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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Legoland Sea Life Aquarium - Carlsbad, CA

If you don’t read anything more than this paragraph, let me tell you: DO NOT spend your hard-earned money on the Sea Life Aquarium next to Legoland. Don’t upgrade your Legoland ticket for an extra $10. Don’t make a separate trip for $18.95 per adult ($11.95 for ages 3-12) plus $10 parking.

The Sea Life Aquarium just opened August 11, 2008 and my family visited that week. We brought the grandparents and niece for what we thought would be at least an hour of fishy enjoyment. At these prices, expectations were high.

After buying tickets, we were ushered into the first waiting area, with roped-off doors. The kids each got a scratch-off quiz ticket for their journey. After waiting 5 minutes, the young chap working there moved us into a dim, claustrophobic, closed room with no scenery save two cylindrical tanks holding kelp. My 4 year old niece freaked out.

We waited there in silence. Having just been at Disneyland, a room like this made us think something exciting was ahead – a movie? A conveyor belt through an aquarium tunnel? Finally we heard the speakers overhead giving a speech about how to behave in the aquarium. It was hard to hear, since everyone in the room was talking and there was nothing to look at.

Are you bored yet? I was.

The doors finally opened to the aquarium. I realized the waiting area was for crowd control, since this aquarium is quite small. Which is odd considering the giant size of the Legoland parking lot.

We entered the Lake Tahoe room with a few small tanks and a pee-wee slide fashioned out of a plastic redwood tree. This is it????

Okay, for the positive. The Sea Life Aquarium has a few novel offerings, like bubbles inside the tank that kids can put their heads into. This means they can look ‘inside’ the tank and see their parents on the outside.

The other good part is the scratch-off cards. Throughout the aquarium are a dozen or so stations where kids answer multiple choice questions about fish or sea life. Then they scratch off the answer on the card (which they turn in at the gift shop for a sticker - brilliant marketing). The kids loved the card and quiz, and raced from question to question. This was also a negative, since it meant they were less interested in looking at the tanks.

To be honest, though, the tanks weren’t that special. The aquarium is based on California sea life, from Tahoe to Southern CA. They had one small tank of jellyfish, maybe three of sea horses. There were a few small touch pools and a manta ray feeding. But they were underwhelming.

While the theme was California sea life, the highlight apparently is an aquarium representing the lost city of Atlantis. Gosh, I didn’t know that Atlantis was in California. They gave no explanation. And one of the Lego people held an umbrella. Who holds an umbrella under the sea?
While the Atlantis tank had a walk-through tunnel, this tunnel was maybe 10 feet long and the water was murky. This Atlantis tank had vantage points in other rooms, but there wasn’t much to see. A small shark. A small school of fish. A few Lego people.

Without rushing, we made it through the aquarium (including the entrance wait) in 30 minutes. I kid you not. And I stopped to read most of the signs (which were interesting). To be fair, we did not watch the movie in the aquarium theater, which would have added another 15 minutes to our time there.

Living in the Bay Area, we’re spoiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is only slightly more expensive than the Sea Life Aquarium. Even San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 is much better, and it’s about the same size as the Carlsbad one (and cheaper too).

When you're done with the aquarium, you’re left at the disproportionately large Ocean Journey Café, which was lovely. And their offerings included paninis, smoothies, salad and pastas.

I thought maybe we were alone in our disappointing experience. But our neighbors just returned. I warned them not to go, but they thought I meant another aquarium. They regretted it as well.


  1. Totally agree with your review! We were there a couple weeks ago and had high expectations which weren't met. The cafe was the best part of the aquarium!

  2. Agree, agree, agree - we got in free and it almost felt like a waste! LOL To be honest, my children did like it a lot and want to go back. But they have never been to an "aquarium", only Sea World. If I had to buy tickets, maybe the extra cost on a homeschool day discount could be justified. . . but if I were paying full price I'd be at Scripps or Long Beach.

  3. Thanks for the review.

    We'll be checking it out on Monday with the $5 p/p Homeschool Day. Since we already have Lego passes we have to give it at least one viewing.

    In all fairness, as much as we love Legoland, it wouldn't be worth it without the close proximity and the annual pass

  4. Bummer. There is nothing worse than a sad aquarium. I went to an "undersea attraction" last weekend in our region, and it was the same deal: I paid $20 per person to see...kelp? Coral? A stumpy, maltreated octopus?

    I'd love to read reviews on the SFO aquariums. We've been to the temporary Steinhart and liked it, but it'll be fun to visit the new location next year.

  5. Ok, the HS day price was changed to $9 but since I was determined to check it out we went. Let's just say, that even at the $5 p/p price it wasn't worth it if you have any experience with a decent aquarium.

    Your review is right on.

    The only people I could remotely recommend this to is those with toddlers or preschoolers who had never been to an aquarium and happened to be staying at one of the nearby hotels and didn't want to rent a car to check out something else. And well, it is better than the Aquarium de la Mer... if that were a stand alone aquarium rather than inside Sea World.

    I'll stick with the not quite so local Aquarium of the Pacific.

    Thank you for getting the word out that this is a waste of time and money.

  6. I totally agree with everyone. We went yesterday for the first time and thank goodness, we got FREE passes because it was pretty sad. The kids think it's cool but when you're paying those prices, it's hard to swallow.

  7. Thanks for posting a review and saving me the drive and money to get in. We have Sea World Passes, and it sounds like this place would be a total bust!

  8. We went to the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla with our 5 year old and 2 year old. They had a great time and it was not that expensive. We spent about 2 hours looking at the wonderful tanks and the tidepool area. The tidepool area allowed the kids to touch the sea life. From what I read I am glad we went ther instead of Legoland.

  9. i was reading another blog from another site, and they left a big tip, legoland/sea life aquarium will give you free parking-free pass for both the aquarium and the park the last hour they are open.. if it is only a half hour walkthrough, maybe i will try it this week when we're downtown instead of spending the extra cash....

  10. TOTALLY DISAGREE! It is pleasant, small and perfect amount of time needed for whiny, children who can't handle a longer time. I have older children and they loved it! Took my sister who came from out of town and her children they loved it too!

  11. i think that this place was boaring my fish tank is better than this

  12. I've been to more impressive aquariums all over this country but you have to realize this is Legoland, which is geared toward kids, mostly 12 and under. We had free passes to get in and we enjoyed our time there. My 10 yr old loved this place, especially the bubbles that he can climb under for a different view. There is a huge tank in the middle that you walk around and view from different angles and walk under in a tunnel where you can hang out and observe. Today, he is going back with a friend and his dad....paying this time. I say, if you are at Legoland and have the money to spend ($10 from inside the park), go for it...but to compare it to Monterey Aquarium, they are 2 different worlds and you'll only be dissapointed.

  13. took the office staff for a weekend trip with the cpa attorney staff with mike steven and the irvine group at sears. just loved the place for the kids and out of town guests

  14. RIP OFF.......
    Not at all worth. I spend $40 and I won't go there even if I get free admission.

  15. I just had my kids birthday at this aquarium and WISH I would have read this first. The party Room was a closet, the face painting was a joke, and the food was horrible and they over charged my by $300 and I am still waiting for a refund. we paid $630 for this lame experience. NEVER have a party there.

  16. Thanks for posting a review and saving me the drive and money to get in. We have Sea World Passes, and it sounds like this place would be a total bust!