*Note: This is a completely unsponsored post and unbiased review. I paid in full for all Legoland admission tickets, food, parking, and souvenirs. Free tickets would have been nice, but alas, no free rides here.
Legoland is Florida’s newest and most anticipated theme park addition. Located in Winter Haven (about 45 minutes south of Disney) on the grounds of the old Cypress Gardens, it is a brightly colored mecca for Lego lovers and fans. Be warned: it IS a park for kids. It is not like EPCOT or even Universal, which play to a definite adult audience as well. Legoland claims its target audience is kids 2 to 12. I would say more specifically 5 to 11-year-old boys. For them, it is a wonderland.
We visited with my son, an 8-year-old who lives, eats, and breaths Legos: their ideal guest.
The park was everything he wanted and more.
We spent the day at Legoland on Monday, October 18th, the 3rd day the park was officially open. We were hoping to avoid the crazy opening weekend crowds. We did. The park was not busy at all. In fact, when we arrived at the empty parking lot we thought the park was closed. Lines for all rides (if there were any at all) were short. Now I understand why Legoland will be closed two days during the week (Tuesdays and Thursdays).
The Dragon is an easy coaster, full of knights, castles, and of course, dragons.
The Coastersaurus is an old wooden coaster refurbished from Cypress Garden days. It’s bumpy and a bit different, but fun (once you get past the fact that you are trusting a very old wooden ride). My son actually looked a little nervous and asked the attendants if it was really safe.
Test Track is a short, swervy ride, but it was the steepest and fastest — a 45 foot drop before you hit the switchbacks — but still okay for most kids.
Flying School is a suspended coaster (meaning you hang from the top) where kids and adults can get the feel of flying without the fear like other suspended coasters (such as Sea World’s Manta). It may look a little daunting, but it’s an easy thrill.
If you want to ride the coasters I would recommend hitting them first. If you turn right at the carousel (another holdout from the Cypress Gardens days), you can swing towards the Dragon first then follow the path along the back of the park to the others. We walked right on or waited only about 5 minutes for each on the day of our visit, but I have read reports of an hour wait — no fun with kids for such a short ride.
The Ford Driving School was a huge hit. Kids ages 6-13 sit through a short movie showing them how the life-sized Ford Explorer outside the ride was built and teaches them basic traffic laws and instructions. They are led out to the driving school track, a cute replica of some city streets complete with lanes, stop signs, and traffic lights. They drive their own cars around (no parents allowed) following all the laws to get their license. It was adorable, and the kids all seemed to be beaming with pride that they were driving all by themselves. There is also aJr. Driving School for ages 3-5.
We didn’t get to try out the Boating School, also located in the Lego City area, due to some technical problems. Only one boat was running.
The Lost Kingdom Adventurewas just as fun for the adults as the kids. Guests ride four to a car through an ancient Egyptian tomb. It’s not scary. Each person has a laser gun to shoot at targets scattered through the day-glow painted ride and a scoreboard on their dash.
The Pharaoh’s Revenge is a glorified ball pit, but the kids loved it. Inside this small two-story netted area kids fire foam balls at each other (and parents if they don’t wait outside).
Only ride the Aquazone Wave Racers if you want to get wet. Spectators can set off water cannons as the 2-person wave racers spin by. Fun for riders and spectators if you can manage to wait near one of the cannon buttons.
The Safari Trek is more for the littlest ones. While the Lego animals are amazing to behold — towering giraffes, water-squirting elephants, lions, zebras, even meerkats — the mini-jeep tour lasts maybe two minutes. I wanted to get close-up photos of the ‘animals’ so we waited in line for 15 minutes (longest wait of the day by far), then as we buckled into our vehicles, the ride broke. We sat for another five waiting to go somewhere. Walk the perimeter of the ride to see the cool animals, and don’t bother actually riding unless there is no wait.
Build and Test is a air-conditioned break-room for the adults while the kids have a blast building innovative race cars from dozens of bins of blocks. Kids fill several four car ramped race tracks with their creations, each vying to get their vehicle to the finish line first. Chairs line the walls for adults to chill out in the A/C while the kids are busy. We had to drag our Kiddo out after a half hour.
