I had some friends along with my family at the Grand Opening of LEGOLAND Florida back on October 15, and my good friend Nicole recorded some of our experiences that day. This is just one short example of the many sights to enjoy at LEGOLAND. I’ll still be spotlighting a few of my favorites in the coming days here on Zannaland but until then, enjoy this video from Nicole!
Florida Theme Parks & Attractions
Being an extreme Disney Parks fan, I set out to the grand opening of LEGOLAND Florida with a pretty critical eye. As much as my 11 year-old daughter is a thrill-ride junkie, we are not really “other theme park people.” And while I am certainly not alone in my Disney devotion, there is much fun and enjoyment to be had at the new LEGOLAND park in Winter Haven, FL. [Click to enlarge all photos below.]
I was invited down to a media preview of the park, as well as the grand opening celebration. Timing and other commitments only allowed me to attend Saturday’s festivities, but I was thrilled to be there opening day and feel the excitement along with other guests. Block-shaped confetti in traditional LEGO primary colors rained down as songs like “Celebrate” and Sting’s “Brand New Day” played in the background. Helpful “model citizens” (park employees) were on hand to assist with tickets at the gate and pass out park maps.
The first thing that hit me as I pushed through the turnstile was the harmony of LEGO with the nature of Florida. There were two huge LEGO displays before us, but mature trees flanked them. It instantly put me at ease, given the history of the Cypress Gardens park that first opened as a botanical garden with waterski shows back in 1936. Way before a Mouse had inspired a theme park on either coast, Cypress Gardens was the biggest Florida attraction of its era. I remember going there once or twice as a child and have fond memories of the Southern Belles that adorned the botanical gardens, waving to visitors. While Cypress Gardens was purchased and turned into an “Adventure Park” back in 2004, most of the original charm remained. I am very happy to report that is still the case under LEGOLAND’s ownership.
Because of its history and the grounds themselves, this particular LEGOLAND park is a bit different from the other 4 parks around the world. The kid-themed rides along with the impeccably detailed MiniLands which LEGOLAND is known for are definitely still there but now set in a backdrop of centuries-old Cypress trees, a beautiful lake and the botanical garden area, which was kept with the Cypress Gardens name. Locals and visitors of the original park can still see the awe-inspiring banyan tree within the garden path. For me, it was an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme park rides, mid-way games and vendors.
That is not to say I did not enjoy the rest of the park. I was actually pleasantly surprised at many aspects and details found within the park. Aimed at guests aged 4-12, the rides themselves are smaller and shorter in length but even bigger guests can still get in on the fun. Two adults may not fit comfortably within the Coastersaurus, but you can definitely still ride and enjoy. It is very difficult for me personally to not compare the level of theming to that of a Disney park, but on its own, LEGOLAND did not disappoint and is chock full of delightful details for you to seek out.
I most enjoyed the Safari Trek, which is really fun for any age. I’ll be writing about that attraction separately because there are so many fun aspects to it. I also loved Miniland USA, which one could literally spend all day exploring and probably still not find all the details. I think, having seen and now taken photos of Miniland USA, it’s hard to convey their detail and scope in pixels, it must be experienced in person.
There is more to the park than roller coasters or attractions where you passively sit and look. There three separate areas full of rides where parents and kids are part of the attraction, making cars move, boats sail and more. There are also several play areas for kids to burn off energy and be a part of a LEGO or DUPLO environment. My three, ages 12, 11, and almost 3, loved every corner of the park. We spent the entire day there and there were still some things we did not get to experience, so we’ll be making a return visit for sure.
One area of disappointment within the park were the food options. Snack carts only take cash (not sure if this will change in the future) as do the mid-way games, so be prepared and hit an ATM before you arrive. We ended up at the Lakeside Sandwich Co, which actually offered very little in the way of choice and 3 of our group of 6 ended up getting salads, at $7.50 or up for just the salad, which contained nothing special at all, we weren’t too thrilled. Other choices were pre-made and pre-packaged (freshly made on site we were told) wraps (wrapped in foil with no mention of ingredients) and one or two generic sandwich choices. There were other dining options of burgers, chicken and a pizza and pasta buffet which we’ll have to check out next visit. Bottled water and sodas go for $3+ each, so our lunch quickly added up. I’m hoping these options and possibly prices improve in the coming weeks.
