Special thanks to Bob Angelo for this article on the grand opening of Legoland Florida.
Florida's newest theme park, Legoland, Florida, opened in Central Florida on October 15, 2011 to much fanfare and excitement. As I was lucky enough to attend the media preview of the park the day before, and knowing how anticipated this park was by kids and adults alike, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and impressions.
Built on the site of the old Cypress Gardens, known for its Southern Belles, beautiful gardens, lush landscaping, and water ski shows, Legoland took great care to preserve many of those details while incorporating their own. So, mixed in with the beautiful gardens, for instance, you might see a deer (built of Legos, of course) stopping for a drink. And, while the traditional water ski show is no more, in its place you'll find Pirate's Cove Water Ski Show, where Brickbeard the Pirate has taken over Pirate's Cove (go figure, right?) along the shores of Lake Eloise. Children and parents are encouraged to participate in the show by yelling and hollering whenever they see Brickbeard.
Florida's state capital.
The park itself is very nicely laid out and a joy to explore. Like any theme park, its divided into separate areas, or lands. These are "The Beginning", "Fun Town", "Miniland USA", "Duplo Village", "Lego Kingdoms", "Lego Technic", "Imagination Zone", "Pirate's Cove", "Land of Adventure", and "Lego City". Within these lands, you'll find over 50 different rides and attractions to explore and interact with. And, since the focus is on kids ages 2-12, many of the rides and attractions have no, or limited, height requirements. One downside to these attractions being built for kids? If you're a taller or larger sized adult, you may find it difficult to fit into some of them. At 6'6". I actually had to sit sideways when riding Coastersaurus, one of the park's roller coasters, and there would have been no way for a child to sit next to me!
Throughout the day, I saw lots of children and they all seemed to be having a great time at attractions like "Boating School", where you can drive your own boat along the water through a course (the boat isn't on a track and is actually free floating), "Rescue Academy", where families must work together to "drive" their firetruck to the scene of a building "fire", and then work together as one person works the pump and the other aims the hose/sprayer to put out the fire, and the "Driving School" where kids can drive Lego vehicles around an actual course (top speed: 3 mph) and earn a driver's license upon completion.
For me though, my favorite part of the park had to be Miniland, which is where you'll find dozens of mini Lego sculptures representing everything from the Las Vegas Strip to the Daytona Speedway. This part of the park is interactive, too. Press a button by the Las Vegas wedding chapel, for example, and watch newly married Lego couples come out the doors, or press another button at the Daytona Speedway, and two cars will race to the finish line! You could probably spend hours just in this area taking everything in.
The employees, called "Model Citizens," were all very nice and friendly and happy to offer any assistance they could. Here's a tip --you'll see some of the employees have little minifigurines above their name tags. If you build your own minifigurine while at the park ($9.99 for a set of 3) you can trade with the employee of your choice.
Now, before you head out, there's a few things you need to be aware of. First, the park is currently operating only on limited days and hours. Right now, they are open Thursday-Monday, and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. So, check the hours before you go, because you don't want to drive out there only to find it closed. And speaking of driving "out there", the park is a HAUL from the Disney parks. To get there, you would take I-4 West to Exit 55 (U.S. Highway 27 South). Turn right, and head down 27 until you reach State Road 540, and then make another right, and the park is 4 miles on your left. Huge signs on I-4 near Exit 55 advertise that the park is "only 30 minutes away!" but that's a lie. Maybe if you're in a Ferrari. Plan on at least 45 minutes to an hour. And, at least right now, there's not a lot of signage on the way there, so you'll be traveling down U.S. 27, a road that has lots of farms and orange groves, wondering if you're going the right way. Trust me, you are. It's just far. Parking is $12 per car, or $20 for preferred, but the parking lot is small, so I don't think that's necessary.
If you don't have a car but want to go while visiting Orlando, Legoland has arranged for bus transportation from the Premium Outlets (off I-4, across from Downtown Disney) to leave every day at 9 am. I'm told the cost is $10 per person, round trip, but can't find any information on their website to confirm or deny this. And of course, you'll still need to get to the Premium Outlets from your resort or wherever you are staying.
Next, bring sunscreen and/or a hat. You'd have thought that a park built on a theme park that was known for its famed gardens would have more shade, but it doesn't. In fact, entire areas of the park, like Miniland, are exposed entirely to the elements. That can make the sun feel much hotter than it is. And if there's a chance of rain when you go, bring ponchos or an umbrella, or plan on getting very wet!
If you're going soon, bring cash. When I went, a day before park opening, none of the carts around the park that sold beverages and snacks were set up yet to take credit or debit cards, which was just unexcusable when you consider that many tourists don't like to carry lots of cash when they go out to the parks. This may have been remedied by now, as the park has been open for about 10 days, but you don't want to be caught unprepared.
Lastly, be careful with what you eat.
Pretty safe looking, right?
My wife and I stopped by one of the restaurants in the morning about 10 o'clock to grab some breakfast offerings, and I noted that the lunch foods, including chicken and salmon, were already cooked and sitting under warming lamps. Foolishly, we ate there a little later in the day, around 2 p.m., for lunch, and I'm pretty certain we ate the same food that had been sitting out since morning, as we both became very ill for several hours after the fact. That wouldn't have been so bad if the food was actually tasty, but it was also very dry, lacked any sense of flavor and it was obvious that it had been sitting out. So, if you sit down to eat something, and it doesn't smell right or taste right, take it back, and go for something else, because you really don't want to ruin your trip being sick!
All in all, this is a great park for kids. If your child is between 2-12 and a Lego fan, they'll be in heaven with all the rides, attractions, and stuff in the gift shops, including tons of hard to find Lego sets and the Lego brick wall that has over 250 different Lego colors in stock that you can fill a container and buy. Future plans also call for adding a water park next year, and a hotel in a few years. I'm not sure the adult admission price of $75 is worth it, since there is far less for older kids and adults to enjoy, but then, seeing the joy on your child's face may be worth the price of admission alone. Happy travels!
Bob Angelo is a travel agent with Pixie Vacations and also a co-host of the weekly Mouse Chat podcast, which brings you the best in Disney news, tips and reviews. A local to the many Central Florida theme parks, you'll find him every chance he gets taking in the attractions. You can contact Bob by emailing him at Bob@PixieVacations.com or on his Facebook page, where you'll find tons of Disney photos and news.