Toddlers vs Big Kids: Speaking of little ones, Duplo Village is geared straight towards the smallest guests. The area features a mall-like play area, a Duplo block building area, and a few easy rides for toddlers 36″ and up. This area will not interest any kids over 5 though, so parents/groups may need to split up if they want to give toddlers their own time.
I have a photo tour of Miniland linked here, so just a few words: it’s cool. Even someone not really into Legos should appreciate these model cities. You could spend hours checking out all the amazing details the master builders included. It takes about 20 minutes just to stroll around the area, but plan on spending much more time there. It’s worth it. But save it for later in the day when you need a break from the rides. Bring some binoculars if you have room in your bag.
Part of the original Cypress Gardens is still on display. Take the time to wander through the lush gardens of old Florida. Where costumed Southern Belles once greeted guests, Lego figures now stand — kinda kitsch, but a nice homage. Make sure to stroll under the immense banyan tree, planted in 1936. Many kids will be quickly bored with this area, but adults will appreciate the relative peace, beauty, and quiet. It’s also a great place to walk a tired little one in a stroller at nap time.
They also tried to preserve some more of the old Cypress Gardens by keeping a water ski show. The Lego version, Pirates’ Cove Live Water Ski show, is not a show stopper, but the kids seemed to like it. You won’t see any of the old water ski pyramids or difficult stunts and tricks. Instead, bumbling Lego costumed soldiers try to save Isabella’s pirate ship from the bad pirate Captain Blackbeard. It’s a bit cheesy for the adults, but the kids seemed to dig it.
The Island in the Sky is a rotating platform which rises over 100 feet above the park to give a 360 degree view of the area. It is not scary or fast, and the breeze from that height is quite lovely. If you are lucky you can catch part of the ski show from above and spot the Bok Tower in the distance — far more interesting that the Kmart and Bealls across the street.
As you stroll through the park, pay attention to the nearly life-size characters scattered around. The detail is amazing, and some have been created by Lego designers with an interesting sense of humor.
Food & Dining
The official policy says no outside food or drink except for baby formula or special medical needs. However, at the time we went, no one was checking bags for contraband pb&js or chips. No alcohol is sold in inside either (but it’s only open until 5 anyway, so you can hold out).
There are 11 spots to grab a bite throughout the park, from funnel cakes to fried chicken. The selection in each dining area is specific: for a burger you must go to Castle Burger or Cap’n Blackbeard’s Burger. Lakeside Sandwich Co. only has a small selection of premade sandwiches, wraps, and salads in a refrigerated case.
For more variety you can try FunTown Pizza Pasta Buffet ($10.99 adults, $6.99 kids) for all-you-can-eat pizza, pastas, and salads (but how much can you really eat for lunch?).
We chose the Market Restaurant and were pleased with our choice. They feature several stations including fresh fruits & snacks, soups, basic salad (not a salad bar though), a few Asian dishes, mac & cheese, and rotisserie chicken.
For $8.99 I bought a 1/2 chicken meal with two sides (choice of veggies, rice, or roasted potatoes) that was more than enough to split with my son. The chicken was tasty and the veggies fresh. My husband bought the 1/4 chicken meal ($6.99) and was stuffed.
There is also a Lego building station inside the restaurant to keeps kids busy while parents catch their breath — a nice touch.
Legoland’s signature snack can be founds at Granny’s Apple Fries. I saw countless visitors snacking on the warm cinnamon and sugar coated Granny Smith apple fries served with a whipped cream dipping sauce.
Unlike some of Central Florida’s other theme parks, Legoland is not covered with souvenir shops and kiosks on every corner. It’s rather refreshing. Most of the park’s 11 retail outlets are close to the main entrance (which means they are packed around closing time — shop early in the day and they are empty).
The Big Shop is supposed to be one of the largest Lego stores in existence. I certainly saw every Lego set I had ever seen in the catalogs lining the walls. And the prices ARE NOT MARKED UP. They are the same as online at Lego.com or at your local superstore (Toy r Us is actually more expensive). You can buy a souvenir set without being fleeced, and they have many to choose from that you can’t find locally. WIN.