That was really my only complaint. Now to answer my own question, is it worth the price of admission ($75 for adults and $65 for kids and seniors)? My answer – yes. It is a steep fee, but if you have kids in the age range, I am confident you will have a day full of entertainment that you won’t regret. If you are a local to the area or visit Florida more than once a year, I think an annual pass is your best value. I honestly wish I’d bought some when they were available for $99. Now at $129 for adults ($99 for children 3-12 and seniors 60+), it’s still the best bang for your buck and you can return again and again to see your favorites or discover something new. At right about an hour away from Walt Disney World, it’s a very doable day trip. The park does close at 5pm but there are some days in upcoming months where they may open an hour or two later. Be sure to check the calendar before you plan your visit. Stay tuned for some more spotlights on my favorite parts of LEGOLAND Florida.
For many of you, this entry is not news, as I’ve
talked gushed about our big move to Celebration, FL for a while now on facebook and twitter. We have been Celebration residents for exactly one week and as of yesterday, have the resident ID’s and parking stickers to prove it. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on why we wanted to move here before I explored what it’s been like to live in “The Town That Disney Built.”
Two of my favorite movies are Pleasantville and The Truman Show. Both offer a wonderful commentary on how we make our own reality and ignorance may not always be bliss, but a balance can be struck between the simple pleasures in life and our hectic day-to-day reality. I always likened Celebration to Pleasantville, while in reality it IS very similar to The Truman Show since that movie was filmed in Seaside, FL. Everything seemed perfect at first glance, but what was it really like to live there? Common sense tells us there are still mortgages and bills to pay, jobs to go to, sometimes unruly kids to manage. Add to that the fact that Celebration has from the start been a bit of its own tourist attraction since it was initially developed and owned by the Walt Disney Company, and many people chose to paint it in a bad light. The land is actually part of Kissimmee/Osceola County now (and has been for quite some time) and the downtown area buildings were sold to the Lexin Capital back in 2004. Still, tourists and locals alike flock to the downtown area for special events and festivals that take place throughout the year and sometimes just to drive around and look. Like we did for 17 years.
I can’t comment on what life was like in Celebration back when the first residents moved in, but I do recall when the announcement and groundbreaking took place. During a Walt Disney World vacation from Massachusetts back in 1994, we saw the billboards and drove over to tour the model area. Back then, the ‘houses’ were two-dimensional life-sized cutouts of homes, in the different styles Celebration neighborhoods would be offering. We dreamed and wished we could live in such a place but it ended there, after hearing how the first lots were being awarded by lottery. We (we being my mother and I at the time – I was still in college) weren’t really in any position to move to Florida…or were we? It was around that time that I decided I wanted to work for Disney and we packed up our lives, I dragged my boyfriend with me and the three of us moved to Orlando in 1995. Building was still going on then and when the home my mom bought in Orlando was under $100,000 and she put a pool in, the thought of homes starting at $200,000+ was a little intimidating at the time. But we kept dreaming and visiting the model homes, and the downtown area. We still have a postcard that was sent to us after visiting the model center, and we still have an original green “Celebration, Florida” license plate that we bought in the store back when it was on Bloom Street, secretly hoping we’d one day be residents.
Real life happened, my boyfriend became my fiance and then my husband, our first home was bought, our first child was born and a second one was on the way when we moved back to Massachusetts. We played “musical states” for a while before settling back in Florida in 2003. And we *still* would drive over and visit the models of North Village being built and later Artisan Park. It still seemed so out of reach, but the dream never vanished.
