I know that I comment on the pace of new stuff here in Orlando with annoying frequency (I can’t help it! There’s a ton going on!) but this time you’ll forgive my excitement. A new theme park has opened! That hasn’t happened since I moved here in 2004, so this is nowhere near an everyday occurrence.
It’s a new park!
Cutting right to the chase, let me proclaim right up front that Legoland delivers what you’d expect. This is a major theme park in the vein of Disney, Universal, or SeaWorld. Yes, it’s a touch smaller than they are, and has a smaller budget, but it’s still ahead of other competitors such as Kennedy Space Center or Holy Land Experience. Perhaps we need a category in-between, the way Pluto is neither planet nor moon. But it feels dismissive to call Legoland a “dwarf theme park,” especially since it’s plenty large, size-wise. It’s got 150 acres – that’s bigger than Disneyland!
They’ve placed 50 attractions in those acres, though what they call an “attraction” might not be what you’d call an attraction. There are eight “attractions” (read: sub-sections) at the famed Miniland Lego buildings. And many of the rides are short, small-footprint things you might find at carnivals (quick-circuit electric trains, gentle Power-Towers or drop rides for kids). Yet for all that, Legoland delivers because it also includes most of its key attractions from the San Diego park (I have only vague memories of the one I visited in Europe). Examples include:
- FORD Driving School – a “real” Autopia, with electric cars not on tracks at all. Kids maneuver through a city street grid and obey road rules, painted lines, and even traffic signals. There’s a junior version as well, for kids aged 3-5.
This is a full-sized Ford Explorer… made of Legos.
Be sure to obey the rules of the road!
The junior version is a simpler oval.
- Miniland – Lego reconstructions of famous cityscapes, like New York, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and San Francisco, as well as local areas such as Daytona’s racetrack, Kennedy Space Center, Miami beaches, and Pirates in their Caribbean hideouts.
It’s like an oversized model train set.
Florida locales are represented.
Pirates IN the Caribbean!
New York never seemed so accessible.
- Lost Kingdom Adventure – like a shorter, more little-kid version of Buzz Lightyear, this laser shooter is ideal for kids under 7.
Good theming on the outside.
Cute animatronics on the inside.
- The Dragon – first it’s a dark ride, then it turns into a roller coaster only a touch more thrilling (but twice as long) as Goofy’s Barnstormer.
The castle isn’t actually made of Legos.
It’s a dark ride first, before it’s a coaster.
- Royal Joust – a solo rider slow horse “coaster” with bouncing movements.
Landscaping will help here, too.
- Test Track – a wild mouse roller coaster themed to Technics
Test Track has no sign with its name – is this to avoid
confusing tourists, who know they aren’t at Epcot?
- Aquazone Wave Racers – like a souped-up Dumbo taking place skidding atop the water, this spinner lets you have some limited control (it feels like jet skiing) and also dodge water jets from all angles.
Ideal for hot summers.
- 4D animated movies (12 minutes long; 3 films to choose from)
- Rescue Academy – first you pump to move your fire truck, then you pump to get water to your fire hose, all the while racing three other families doing the same thing
Now, if I just had someone to race!
- Safari Trek – picture Disney’s Jungle Cruise, but on a slow moving jeep vehicle and with Lego animals.
The plants are sure to grow in.
- Boating School – a snaking course of free-floating boats, which are harder to control than kids think (the trick is to “plan ahead” and turn early)
There are more rides than this list would indicate, but they aren’t as memorable or as Lego-specific. They are more generic, such as the “Swiss-Miss” style spinner or a taller dropout ride. This list was more about the rides that are unique to the Lego universe.
Fairly generic ride in the Duplo Village.
That said, a couple of them were disappointing. The jeep safari in particular was a sorry shadow of the one in San Diego. Part of that is because of the lack of landscaping, and time will fix that. But that’s not the whole cause. The ride is shorter. That’s also true of the Factory Tour (it’s even more kitschy here), the Boating School (not much point to it), and even the great Driving School has a smaller course to play in. They feel like Reader’s Digest versions of the rides.
Not much to Boating School.
Legoland in San Diego has a few more attractions. There’s a sky coaster that you pedal around, a walk-through Adventurer’s Club, a boat ride with fairy tale stories, and a Kuka arm attraction that throws around the riders in exciting (but unthemed) ways.