Minifigure Market is touted as THE place to build your own custom figures, but there is not much to choose from. At the time of our visit there were about three different torsos and legs with a Halloween theme to mix with different hair and hat styles. There are no licensed figures to choose from (i.e. Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.) Kiddo was not impressed. (3 mix & match Lego minifigures for $9.99) They also sold the minifigure “magnet” 3-packs ($14.99). They had a good selection (same as online) and this is the only real way to get many of the highly sought after licensed figures. (Beware: some of the figures cannot be detached from their magnets any longer.)
The coolest shop is the Pick A Brick area outside the Lego Factory. The Lego Factory itself is just a two-room “tour” of how the bricks are made, in kid-speak. At the end of the tour an official (and free) Legoland Florida souvenir brick pops out for each child before you walk through the Pick A Brick store. Hundred of colorful bins featuring Legos sorted by size, shape, and color line the wall. Bricks are bought by weight: you fill your bag with whatever you want and it is weighed at the register ($8.49 per 1/4 pound). Not too bad for some unusual pieces. Kiddo picked out some odds and ends he has never seen before for about $5. WIN.
My boys loved the small Lego Studios store, filled with Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Spongebob toys. It didn’t hurt that they have a screen with the Lego Star Wars cartoon playing inside. I had to drag them both out.
There are a few other shops scattered around the park. The King’s Market featured knight and princess costumes and weapons (foam, of course). Outside the Driving School you can purchase an official Legoland Drivers License on a lanyard ($14.99, but you get a paper copy without a photo for free).
Regular price adult one-day admission is $75, child (3-12) $65. While this is competitive with other Orlando parks, it is a bit pricey when you consider Legoland is only open from 10 – 5 daily. Annual passes are also available.
Currently, Legoland & Pepsi are a offering buy one adult ticket, get a child ticket free deal. Go to www.legoland.com/pepsi and enter promo code: 11090601. You can only get one free ticket at a time, so if you have more than one adult/child pair you will need to do each transaction separately. The child tickets just went up to $65 bucks, so this is a decent deal.
*(update 10/27/11) Publix Supermarkets are selling discounted tickets: Adult $60 and kids $50 (plus tax), a saving of $15 each from gate prices.
AAA Members can purchase discounted tickets at their local AAA branch, online, or by phone ($55.99 adults, $49.99 kids).
Central Florida Entertainment books have $5 discount coupons.
I’m going to stay on the lookout for discounts in the Lego Magazine. They run specials for all other parks, so hopefully soon some Florida deals will appear.
Parking is $12 per day.
Annual Pass Upgrade:
At the time of our visit, you could upgrade your one day ticket to a two-day ticket or annual pass while you are at the park.
The 2-day upgrade was $15 per ticket —not bad — but must be used within 10 days.
An upgrade to an Annual Pass was $50 (+ tax) for adults and $30 for children. It is good one year from the date of purchase and does NOT include $12 parking.
We haggled over whether or not to upgrade to an annual pass. In the end, we did not, mostly because of the 1 1/2 hour drive through rush hour traffic each way and because it wouldn’t include the water park when it opens next spring/summer. We probably should have though.
Overall, we went on a good day. Granted, it was the Monday after grand opening, but the park (and parking lot) were pretty empty and we had virtually no waits all day. If it had been sunny, crowded, and in the middle of summer, it would have been hard to see as much by the early closing time of 5 p.m. We did not get to see every attraction as it was.
The grounds were lush and nicely landscaped. The Lego characters scattered throughout the park were as much fun as the rides. Keep your eyes open to spot “wildlife” around the rushing waterfall and study the details of the “people” around the park.
This park is perfect for elementary aged boys. I’m not trying to sound sexist, but I personally don’t know too many girls who prefer blocks to Barbies. Yes, certainly some girls will dig it (I would have when I was a kid), but if they are more into princesses and fairies take them to Disney instead. If you only have children under age 5 and under 42″ I would wait to go. The rides are geared to kids but not toddlers.
In the end, my son could not decide upon his favorite part of the day. He loved each ride, store, figure, and show. His only disappointments: he couldn’t make a Captain Rex figure and Legoland wasn’t located next door to our house with $5 admission. WIN.
**If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.