Fast forward to 2009, when I first began my adventures here on ZannaLand and at year’s end, was chosen for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel. My life changed completely by the end of 2009, in only good ways. Well, one bad way, the once ‘no big deal’ one-hour commute from our home north of Tampa to Walt Disney World had now become a gas-guzzling, time-burning ordeal that caused cries of “Do we HAVE to?” from my previously Disney-fied children. I know, this is completely a ‘first world problem’ and not something I am truthfully complaining about. But over time, I was making the commute more and more frequently and as my colleagues and friends expanded, the wheels began to turn with the thought, “Can we move back to Orlando? Should we?”.
When we moved to the Tampa area in 2005, it was for a job transfer my husband had received. Originally, he was put up in an executive-stay hotel and would come home on the weekends. We visited him during spring break of my oldest son’s first year in school, and decided we actually really liked the area. As much as the Metro-Orlando area had SO.MUCH.STUFF.TO.DO. the area we were looking in was much more laid back, and rural. The town we moved to was pretty much one big cow pasture that was slowly getting developed into subdivisions and businesses. Then the bottom dropped out of the market and development came to a screeching halt – including the promised amenities of our own subdivision, which were the major reason we bought the home we did. It became increasingly easier to look for a new path. And 17 years after that first ‘if only…’ that path led right down Celebration Avenue.
Now of course, we still thought it was impossible. But I’d always said, as we left Orlando in 2005 that if we came back, I’d be very picky about where we lived. It’s especially hard with kids in school…we didn’t want to move someplace temporarily and then have the kids transfer if we changed school zones. In addition, my husband had to secure a job in this area, or risk an even longer commute than he currently had. We just sort of put the idea “out there” into the Universe and decided to see if things could come together. If they could, great, if not, we would stay put. In the meantime, we had friends that lived in Celebration (lots of friends actually) so we knew it was more than just a tourist attraction and the fears I had of living so close to Kissimmee’s 192 were assuaged when we’d stay at our friends’ house and realize how secluded and insulated the town really was.
The stars aligned for the home we found. The realtor told us about it 4 months before it was really going to be available, but the people leaving had a newly built house to go to and were able to leave early. It fit every criteria we had and it also had every item I’d ever wanted in a ‘dream home’. The icing on the cake – it was less than a mile to my husband’s new job. He could walk to work if he wanted to! So while I’ve been saying for 2 years now that dreams do come true and people might be sick of that…I’m living proof that they really do.
We’ve already experienced quite a bit in the short time we’ve been living here and I’ll go into some of my impressions in the next update.
POLK COUNTY, Fla.(May 23, 2011) – To the delight of youngsters everywhere, LEGOLAND® Florida today revealed its official opening date: Saturday, October 15, 2011.
Inspired by America’s love affair with all things LEGO®, the new 150-acre theme park will cater to kids ages 2 to 12 with more than 50 “pink-knuckle” rides – from roller coasters to race cars – as well as family focused shows and attractions.
Park officials disclosed the date, a closely guarded secret since the park broke ground last year, to help families already planning vacations in the fall. “I’d estimate 80 percent of the inquiries we’ve received have been about our opening date,” said LEGOLAND Florida sales manager Todd Andrus. “Guests are all but begging to know the date, so they can book their flights and accommodations, and purchase admission tickets.” The park also unveiled a new online reservations program to make the vacation booking experience even easier. Travelers can now book tickets, accommodations, airlines and rental
cars through the LEGOLAND Florida website. “Planning a family vacation can be daunting, especially for families with very young children,” said Andrus, a father and frequent traveler. “Packing alone is enough to overwhelm even the most organized parents. That’s why we designed our online system to be both user-friendly and convenient, allowing parents to book the essentials and then print out everything they’ll need right at home.”
The other key benefit of the program, Andrus explained, is that it features 13 preferred hotels in Central Florida that are officially endorsed by the park. Part of the “Bed & Brick” program, the hotels are all family friendly and collectively provide a range of price points and assets to accommodate different styles and budgets. Each of the hotels in the program will offer special rates and ticket/room packages.
You can see a flyover of LEGOLAND Florida construction back in March on our post here. Can’t wait for opening day!
