are working at a theme park like thousands of other people, but I'm not sure just any employee of a Disney or Universal park could be transplanted to Legoland and be successful.
I love my kids, but even I have trouble communicating with them sometimes. The people working at Legoland are clearly comfortable dealing with kids. Whether it's answering their questions, playing games with them or anything else, they make the kids comfortable, and that makes everybody happy.
Feeding Kids Can Be Hard, But Legoland Makes It Easy (Or At Least Easier)
Of all the struggles that parents go through, one that is nearly universal is the battle over food. Getting kids to just eat can be tough, but Legoland makes it about as easy as possible, even for kids dealing with dietary problems. Breakfast is included with your Legoland Resort hotel stay, which removes the “where will we eat?” question at least once per day. Both hotels offer breakfast buffets with plenty of options. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
But one of my kids has a gluten allergy, which has made eating away from home even tougher than it would otherwise be. Figuring out what on a menu is safe, or in most cases, simply safer, can be an endless chore. But when we told the hostess at Bricks Family Restaurant that my daughter had a gluten allergy, we didn’t just get a special gluten-free menu: my daughter got a special guided tour of the buffet from a chef on duty, who walked us through what was safe and what was not, as well as offered us several made-to-order gluten-free options.
A lot of theme parks will try to “go the extra mile” for their guests, but frequently that means dealing with each guest's needs on an individual basis to fix problems. Legoland understands that the vast majority of its guests are in the same boat, so what it does that feels special is just standard practice to prevent issues from arising in the first place. Kids are among the most discerning guests, and by discerning, I mean picky. Once kids have a problem with something, fixing it can often be impossible. It's much better to make sure it's never an issue. These sorts of things go a long way to making a family with kids have the vacation they’re trying to have.
Universal’s Kids Park Will Need To Be Something A Step Above
None of this is to say that Universal theme parks are in any way not amazing or capable of taking care of their guests. Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood are incredible places with Team Members who will frequently bend over backward to make sure the guests have what they need. But Universal Kids Resort is going to need to take things to another level.
Universal Studios Hollywood doesn't have hotels of its own, though there are indications a Universal Studios Hotel is coming. Universal Orlando Resort has hotels that are managed by a different company, which is likely to be what happens with the Universal Kids Resort. Those hotels are really nice and surprisingly affordable compared to others in the theme park space, but simply being a nice hotel and a nice theme park isn't enough here.
Universal Kids Resort doesn’t need free breakfast and guided tours by chefs, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. It doesn't need kids' toys in the rooms, but it's maybe not a bad idea. It absolutely needs to hire the right Team Members with skills that may not necessarily be all the same things they would look for at other parks.
At a place like Legoland, there is fun to be had for adults, but the way to make sure that adults are having a good time is by making sure that the kids are having a good time. Universal Kids Resort will need to take care of those kids in ways that the company’s current theme parks just haven’t had to worry about. I’m sure Universal can do it, and I look forward to seeing how.