Legoland Florida is a little slice of Denmark, operated by the British, in the centre of sunny Florida. What more could you want? Around an hour south-west of Orlando, Legoland Florida opened in 2011 after taking over the Cypress Gardens. Lego’s inimitable charm was injected into this beautiful space, transforming Winter Haven’s premier resort into the ultimate creative child’s dream.
Owned and operated by Dorset’s very own Merlin Entertainments – the same people that oversee Madame Tussauds, the London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park, to name just a few – the park directly targets families with children between the ages of two and 12. It’s a more wallet-friendly option for those going to Florida on a budget, and also gets the family away from the hustle and bustle associated with Orlando.
Long before Legoland opened its second US park in Florida (the other being in Carlsbad, California, back in 1999), the area was known as Cypress Gardens – a large botanical park that also went on to feature a number of rollercoasters. It opened way back in 1936, becoming famous for its water-skiing displays and countless “Southern Belles” – women dressed in stereotypical hoop skirts and corsets.
Its beautiful year-round weather and numerous world-record-setting water-skiing antics made it popular with celebrities, and was a favourite of Elvis Presley. However, this turned out to be Cypress Gardens’ high point; the newly-built Walt Disney World significantly impacted on footfall, and soon the park was downscaled.
Later, in 2004, three out-of-season hurricanes hit the park just months after it came under new ownership – something the latest board had not accounted for. They filed for bankruptcy, the park was downsized and things were quieter… until Merlin stepped in. Now, it’s more popular than ever. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s Lego, after all – a toy that only seems to get more popular, with huge presences in shops, in video games and even on the silver screen.
Attractions: What Not To Miss
Legoland Florida is divided into numerous areas, encompassing different elements of the bricks’ history, toy lines and themes that have remained popular for decades. Luckily, its universal appeal lends itself perfectly to families and friends alike, as everyone can find a place to indulge their inner child. Unless, of course, they’re a child, as then they can simply indulge themselves.
Miniland Florida, Miniland USA
Okay, so it’s no big surprise that the one defining feature of every Legoland should make this list – and first, no less – but Miniland is a true feat of human engineering and creativity. This focus on Florida – the only one of its kind – will give you the best experience of destinations you may not get chance to visit on your visit to the Sunshine State. Featuring skylines from Tampa and Miami, the Kennedy Space Center, the Everglades and even the Florida Keys, it’s a sight to behold… especially when many of the skyscrapers are taller than you are.
Lego Technic Test Track, Lego Technic
If you’re a kid looking for the next “real challenge” from Lego, or you’re a parent that’s already been dragged around the Duplo Farm and in need of something a little more adult-orientated, then the Lego Technic section of the park is right up your street. Its defining feature is the Test Track rollercoaster – freshly moved from the Windsor resort to its new home in Florida, this “wild mouse” -style coaster is perhaps the most hair-raising of all at the park.
Island in the Sky
Given that most of the Lego features of the park have been up-scaled for your pleasure, sometimes it pays to see them as if they were smaller again. Luckily, with Island in the Sky, you can redress the balance. At a towering 150ft (46m) in the air, this rotating platform ride gives visitors a 360-degree view of the park. It’s especially perfect early in a visit, if only to see what looks most exciting to you and your group.
Lost Kingdom Adventure, Land of Adventure
Combining a rollercoaster with laser guns, this ride is so popular that five of the six Legoland parks have installed it. Luckily, it also has a pretty quick turnaround for participants – it can take over 800 people an hour. Tapping into the ever-popular Egypt theme of Lego Adventurers, riders must assist Johnny Thunder to save his friend Pippin Reed from the evil Sam Sinister. While the targets aren’t hugely difficult to hit, they’re extremely satisfying – each connection sets off a unique response from the Lego ensemble, whether it’s skeletons or a mummy’s tomb.
While the park is planning its very own hotel, it isn’t open until 2015. However, the Legoland Florida website recommends a wide range of hotels to suit any budget here, though it’s advised that parents and busy travellers alike opt for those based in Winter Haven and not Orlando. Especially in peak season, it may be a little bit tougher to navigate the traffic or public transport, on a journey that lasts an hour on a clear day – not ideal for excited children on a (probably) hot day. What’s more, Winter Haven is a mostly cheaper place to stay.
What’s in the area
As a relatively sleepy place, Winter Haven’s may not be particularly fruitful as a holiday destination for longer than a couple of days. Aside from Legoland Florida and its many lakes – which host the aforementioned water-skiing fun and frolics – it acts mostly as a satellite to Orlando.
That said, a short drive south-east will take you to Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. Described as a contemplative garden and bird sanctuary, it is best-remembered by its tower, which is built on Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in Florida. Named as a National Historic Landmark on the US National Register of Historic Places, it may not be the most exciting prospect for kids after the brick madness of Legoland, but visitors can expect year-round music events (including symphony orchestras) and numerous libraries and archives.