Legoland is Florida's New Kid on the Block
Besides Lego cities and castles, the park will also include "pink-knuckle" thrill rides. [Photo: LEGOLAND Florida/Merlin Entertainments Group/Chip Litherland]
Kids have known for years that you can build anything out of Legos. Starting Oct. 15, they will see what Legos can build — Legoland, the first big theme park to the west of Orlando's tourist cluster, opens in Winter Haven on the site of the old Cypress Gardens attraction.
The old banyan tree remains in good health, joined now by all manner of brightly colored Lego structures sprouting among the lakes and cypress to replace the hoop skirts and glass-bottom boats from an earlier era of Florida tourism.
While Orlando's theme parks reinvent themselves every year, sprucing up and adding rides and shows, Legoland brings the area another global brand and a focus on kids 2 to 12.
This softer approach makes sense for a line of plastic bricks started in 1949 by a Danish carpenter and toy maker who wanted toys that kids could use to create and construct rather than play war. When families enter Legoland, they will find buildings and characters built of very large Legos, a kid-sized Duplo village and farm, a Lego City with real fire engines and a castle of dragons and jousting knights as well as Lego boats, planes and cars that kids can "drive." There are 4-D movies, stunt shows, games and thrill rides too, but not full throttle: Lego characterizes them as "pink-knuckle."
The first stop past the entrance is the "Big Shop," one of the largest collections of Lego products anywhere, with characters from Harry Potter, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie the Pooh and other entertainment franchises.
Most inspiring (to parents if not children) may be "Miniland," where professional modelers have used Legos to build tiny replicas of San Francisco, New York and Las Vegas. There's a Lego Florida too — Mallory Square, Panhandle mansions, Cape Canaveral and a Daytona racetrack where kids can race mini Lego cars.
In the "Imagination Zone," there will be ample bricks (with examples and instructions) for kids to build racers and robots. Interactive learning through play is offered for both elementary-school classes and corporate team building.
In a rare show of restraint, Legoland will be open only until 5 p.m. and will close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission is $65 for adults and $55 for children 3-12 and seniors 60 and older; annual passes are $129 and $99.
» Disney: A new Fantasyland will take shape over the next two years, with new Dumbo rides, more fairy tale princesses and new castles. Look for an outdoor concert arena on the waterfront in Downtown Disney, too.
» Universal: Beyond the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the newest attraction will be a ride next year through the lab and home of "Despicable Me" ending in a 3-D dance party with the characters. A revamp of Spider-Man's adventures, which date back to 1999, will make them amazing again, updated in high definition.
» Busch Gardens: Seeing large wild animals in the hospital can be as fascinating as watching them graze in a Tampa veld. So Busch is moving its veterinary clinic to an Animal Care and Nutrition Center with larger space that offers a public view, including walk-through areas where visitors can see nurseries, surgery and X-rays. It opens Jan. 1.