My seventh birthday was in 1984, and it was the first year that I was old enough to own Legoland sets. My grandma was kind enough to get me a Legoland value pack for my birthday. I had been playing with basic lego bricks since I was 3 or so, but this was different.
It was a space value pack. It contained:
Space Dart I http://guide.lugnet.com/set/6824
Space Buggy http://guide.lugnet.com/set/886
Radar Truck http://guide.lugnet.com/set/889
I was completely blown away. I had never seen a minifig before, nor had I ever seen most of the small detail pieces like antenna, steering wheels, radar dishes, 1x1 trans cylinders, rocket booster parts, etc.
I memorized how to build all 3 sets and then threw out the instructions because I didn't need them anymore. I often looked at the 1984 Legoland flyer/pamphlet that came with each. All of the other stuff looked awesome too, but the flyer eventually got ripped accidentally and I threw it out.
I spent the next two years building houses out of basic bricks whenever I played with my Lego because I had no other Legoland sets and my friends and family did not have any so mine seemed out of place.
In the summer of 1986, a series of events began to unfold that led to my cousin, my brother, and myself buying Lego at every chance for the next few years. By this time, the 1984 sets were just distant dreams seen in the flyers, and I could not find any of them locally. Even worse, my mother said, "I don't want you getting any of those castle sets because they have sharp objects in them".
I was mostly a collector of town and small space sets in 1986-1987. In 1988, I started to collect castle and by 1990 I was almost exclusively collecting castle, but I never had enough money for the larger sets.
By then I had broken the max age of 12 on Legoland sets. My cousin and brother had stopped playing/collecting in 1989 when Lego stopped making Blacktron. In 1992, my only Lego playing and collecting friend at school moved away. The darkness finally consumed me.
Around that time, Legoland was replaced with SYSTEM. I have never understood that change, and I doubt that I ever will. For me, there was never a more perfect time and place than walking down the Lego aisle. To my left and to my right, there was nothing but Lego floor to ceiling from one end of the aisle to the other. Boxes clearly marked Basic or Technic, and of course those yellow boxes which displayed the Legoland banner and filled me with awe and wonder time and again . From 1986 - 1990, that was the most perfect place in the world. That aisle had a truly magical feeling back in the days of Legoland, and there is no place I would rather revisit if I could.
That aisle now contains Lego on half of one side, 1/4 of what there used to be. The set designs are not inspiring, and everything is broken up into a bunch of mini themes that only stick around for a year. It seems that TLG is unsuccessful with any minifig based product line that isn't licensed (and with some that are). The Lego aisle is constantly shrinking and set quality has never been close to the way it was in the 80s. I fear that set quality will stay in the pit and the shelf space will continue to shrink, and all I can do is mourn the loss of Legoland.
That fictional land filled with yellow smiling people shaped who I am today much more than any cartoons, video games, sports, or action figures ever could.