Legoland Florida, Winter Haven, Florida, USA
Today I visited Legoland Florida for the first time. it was my second time visiting a theme park in this same geographic location, however. Back in March of 2006 I visited Cypress Gardens Adventure Park.
Cypress Gardens was the first theme park in Central Florida (opening back in 1936), beating out Disney World by nearly four decades. Throughout its history Cypress Gardens was renowned for its beautiful scenery, southern belles, and water ski shows. In 2004, towards the end of the park's life as Cypress Gardens, there was a rebranding as Cypress Gardens Adventure Park that saw the addition of roller coasters and various other amusement park attractions. Unfortunately, Cypress Gardens' popularity waned over time and in 2009 the park was closed. The future seemed uncertain for Cypress Gardens until 2010 when Merlin Entertainments bought the park and announced the land would be home to Legoland Florida. The transformation took nearly two years to complete and Legoland Florida opened to guests on October 15, 2011.
On paper it did not appear a great deal had changed during that transformation. From my perspective, a 20-something roller coaster enthusiast with no children and at least a dozen or so years since I last touched a Lego brick, I did not see much of a reason to make the trip over (and it is a pretty lengthy trip from Orlando and the rest of the area attractions). Thankfully, I was offered the opportunity to visit for free thanks to Legoland running a special promotion with a local soccer team - Orlando City Soccer Club - of whom I am a season ticket holder. This allowed me to see just how much has changed with my own eyes.
We arrived at the park around 1:30PM and had two primary goals for the day:
1. Ride Lego Technic Test Track because it was the lone new credit at the park for me (coaster #198)
2. See the banyan tree in the gardens, because it is awesome.
Anything else would be icing on the cake as far as I was concerned. After parking and swapping our soccer game tickets for park admission tickets we made our way in. First we took a stroll through Miniland USA, an area full of miniature versions of various big cities, iconic buildings and monuments. Here you could see Lego replicas of the Daytona International Speedway, White House, Las Vegas strip, Golden Gate Bridge, and perhaps most impressive the New York City skyline including a 20 foot Empire State Building just to name a few. All in all a cool way to start the day.
The first ride of the day was Lego Technic Test Track. The ride is a standard Mach wild mouse which started its life at another Legoland park - Legoland Windsor. The first drop is great, and the hairpin turns that seem to get faster and faster and more and more out of control are entertaining. The ride had no line at all so we immediately went for a re-ride.
Following Test Track we took to the skies on the Flying School inverted roller coaster; a vekoma hang and bang designed for the whole family to enjoy/endure/survive. The ride is uneventful, short, and beats you up just enough that one ride is more than enough.
After Flying School the clouds were beginning to look a bit ominous and threatening. Soon enough lightning was within striking distance and all of the outdoor attractions were closed. We took this time to walk towards the gardens where we found cover just in time before the rain started to pour. After a lengthy delay, the rain slowed and we began walking around the beautiful gardens. The gardens are spectacular in general but the highlight is the Banyan Tree. A Banyan Tree is a massive, sprawling tree that uses aerial prop roots to grow outwards from its main trunk. If that made no sense at all look at this picture and it might make more sense - https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/1234235_1010...414_n.jpg. Either way, its an amazing looking tree.
As we finished strolling the gardens thunder continued rolling in the distance and the rides remained closed. Feeling a bit famished we returned to the front of the park to enjoy some coffee and apple fries. Apple fries? Never heard of them before today, but they were delicious and I highly recommend trying them. Imagine apples sliced, fried, coated in cinnamon, and served with whipped cream for dipping. A great snack that really hit the spot. The rides were still closed so we walked back to Miniland USA. This time we stopped and pressed each interactive button that brought the little Lego scenes to life with movement and sound (at least the ones that were working, which was unfortunately not many it seemed).
Finally, it was around 5PM - one hour until the park closes - and the outdoor rides were allowed to reopen. First we went to The World of Chima to check out The Quest for Chi, a brand new splash battle ride. A splash battle ride is exactly what it sounds like. You ride in a boat outfitted with cannons you can squirt other riders or targets with. The highlight of the ride is a massive waterfall tower type thing at the very beginning that absolutely drenches everyone. There is no question about getting wet on this ride. The rest of the ride frankly confused me and didn't really do anything for me. Before today I had never heard of a "Chima" and still have no clue what a "Chima" is, so I'm guessing I'm simply not this ride's target demographic. There was additionally some kind of brief delay which resulted in all of the boats being bottle necked towards the end of the ride and not moving at all for a good 10-15 minutes. After that much time I had my fill of Chima and splash battles for a while...
Now that we were completely drenched we headed to the Dragon which had no wait at all. The Dragon is a vekoma family coaster with a little bit of added track at the beginning allowing an interesting "dark ride" of sorts. All in all a fun little family ride.
Now with only minutes to spare before 6PM and the park closing we went to Coastersaurus. Coastersaurus is a wooden out and back coaster. We first rode in the front row then moved to the back row for a re-ride and final ride of the day. The ride gives a quick, smooth ride and in the back even gives a little bit of airtime. Easily the best coaster in the park. Fun fact - Coastersaurus was originally called Triple Hurricane. The name referenced the three hurricanes (Charley, Frances, and Jeanne) which caused a great deal of damage in the park back in 2004.
In the end it was a fun day despite the soggy weather and I'm glad to say that Legoland Florida is a great family-friendly park. It takes the best elements of the old Cypress Gardens, preserves them, and compliments them with the Lego brand. The location of the park is still not ideal by any means and there are still significant obstacles to overcome. But Legoland, and by extension Cypress Gardens, seem to be in good shape.
Nice TR. I'd like to visit some time but we're always running around so much when we're in Orlando/Tampa that it's never a top priority.
Thank you. Honestly, its a nice little park but I wouldn't make it a priority during a visit down here unless you have a child who is really, really into legos or you have done Disney, etc. to death and really want a change of scenery.
For the record, it was less a popularity problem and more of an insurance wouldn't pay for hurricane damage problem that closed the park.
That is definitely true for the Adventure Parks Group who went bankrupt in 2006, but for the Land South Holdings group who closed the park in 2009 I thought it was mostly a finances/operations issue.
Pretty eventful past 10 years as far as ownership of the park is concerned and not in a good way.
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