A quick trip to California might be a great way to end the summer in style - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Arts & Life

A quick trip to California might be a great way to end the summer in style

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Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010 2:00 pm | Updated: 12:36 pm, Tue Oct 12, 2010.

Everyone kept asking if the trip to the Nickelodeon Hotel was for my 3-year-old daughter or me.

If I was truly honest I'd say me. But my patented answer was, "For Jyllian, of course."

Then I'd smirk.

And then once we got to the Esmeralda Renaissance Hotel in Indians Wells, Calif., the whole family broke out into a full-blown smile.

The resort grounds were beautiful, the amenities were solid and the Nickelodeon staff, including Dora The Explorer and SpongeBob Squarepants, were more than accommodating with one little snafu (more on that later).

The first leg of our five-day getaway, we also went to LegoLand in Carlsbad, Calif., was a terrific success for Jyllian as she had an incredible experience even though mom and dad had some frustrations.

The two-day package, which was $520, included a two-night stay in a great resort, a breakfast buffet for four (two parents, two children) with the characters, a special "turn down" gift at bedtime, two "Dive-In" movies at the pool, participation in several games shows, a mass sliming and craft building exercise.

Jyllian had an absolute blast.

She is anything but shy so she participated in everything. She entered the talent contest (she sang, or screamed, the SpongeBob theme song) with a chance to be slimed, danced with Dora, had no problem interacting with the characters (some kids were scared of SpongeBob) and had fun coloring her SpongeBob T-Shirt ($12), Dora cookie ($3) and making a SpongeBob out of a sponge ($10).

The signature feature is the sliming. Many of the shows on Nickelodeon over the years featured the green slime being splashed over unsuspecting victims.

In full disclosure, I've wanted to be slimed for more than 25 years after watching You Can't Do That on Television as a kid.

So when my young lady went up to participate I happened to be up there with her. Basically there were 12 kids and me standing up there waiting to be slimed. It wasn't the traditional bucket-over-the-head procedure.

Instead we were given slimed-filled green balloons and a toothpick. Poor Jyllian had no idea what was coming. I did, but even I wasn't prepared for the stink, taste and warm liquid that was suddenly in my mouth and ears.

Luckily, Jyllian is a fish - she started swim lessons at 9 months - so we made a mad dash into the pool to get the slime off us.

From her perspective it was an ideal weekend. Her parents, however, had some problems.

First off most of the stuff included in the weekend wasn't exclusive to those who paid for the Nickelodeon Hotel. Anyone who was staying at the resort had access to everything other than the character breakfast and the "turn down" gift.

So really what were we paying for? The breakfast buffet was very good - and was $24.95 normally - and the gift - you could choose between a Dora or SpongeBob - was more about the surprise of returning to the room than the quality.

And in our case they forgot to do the turn down gift our first night. We were well taken care of by hotel management, but it was still a pretty big mistake. It was one of the signature parts of the weekend and they didn't do it. Luckily, we chose to make it a surprise for Jyllian so she wasn't expecting anything when we returned to the room.

If we had, it would have gotten ugly in a hurry I am sure. It's sort of hard getting a 3-year-old to understand that someone didn't do their job instead of the fact that Dora forgot about her.

The other aspect that was a little troublesome was eating. There are plenty of places in the area to eat, and one in-house restaurant, but with all of the activities and time in the pool it can be difficult to get out.

That leaves eating at the resort the easiest option. Not the most sensible financially (we had lunch at the pool for $60 after tip), but it is easier than getting dressed and heading out to a car that is being baked in the 112-degree heat.

With that said, the overall experience was solid. There is a Nickelodeon Hotel in the Phoenix area as well so if you don't want to make the 290-drive there is a more local option, although that would make it more difficult to include the LegoLand part of the trip.

The drive to the coast is about another two hours. The park is great for the younger children. We went with another family that included a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old. They both had a blast, but it won't be much longer before the 10-year-old is bored with the rides.

There are discount tickets available (the Diamondbacks gave away free children hopper tickets each Sunday to the first 100 kids enrolled in their kids program) and they are needed. The prices for LegoLand ($67 for adults, $57 for children aged 3 to 12) nearly match Disneyland and increase if you want to go to the SeaLife Aquarium or water park.

The reason to go is for the Lego artwork. From a distance you'd never know it was made from a toy. There are dinosaurs, cars, "Star Wars" characters, interactive animals, famous skylines of American cities, fairytale characters and just about anything else you can think of within the park.

It was truly a treat to see some of these Lego-based structures come to a life and stir the imagination.

The food was what you'd expect at an amusement park. There are plenty of options and we didn't feel like we were being shook down.

Overall, we had a great experience at both places, squeezed in a day at the beach, and will probably do it again in the years to come.

With school starting again quicker than most of us can believe a quick trip to California might be a great way to end the summer in style.

It might even lead to a smirk on your face.

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