The San Diego park has lots of other rides (flume rides, small spinners) that are missing here. It’s hard not to compare the parks like this, but in some ways such a comparison isn’t really fair. Florida’s version just opened; I’m sure they will add attractions as time goes by.
The Factory Tour was particularly fake and cheesy.
There are some things going for Florida that San Diego doesn’t have, in the form of the holdovers here that were part of Cypress Gardens: the gardens themselves remain untouched in the corner, and the famous ski show is still offered daily (though now with a Lego pirate storyline).
The ski show and its stadiums survived the conversion.
There is no sign announcing the historic Cypress Gardens.
In terms of rides, the Flying School is a holdover “inverted” coaster (though not a very exciting one).
The building is newly-themed.
Island in the Sky offers a slowly-turning bird’s eye view of the park.
Island in the Sky is a slow turning skyview cabin.
The Starliner coaster didn’t make the conversion, but the Triple Hurricane did, now renamed to Coastersaurus.
It’s the former Triple Hurricane!
Sadly, they toned down this great wooden coaster a bit; there used to be great airtime in those hops at the end that is now missing. I can understand the reasons, though, since the target audience is 2-12.
Theming visible from the ride.
The once-connected water park is not operating at the moment. In the future, it should reopen as a separate-ticket park.
The restaurant at the front is uncrowded midday, but the real value is
the pizza/pasta place, with an $11 all you can eat buffet.
Later this year, look for Legoland to celebrate Christmas in the fashion that they used to of Cypress Gardens, with tons of holiday lights on trees and foliage. It was pretty magical in those days and promises to be the same this year. They will do a Halloween celebration in 2012, but didn’t have time to mount it for 2011.
The Lego-building areas will be expanded with Heroes soon.
There’s enough to do in Legoland to fill an entire day. We visited on a preview day that sported no lines whatsoever, and it took three hours just to see most of the rides. Add in time for the rides we missed, add in the walkthrough Cypress Gardens (which we skipped), and add in a meal time (which we skipped), and it would be impossible to imagine this park taking less than four hours… on a day with zero lines. In the real world, there will be lines, so count on this being a full-day experience. It would be easy to spend eight hours in this park. There’s easily much more to do here than at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, for instance.
No word yet on what will come of the former zoo area to
Cypress Gardens (visible in the foreground).
Will it be successful? I think so. The park will likely define itself (and find its audience) by luring folks who otherwise would stay in Orlando and see the ‘big three’ of Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld. I do think there’s enough curiosity out there to drive customers to make the trek. And once they visit, I do think they’ll be back on their next vacation. The park isn’t as immersive as the other parks are (especially Disney and Universal), but it’s got a certain charm that all the others lack.
Maybe Lego toilets aren’t charming, but the characters everywhere are!
Many buildings have a Lego figure outside the structure.
The real question, to my mind, is what Disney might do in reaction, as they begin to realize that their core audience is being challenged. Fantasyland is, in some regards, already a reaction to Legoland. I know that most of the Internet, including me, has accused Disney of building Fantasyland as a reaction to Harry Potter (and missing the age demographic in the process), but the reality is that Fantasyland might just as easily be considered a reaction to Legoland as a reaction to Potter. And this time, the targeted audience is a match. If Legoland is a big enough success, might Disney do yet more to keep kids on property? One thing is certain. History has taught us that competition is good for the customer, so stayed tuned.
Everyone likes Star Wars!
In the meantime, I’m going to use the heck out of my Legoland annual pass. In fact, I enjoyed my preview day enough to want to create a fan website. For this, I’ve teamed up with a fellow Floridian to create http://brickpal.com – a fan site that doesn’t just include press releases and other stuff you can find on the official site. Our site has complete restaurant menus, attraction height requirements and restrictions, deeper (and more honest) attraction descriptions, suggested touring plans to help you avoid the crowds (and the slowest-loading attractions), and transportation options. We want to be the first choice in actionable information about Legoland Florida, so give us a look! You can also visit us on our Facebook page.
Welcome to Legoland!
Weekly Walt Disney World
Join locals, regulars, and vacationing tourists for a weekly meet at Walt Disney World (join the public Facebook group here). Our visit this Sunday (at 2pm, like always) will be at Epcot, in the “concourse” behind Club Cool. Come join us!