With the recent opening of Magic Kingdom, it is fair to make comparisons to other theme parks to see how things are the same or different. Shortly after its reopening last month, my family and I visited the LEGOLAND resort. This park in Winter Haven, Florida, opened on June 1, several days before SeaWorld and Universal Orlando. As you read this, you will find out what cleaning, social distancing, dining, and changes to attractions LEGOLAND came up with. This post was drafted by my 9-year-old son and revised by my considerably older self. We arrived at the LEGOLAND Florida Resort on June 14, less than a two weeks after the resort opened to the public after its multi-month closure.
The first thing LEGOLAND has done is to put red brick stickers that say STAND HERE in every line. The red bricks are spaced out to keep people social-distanced. Each party should stand on a red brick. When the red brick in front of the party is open, the party should move up. In queues with switchbacks, the red bricks were staggered so that one group would not stand right next to another. Sadly, when we were at LEGOLAND not many people were standing on their red bricks. There was no enforcement to make them stand on a red brick. On the bright side, the red bricks helped a bit.
The next thing LEGOLAND has done is recommend masks. Cute signs conveyed this message and that groups should distance from each other, but in this case “recommend” meant that very few guests wore masks. All the workers, however, were required to wear masks – even microphoned performers at the hotel. (On a related note, all guests had to pass a temperature screening before entering the park or hotel; hotel guests received a wristband and were thereafter not subject to subsequent checks at the hotel or park.)
In the past we have been fortunate to visit LEGOLAND Florida on slow days; my general impression is that the park’s location in Winter Haven (a 30-minute drive after you leave Interstate 4) is a deterrent to most tourists. The crowds were similar to other times we had been to LEGOLAND – very low. Even though ride throughput was adjusted to keep parties apart, there was no wait for most rides. In the park’s many outdoor sections, it was easy to avoid other guests. The only places we felt near other people were in certain walled-in queues and at The Big Shop just after park closing.
Food and Drink
Most of the dining at LEGOLAND was closed. This has been true during other slow times we have visited the park, but this time it was even more restricted, with only a three or so venues where you could get an actual meal. (Rest assured that Granny’s Apple Fries and Firehouse Ice Cream were open, so we got our non-meal fix just fine.) There were lines at some venues, and guests made an effort to separate themselves from other groups. Counter-service venues in the park had plexiglass separating guests from employees, and only plastic payments were accepted (the plastic payment still had to be handed around the plexiglas). In addition, only The Big Shop near the park entrance and shops integrated into attraction exits were operational. The other major shopping venues in the center of the park were shuttered.
At the LEGOLAND hotels, breakfast is included in the room rate, so breakfast was served at both Bricks Family Restaurant and Shipwreck Restaurant. Bricks changed its self-serve buffet into sort of a school cafeteria-type of restaurant. There, guests walked the food line in socially distanced groups, pointing and food and requesting that a worker put the desired items on a tray. The tray was given to the guests at the end of the line. We were sad that no LEGO waffles were available, but the food was good. Getting beverages could be a bit chaotic; basically guests had to tell workers what they wanted from machines designed for self-service. Shipwreck Restaurant took a different approach, serving its food “family-style,” with the server bringing a large plate with everything (you can request more of any item), along with drinks.
Just like grocery stores that I’ve visited, LEGOLAND shut down its water fountains. Any location with a soda fountain (including staffed Coca-Cola Freestyle refill stations) would provide a small cup of water free of charge, but this was time consuming if you wanted to collect water for your whole family or to fill an entire personal water bottle.
LEGOLAND has implemented new cleaning processes, and that increased our waits in line on a few occasions. While one of the workers was cleaning a ride, we asked about the process. He said that rides are shut down every 30 minutes, when touchable surfaces are cleaned with a disinfectant that must be sprayed-on, allowed to work for 5 minutes, and then wiped off. At the LEGOLAND water park, rafts were cleaned after every use. In places with big bins of play bricks, some sort of spray-based sanitization happened at regular intervals.
At the LEGOLAND Hotel (which is expensive, even with a Passholder rate), the room was clean on check-in, but there was no housekeeping, so bathrooms were not cleaned, beds were not made, etc. (This is common in other hotels right now, too.) A bag of towels and other items was dropped off just inside our hotel room door each day, and other items could be requested by calling housekeeping. In the lobby, huge bins of bricks were available for play, and they were sanitized regularly. Children’s resort activities continued, but performers wore masks and did their activities (LEGO building classes, building competitions, stories, etc.) in more spread-out areas than usual.
Other Operational Notes
LEGOLAND did not have any major changes to attractions, but there were several noticeable differences to operations:
- LEGO bricks meant to keep kids entertained while in line were removed from queues, although the Indoor Imagination Zone and the LEGOLAND Hotel had plenty of bricks to play with.
- Hand sanitizer stations were at each attraction at at hotel elevators. Detailed hand-washing instructions were on restroom windows.
- All toddler play areas and playgrounds were closed, as was the baby care center.
- The 4D movie theater had areas blocked of for social distancing, with every third row in use and all aisle seats blocked off.
- Some rides naturally provided safe spacing, while others left a row or two between groups.
- The Great LEGO Race’s virtual reality goggles were removed.
Overall, things at LEGOLAND were mostly “normal”, and that was jarring for us. This was especially true walking around the hotel, where almost no one wore masks. While in the park, most of our time was spent in open-air environments, and waits were short enough that we were seldom around other groups for long. There were some situations (like exiting rides) where we got close to other groups, but that did not last long. Entering the attractions, the red squares remind people to stay in their groups, but we saw kids run right past these on a few occasions (people get excited when rushing toward a ride), plus it’s not like a family of six can fit on a single square. Workers were not proactively enforcing the use of the red squares, but I felt like groups were generally mindful of the personal space of others.
The only time that I felt uncomfortable from a health perspective was at The Big Shop (the main LEGOLAND Florida store) at park closing, which is undoubtedly its most popular time of day. The park limits the number of patrons in the store, but it’s literally an indoor big shop where folks can roam freely, and – as you’d expect in a theme park – lots of children were excitedly milling about. In contrast, I also visited Disney Springs during this trip, and nearly everyone was wearing a mask, both indoors and out. Although some folks will always disregard rules, requirement vs. recommendation makes a big difference in guest behavior.
LEGOLAND Florida is a fun park for families with pre-teen children. That has not changed, and my family’s trip was enjoyable. Although the experience has changed a bit, slightly lower wait times and less physical crowding made touring a bit better. This may not, however, be a sustainable way to operate: LEGOLAND Florida laid off workers last week, so its recent business did not justify the staffing levels the resort had when I visited. We like the park, and I am glad to have supported it in 2020.