Sonya has started getting really into LEGOs, especially sets, which is awesome because LEGOs are awesome and they are not screens and they require focus and diligence and you end up with a whole bucket of creativity after you tear the set apart.
It’s also not awesome because we’re trying to be frugal here. I was thinking about getting her a Frozen set for her birthday buuuuuut Elsa’s castle costs $79.99 and there weren’t any second-hand versions to be found.
In walked AliExpress.
I’ve used AliExpress before, and my overall review is that it’s best to have low expectations because sometimes the crap you get is one step away from being literal crap. But! A lot of the times, the stuff you get is exactly the same stuff as off of Amazon. I don’t mean “looks and feels the same,” I mean the same. I used to review items on Amazon in exchange for free products, most from Chinese companies, and the things I have gotten from AliExpress are the same.
I suspect that products are made in a factory in China and some of them go to Chinese customers and some to American customers, and since they know American customers will pay $14 for something Chinese customers will only pay $.75 for, they make their markups accordingly.
At any rate, I saw an Elsa’s castle on there for 13 bucks (by the time I entered coupons – by which I mean I clicked a box that said “use coupon” on the order page – and paid shipping, the total was $13.06). In addition to low expectations, you need two more things to shop on AliExpress: a frugal mindset and lots of time. Shipping takes anywhere from 3 weeks to a couple of months, generally. I ordered the castle in early December, then put it out of my mind.
It came just about exactly six weeks after ordering. It doesn’t have one of those fancy nice-looking boxes, so it wouldn’t be good necessarily as a present, but it came with instructions and all the little pieces bagged in their little bags, just like normal LEGOs.
Sonya put it together a few weeks ago. I kept pressuring her to tell me they were inferior in some way, “okay but those arm pieces seem loose,” and she kept looking at me with annoyance and telling me they were great.
After she finished, Viv and Amelia jumped in and played with the pieces with her for a good half hour without bickering. It’s an AliExpress miracle.
Here: a LEGO Olaf and a knockoff. Not identical. Not different enough to matter.
So: my review. I think they are the same pieces from the same factories as regular LEGOs, or a close enough knock-off to be indistinguishable. I suspect if you are a true LEGO connoisseur, you could tell the difference between the sets, but my kids mostly just want to snap pieces together to get a cool overall design, and they couldn’t tell the difference. The pieces have joined our others in the bucket, and they work just fine. As far as I can tell, when you buy the regular version, you are paying $65 for a very pretty cardboard box that goes straight into the recycling bin anyway. Five stars, will do this again.