Thanks to a friend with a mutual love of all things Alice in Wonderland, I stumbled across this link and had to share it here on ZannaLand. This is definitely yet another reason for me to get to Japan and I am definitely adding Alice of Magic World to my list of must-sees. They even have Chesire cat tail pizza slices and what looks like Cheshire cat face noodles too. I’m not sure I’d want to leave! Here’s the article originally posted at TrendHunter:
ALICE OF MAGIC WORLD
Tokyo is home to some odd theme restaurants, but Alice of Magic World is one I’d actually like to try. This eatery is inspired by the Lewis Carroll classic, and features several different “rooms” with aesthetics that channel the must-read children’s book.
The first two images depict the “forest” room. Neatly trimmed “hedges” made of carpet and immaculate topiaries are surrounded by checkered floors and walls, mirrors and odd-shaped doors. In another room, a heart-shaped table and chandelier made of hearts beckon an aspiring Queen of Hearts; nearby, playing card tables are set off by lush black banquettes and blood-red seats.
Alice of Magic World was designed by Fantastic Design Works Co., and is the fourth Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant owned by its restaurant group.
Check out these surreal photos: (click to enlarge)
Local media were treated to a special preview of construction progress at LEGOLAND Florida today. Included in this sneak peak was a helicopter flyover tour of the LEGOLAND Florida theme park – former site of the historical Cypress Gardens. It was my first time up in a helicopter and I must admit I was pretty nervous. Fellow blogger Shelley C. was there with me and we braved this new adventure together – and survived! It was actually totally awesome and I tweeted that I only wanted to travel by helicopter from now on.
During the flyover portion, Todd, our LEGOLAND guide and all-around cool guy gave us all the info on what attractions, rides and experiences were being built for LEGOLAND Florida visitors. The coasters on site are being re-tooled and re-themed with LEGO story lines and several all-new attractions are being built. In addition, the famed “MiniLand” takes center stage, featuring scaled miniature versions of famed cities like New York, Washington DC, Las Vegas, in addition to a special Florida-themed city scape. Adrian Jones, General Manager of LEGOLAND Florida shared that the best part of the MiniLand are the “interactives” or special events which take place at the touch of a button by a guest. In the Las Vegas city-scape, a LEGO couple emerges from a wedding chapel, the dancing waters seen at the Treasure Island are replicated, as well as lights and other fun surprises throughout the MiniLands.
Jones understands that LEGOLAND has a lot to live up to with the past failure of the Cypress Gardens park, even after being re-vamped as an “Adventure Park” with thrill rides. However he is confident that they are up to the task. Jones says they know what they’re doing and they aren’t trying to be everything to everyone. The park is themed to ages 2-12 and they stick to that demographic. Jones joked that they are known for “pink knuckle rides” rather than “white knuckle rides” most theme parks offer. LEGOLAND operates 5 theme parks across the world and they have taken what works best in all the other parks to LEGOLAND Florida, with additional touches never before seen at any LEGOLAND park, including the first wooden roller coaster. Jones notes that money has been allocated for future use and expansion as guest feedback starts coming in. He anticipates the park to be a full-day experience at opening, with expansion extending it to a multi-day park visit.
Another draw to LEGOLAND Florida is the interactive experience parents will enjoy with their children, rather than letting them go on a bunch of kid-based rides as they stand by and watch passively. Jones points out that the quality time parents spend with their children building LEGO at home is transferred to the theme park experience as parents work together with kids on certain rides and attractions, like the Funtown Fire Academy and Driving School.
Something I was happy to see is that LEGOLAND Florida will be preserving the botanical gardens Cypress Gardens was known for, even paying homage with LEGO models of the Cypress Belles that once graced the lush landscapes and gardens. Little LEGO touches will be added throughout the area and Jones says the future might bring some cabanas for kids birthday parties within the gardens as well. There will be a water ski show with a pirate theme which works well with the Florida location.
This is just the tip of the LEGO brick as far as exciting new features at the park. Stay tuned for part 2 of my coverage. Until then, enjoy the photo and video tour of today’s preview as well as highlights of LEGOLAND Florida’s themed areas:
The Beginning hosts the park entry, ticket and pass sales, the Garden Restaurant and The Big Shop.
