Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit my sister and 5-year old newphew for the long weekend. As I’ve mentioned in my various posts this fall about our flights to Florida and my restaurant reviews, she lives in Southwest Florida, just outside of Ft. Myers, but on this trip, we flew into Orlando due to some el cheapo fares from DFW (so much so that even with a rental car and gas, it was still cheaper to go through MCO than RSW). So imagine the irony when my sister e-mailed me a couple of days before our trip to ask if we wouldn’t mind making an impromptu trip with my nephew Taylor to LEGOLAND Floridain Winter Haven. I say ironic, because we were set to fly to Central Florida to then drive down and visit my sis in Southwest Florida, only to drive back to Central Florida the next day to visit the land of toy bricks. Just my kind of trip, actually, since it meant more driving. That, and you don’t keep a 5-year old nephew from his LEGOs, so it’s not like we even had an option…
This would be a quick day trip, with a drive up from Ft. Myers to Winter Haven on Sunday morning, and then a drive back in the evening, or whenever Taylor got bored, whichever came first.
About LEGOLAND Florida
One Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884
Directions from Orlando: Follow IH-4 west to US 27 (Exit 55) and go south towards Haines City and Lake Wales. In Haines City, exit US 17 and go south. A few miles past Winter Haven, turn left (east) on State Highway 540. Go about 3 miles, and Legoland will be on your right.
Directions from Tampa: Follow IH-4 east to State Highway 570 – Polk Parkway (Exit 27). Take Polk Parkway to Exit 14, State Highway 540 and go east. Follow State Highway 540 all the way to Legoland.
Operating hours: varies by season; opens at 10 A.M. and closes 5-9 P.M. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays during off-peak times.
Admission charge: $84-99 per adult and $77-92 per child 2-12 or senior over 60, depending on season. Children under 2 free. $10-15 discount usually offered for purchasing tickets in advance online. Parking $12.
LEGOLAND Florida is the largest of the LEGO cartel’s theme parks, situated on 150 acres on the shores of Lake Eloise. The LEGO parks are designed for families with kids ages 2-12, though even at the ripe old age of 37, I have to confess that I still find LEGOs pretty cool. LEGOLAND is set up similiary to most other theme parks like Six Flags (see park map), with distinct zones that feature different rides and exhibits. There is also a water park on site, which we didn’t visit, and a LEGO Hotel will open in 2015. And of course, there are many, many shops at which to spend money on LEGO products.
Just inside the entrance, you are greeted by a couple of LEGO dinosaurs.
We started off in Miniland, where a variety of LEGO cities are on display. These are LEGO mock-ups of various American city skylines. Pretty impressive that these are made entirely of LEGO bricks and minifigures.
My sister Radha and nephew Taylor in front of the Kennedy Space Center
A miniaturized state of Florida
Taylor in front of the Florida State Capitol
San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge
Universal Studios and “LEGOwood”
Further down the main street of Miniland was what my nephew really wanted to come here to see – the LEGO Star Wars area. He just turned 6, so as you can imagine, he’s, ahem, obsessed with both LEGO and Star Wars, so both combined is a serious sensory overload. The exhibit is set up to mimic Episodes I through VI of the series. You can’t tell from the photos, but what was really interesting here were the motorized battle ships and Storm Troopers. Push a button, and you can see a real life Star Wars battle re-enacted right in front of you. 1.5 million LEGO bricks were used to construct this exhibit.
The Clone Wars: Christophsis
Darth Vader and my personal favorite, R2D2
Episode I: Naboo
After spending some time in the Star Wars area, we made our way to the Land of Adventure and the LEGOLAND Safari. The safari consists of driving a zebra-striped golf cart through the wilds of Africa. Well, by large animals made of LEGO bricks, anyway. The animals were pretty lifelike, especially the pride of lions at the end (I especially liked the lion cub partly on its back with its head turned sideways; how do you do that with LEGO bricks, anyway?). But the ride itself was pretty lame. Aside from being slow, the whole thing lasted barely more than a minute.
Two ostriches, thankfully ones that can’t peck you with their beaks
Taylor enjoying driving his safari van
The aforementioned pride of lions
With the safari done, Taylor specifically requested that we go to LEGO City to visit the Boating School and the Ford Driving School. First up was the Boating School, which is pretty self-explanatory. You pilot a two-person boat around a small pool adorned with miscellaneous LEGO creations (I tried taking a couple of pictures, but they didn’t come out). Again, I found the ride itself pretty lame. The boats are slow as molasses, and on my boat, the steering and gas pedal didn’t even work properly. Even my nephew was complaining about this one…
We then headed over to the Ford Driving School. The premise of this ride – your little one aged 6-13 completes a road course in a mini-cart, while following traffic rules along the way (namely stopping for stop signs and red lights). At the end, participants are awarded an official LEGOLAND driver’s license. Interestingly, the kids get to drive alone; no parents ride in the cart with them. Taylor needed a little encouragement, but eventually made it through and got his driver’s license, becoming the youngest ever member of our family to obtain one. And yes, his mom did tell a little white lie and say he was 6. Technically he was two months shy of his birthday at the time…
A very cool life-size Ford Edge made of LEGOs
The Driving School track, complete with working traffic lights
Once Taylor was in posession of his license, we had seen maybe 1/4 of the park – and he’d had enough and just wanted to get some toys at the shop and go home. I’m sure mom was thrilled, seeing as she’d just plunked down $84 a ticket for admission. Anyway, we grabbed some lunch first, and then mom and my sister took Taylor to pick out some LEGO minis and a LEGO set. A word of caution – prepare to spend a considerable sum of money at the shops. I decided to walk around for a few minutes, and took a stroll around Lake Eloise and the “Fresh from Florida” greenhouse. A portion of the lakefront was cordoned off for a special event, so I was only able to get a partial view of the lake.
A real orange tree with LEGO oranges and a LEGO orange farmer
LEGOLAND also has this rather amusing sign as you walk out. Since this is a kids’ park, apparently it’s the parents that get lost here, not the kids!
The LEGO creations are cool. But the rides are lame. And none of us thought it was worth $84 per person. In fairness, we didn’t see very much of the park or any of the shows, and based on the size, you probably need two days to see the whole thing (for what it’s worth, my other sister said LEGOLAND California was really good, so maybe my opinion would have been different if we’d seen more). Still, if you’re visiting Central Florida with the kids, the Orlando theme parks are a better option in my opinion.