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16 October 2011

Legoland Florida: Brick by Brick


Legoland Florida has a lot going for it. The former Cypress Gardens property provided a good base for the folks at Merlin to build their second major US Legoland park. And while converting the former grounds into a Lego property was done in quick fashion, the conversion seems mostly complete. Here are some observations from their media preview and grand opening.
  • Aside from the Lego branding, the park’s biggest asset seems to be the employees. Outgoing and sincerely friendly, they are great ambassadors for the Lego brand. They are still getting used to their roles and focusing on things like throughput and not screaming into microphones, but overall, a very impressive bunch. 
  • The centerpiece of the park is Miniland, the collection of Lego cities writ small. There are plenty of “hidden” items to look for, including a “thinker” in the bathroom, Pee Wee Herman, and the Obama family. 
  • There are a good variety of food options in the park. Healthy options, locally sourced food, and the standard burger-fare is all available and at reasonable prices. $12 for a pizza buffet? Not bad! $9 for a 1/2 roasted chicken with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes, sign me up! 
  • Legoland made the right decision in deciding to keep the historic gardens of Cypress Gardens intact and even maintaining the name. If the wind is blowing the right way, you can’t even tell there’s a theme park 500 feet away. And the Lego Southern belles are the perfect homage. 
  • Lego men on skis are a sight to see. A little slow-moving at time, the Lego version of the classic Cypress Gardens waterski show is still delightful and engaging for kids in the stands. 
  • There’s water everywhere in Legoland Florida. In the shows, on the rides and even randomly in some Lego sculptures. Plus, a Legoland waterpark is on the way. Be prepared. 
  • The park is decidedly geared for children. While there’s plenty to do as a family, there isn’t much to stimulate older kids (or adults for that matter) that aren’t “into” Legos. 
  • There’s room for growth. I think most families would be able to see the whole park in about a half a day with average crowds. But there is plenty of space for more attractions in the future, and in the highly competitive Orlando market, continued development is required. 

While Legoland Florida has the components to be a very successful addition to the central Florida landscape, there still is the lingering concern of “location.” At 45-60 minutes from Orlando, and well off the beaten path, will families make the trek down to spend a day at the park? Shuttles will help, but it will be a challenge. How much fun would it be to have a Lego-themed train run from Orlando down to Winter Haven? Perhaps some of the money the Florida governor foolishly turned away for high speed rail in the state could be re-allocated to the Legoland Express!

Train or no train, Legoland will still have to work hard to attract visitors to leave Orlando. Merlin has developed a great park to create the draw, now they have to market themselves like crazy to bring in the people. It might take longer to build that base of customers than it did to build Miniland, but once established Legoland Florida will be well positioned for success.

InPark interviews Lego-maniac Bill St. Yves