The Big Shop – One of the largest retail stores in the world where guests can take advantage of a huge selection of LEGO and LEGOLAND merchandise
The Market – Authentic imported Danishes and freshly baked pastries, espresso, milk, juice, fruit, a selection of yogurts and soft serve ice cream
When guests enter Fun Town, they truly get a sense they’ve entered a LEGO village.
Factory Tour – A firsthand look at how LEGO bricks are made from factory to finish
Studio Store – Visit this store to pick up all your favorite LEGO licensed products, such as Clutch Powers, SpongeBob™, Indiana Jones™, Star Wars™ and Batman™
Granny’s Apple Fries – The park’s signature dessert item made with crisp Granny Smith apples, powdered with cinnamon and sugar and served with a deliciously sweet vanilla cream sauce
Fun Town Theater – Three different 4-D movies will show throughout the day at LEGOLAND’s largest 4-D theater with seats for 700
The heart of every LEGOLAND Park, Miniland USA will be home to seven specially themed areas:
Florida encompasses the entire state from Mallory Square in Key West to Bok Tower in Central Florida and antebellum mansions in the Panhandle. Miniland Florida also includes an expanded area for Kennedy Space Center and an interactive Daytona International Speedway® racing experience where guests can race LEGO brick cars.
Las Vegas features the world-famous Strip including the Luxor Las Vegas, New York, New York Hotel and Casino, Excalibur, Mirage, Treasure Island, Tropicana, MGM Grand, Venetian, Stratosphere tower and two iconic structures of Paris Las Vegas: the balloon sign and Eiffel Tower. “The Strip” at LEGOLAND also features a miniature wedding chapel, monorails and real-life sounds recorded in Las Vegas.
Washington, D.C. sports faithful re-creations of the White House (including the first family and “first dog”), the U.S. Capitol building, Smithsonian, Washington and Jefferson monuments and parts of Georgetown. An animated marching band parades in front of the Capitol and tiny cherry trees blossom every spring.
New York City features tiny jets of water shooting up from the fountain in Rockefeller Plaza, while an army of animated yellow taxicabs prowls the streets of Times Square. The Statue of Liberty, a cutaway view of Grand Central Station, The Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and the Bronx Zoo are just a few of the iconic landmarks.
A Pirate-themed section hosts a full-on swashbuckling pirate adventure as two opposing pirate ships and their “mates” battle it out upon the high seas.
Castle Hill takes kids back to medieval times where spells are cast and many knights, damsels and dragons are found.
The Dragon – An indoor/outdoor steel roller coaster that features a spirited and humorous view of life behind the scenes within the enchanted LEGOLAND Castle.
The Royal Joust – Kids ride LEGO-themed horses through a number of medieval scenes where they encounter other riders in a simulated joust.
Land of Adventure
In Land of Adventure, visitors of all ages explore hidden tombs and hunt for treasure.
Coastersaurus – This junior coaster reaches curves and dips in and around a prehistoric jungle of animated and life-sized LEGO brick dinosaurs.
Lost Kingdom Adventure – LEGOLAND Florida’s spectacular dark ride invites guests to fire laser blasters at targets and brave the rugged Egyptian landscape in all-terrain roadsters, while attempting to unearth the vast treasures of a forgotten empire.
Pharaoh’s Revenge – This outdoor attraction lets children and parents fire soft foam balls at enemies and explore the complex maze of the Pharaoh’s kingdom.
Beetle Bounce – Launch 15-feet up toward intricate, brightly jeweled LEGO scarab beetles perched atop two monumental obelisks.
XTreme LEGO TECHNIC® Test Track –Brave guests feel the power of acceleration, braking and maneuverability as they race a life-size LEGO TECHNIC vehicle along a wild roller coaster track.
AQUAZONE® Wave Racers –Riders zip in and out of waves as they dodge water blasters on this dual water carousel ride.
LEGO City is the perfect place for youngsters to live out their dreams in a scaled-down town created just for them.
