I recently had the opportunity to pay a first visit to LEGOLAND Florida. I was excited as I remember visiting the park back in the late 70’s when it was Cypress Gardens. But, this visit would be different. I would be visiting a park aimed at families with children up to age 12… and I’m an adult with no children. Would I like it? Would I find enough to do to keep myself occupied for an entire day or would I get bored after just a few hours?
To those not familiar with the Central Florida area, LEGOLAND is located in the town of Winter Haven, which is around 40 miles from the Walt Disney World area and around 50 miles from Tampa. However, it’s quite off the beaten path (when traveling from Orlando, once you exit I-4, it’s nearly 20 more miles to get to LEGOLAND). Some feel this is one reason why the original Cypress Gardens park eventually failed. Of course, the faltering economy and tourism collapse after the tragic events of 9/11 were another major factor.
Merlin Entertainment, who owns the LEGOLAND parks world-wide, did a fantastic job transforming the park from the old Cypress Gardens into a huge LEGOLAND. As I drove to the parking toll booth, I was greeted with a bright “WELCOME” sign made of, you guessed it, LEGOs! Walking the pathway to the ticket booths and main gate, I was again greeted with bright, cheery primary colors and the impressive main entrance sign, which is adorned with LEGO people.
Once I picked up admission tickets (I was lucky to get free admission via a promotion the Detroit Tigers did in conjunction with LEGOLAND during Spring Training), I was on my way. I was visiting the park with friends visiting from the UK and who have been to the park before (who are also adults with no children).
I was again impressed with the park’s transformation. Impressive statues built entirely of LEGOs were everywhere!
Our first ride of the day was The Dragon, located in the LEGO Kingdoms section of the park. The Dragon is a combination dark ride and family-style roller coaster. The dark ride portion takes you through the halls of a castle, where various amusing scenes play out. Eventually you come face to face with the dragon itself before heading outside for the roller coaster part.
Next up was Merlin’s Challenge. This ride reminded me a bit of the Himalaya ride you’ll find at many fairs and traveling carnivals. This one was more fun than I was expecting!
Over in the Land of Adventure section of the park, we took a spin on the Lost Kingdom Adventure shooting dark ride (think Buzz Lightyear). This ride was really cute and I’m happy to say I got a higher score than my friend! The Safari Trek ride is a cute little LEGO version that seems to be somewhat inspired by Disney’s Jungle Cruise (without the corny jokes).
Next up was another roller coaster, the Coastersaurus. This is a family-style wooden coaster left over from the Cypress Gardens days. It’s great to see how LEGOLAND has re-used some of the park’s former attractions and spruced them up for the LEGOLAND crowd.
The next section of the park we visited (we were going counter-clockwise) was LEGO City. One of my friends and I attempted the Rescue Academy attraction. This is where teams of two race various emergency vehicles down a track via pumping handles like a handrail car, then exit the vehicle and pump water to put out a “fire” then race back to the finish in the vehicle. This is a great attraction that shows the importance of teamwork while having fun. Things were going good for my friend and I… until we had to race back to the finish. Our vehicle basically “stalled” and the ride operators had to help push it back! It was hilarious and embarrassing.
We took a look (from the sidelines) at the two Driving School attractions (which are both for young children) and the Boating School, then went over to the Flying School roller coaster. This is a suspended coaster. While it was fun, it was again a short ride and a little rough in some parts.
At the very back of the park is the LEGOLAND Water Park. It wasn’t open the day we visited, but we did admire it from afar.
Next up was a quick stroll through the Imagination Zone, which is focused on games and interactive experiences.
Finally it was time to check out the botanical gardens. I was happy LEGOLAND kept the Cypress Gardens name for this area of the park and that they’re in the progress of restoring the historic gardens in phases. I also loved that they have a couple LEGO statues of the southern belles who used to grace the park back in its heyday.
Funny story: When my family visited the park in the 70’s, I was adamant about wanting a photo with the southern belle in the blue dress. My poor parents spent half the day trying to find the girl in the blue dress as that was the ONLY one I would get a photo with (blue has always been my favorite color). They finally tracked her down and we got the photo.
Took a peek in at the water ski show. This is another holdover from the Cypress Gardens days (and something the park was quite famous for). The current show is themed to LEGO pirates. Only saw a little of the show, but from what others have told me, it’s entertaining though definitely aimed at the younger crowd.
Video from Orlandoparksnews
One of the most impressive areas of the park is MiniLand. This is where you’ll find cityscapes and famous landmarks made entirely of LEGOS. You could spend quite a bit of time here taking in all the details! MiniLand at LEGOLAND Florida features Las Vegas, Washington DC, New York City, California landmarks, Florida landmarks.
STAR WARS MINI LAND
The newest edition Star Wars MiniLand, is truly impressive! If you’re a Star Wars fan (like I am), it’s a trip to see several well-known scenes from all the current films portrayed in LEGO form. There are also life-size LEGO statues of Darth Maul, R2-D2 and Darth Vader.
Over in the LEGO Technic section of the park is a wild mouse-style roller coaster, Project X, and the Aquazone Wave Racers ride. The former was a lot of fun. I’m not a fan of water rides (I hate getting wet), so I admired the Wave Racers from afar.
You might be wondering about the food at LEGOLAND. I’m happy to report there is a wide variety of food options available, much of it quite good. My friends and I had lunch at the Fried Chicken Co., which was themed to a 50’s diner.
I had the fried chicken wrap meal, which came with fries and a drink. I liked how the meals also came with a beverage as many theme parks make you buy your drinks separately. My chicken wrap was good and I was impressed with the fries, which were sprinkled with seasoned salt. Besides fried chicken, the various restaurants at LEGOLAND feature a variety of fare from burgers and hot dogs to pasta, salads, Panini and more!
One food item I was anxious to try at the park was Granny’s Apple Fries, which is a LEGOLAND original. They’re kind of like slices of Granny Smith apples, fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with a side of whipped cream for dipping. They were absolutely delicious and I would definitely get them on future visits to the park.
Toward the front of the park is Fun Town. Here you’ll find the 4D Fun Town Theater, which shows a rotating schedule of three different 4D movies throughout the day. The Grand Carousel (complete with LEGO horses) is also here along with various shops, restaurants and snack stands.
ISLAND IN THE SKY
Another attraction the park held over from its Cypress Gardens days is the Island in the Sky. This attraction takes you up and gives you a 360 degree view of the park and surrounding area of Winter Haven. I’m terrified of heights, but my friends talked me into going on the ride and I’m glad I did. The views were amazing!
LEGOLAND Florida has only been open since October 2011, but they’re already expanding! Opening this summer will be a new area of the park, World of Chima, which will be based on a new series of LEGO playsets as well as a TV show in development. World of Chima will feature a 4D theater (which recently opened) and a heavily themed Splash Battle ride (scheduled to open in July). I’m looking forward to seeing how this new area of the park will look once it’s open. You can read the park’s press release announcing the new land here.
So… what was the verdict? Did I enjoy LEGOLAND even though I’m an adult with no children? Yes I did! I knew what the park was about before I visited and that the demographic the park aims for was very young, so I was able to set the correct expectations for myself. Was I able to spend all day at the park and not be bored? Again, yes! The park is huge (it is the largest of the LEGOLAND parks).
Between the rides, strolling through the botanical gardens, seeing the various lands and enjoying the details of MiniLand, we found plenty to keep us occupied. Also, all the Model Citizens (what the park calls their employees) my friends and I encountered were friendly and engaging. Would I visit again? Most definitely! Would I recommend LEGOLAND Florida to other childless adults? You bet! As long as you know what to expect going in, I’m sure you would have a great time!