Fun Town Fire Academy – Families race to put out a “blaze” by piling into a “fire truck” and power it by pumping levers across a paved straightaway. The first family to put out the fire and make it back wins
Driving School – A “real-life” driving experience for children ages 6 through 13, where kids receive their official LEGOLAND driver license.
Junior Driving School – A print-size version driving school course for children ages 3 through 5
Flight School – An inverted steel coaster that lets kids experience the thrill of flight.
The Big Test – This interactive show uses acrobatics, music and playful fun to teach fire safety as the zany crew of Fun Town Fire Department attempts to conquer the “Big Test” to become official firefighters.
Imagination Zone emphasizes exploring and creation, while showcasing seven of the most visually exciting LEGO models in the world, including a replica of Albert Einstein’s head.
Game Space – Features 13 game stations where guests can experience LEGO STAR WARS™ and other family friendly games like LEGO INDIANA JONES™, LEGO BATMAN™ and Monsters vs. Aliens all year.
Build & Test – Build a LEGO car and test it against the competition on the digitally timed track.
LEGO MINDSTORMS™ – Build and program cutting-edge, computerized LEGO MINDSTORMS™ robots.
LEGO Clubhouse – Kids and parents stock up on bulk LEGO bricks and Make & Create kits while enjoying ice cream, popcorn, beverages and snacks.
Kid Power Towers – Kids and parents alike hoist themselves up to the top of a tower to get a great view of the entire park and lovely Lake Eloise, and then enjoy a fun “free-fall” to the bottom.
Pirate’s Cove has been taken over by swashbuckling pirates along the shores of Lake Eloise at LEGOLAND Florida’s very own live-action, water-stunt show.
Duplo Village is ideal for toddlers and their imaginations. Youngsters can fly a plane, drive a car or explore a whole town – designed with their height in mind.
When I first lived in Orlando, I remember driving around looking at neighborhoods and going down this street where I could see giant red-topped mushroom over a wall. Of course, I instantly thought of Walt Disney World and its whimsical architecture, but saw a sign saying “Give Kids the World“. I did some research and found out it was an organization that accommodated the wishes of chronically ill children and their families. I knew then it was a place I wanted to somehow help with.
Then, life happened…I moved away and back and away and had my own children. I have been given the gift of 3 healthy children and I understand even more, as a mom, just how valuable Give Kids the World is for children that need it.
For those unfamiliar with Give Kids the World, here is a bit more about them from their site:
A child with a life-threatening illness between the ages of 3 and 18, whose one wish is to visit any of Central Florida’s best loved attractions, may have their dream vacation come true by first being identified by a doctor as a child with a life-threatening illness. The child is then teamed up with one of over 250 partnering wish-granting organizations from
around the world, who then refer the eligible Wish Child and their family to GKTW Village. Once a Wish has been approved and recommended by the Wish Child’s local wish-granting organization, the Give Kids The World Wish includes:
- Accommodations on-site in one of 140 villas
- Donated tickets to all three major theme-park resorts (SeaWorld Orlando, Universal
- Orlando and Walt Disney World)
- Meals in our Gingerbread House Restaurant and Katie’s Kitchen; and ice cream all day in
- the Ice Cream Palace
- Many other fun surprises
Everything is entirely cost-free to the family!
After sharing news of the opening of CoCo Key Water Resort‘s Orlando location, I wanted to provide a more in-depth review of the resort and its amenities. Thanks to the resort and their Orlando representative Vicki Johnson, I was able to spend Mother’s Day weekend there with my family and do just that.
We checked in at around 2pm, even though the official check-in time is 4pm as they had a ‘family suite’ available for us. The front desk hostess asked us what configuration of beds we’d like and after I said a king room and a room with two queen beds would be perfect, she found exactly what we were looking for. We received our wristbands for the water park and she told us we’d be in building 6, the tallest building at the resort. We discovered upon parking and finding the elevator to our rooms on the fourth floor that it really doesn’t matter which side of the building you park on; it was easily accessible on both sides with the elevator in the middle.