This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Reasons We Love LEGOLAND FLORIDA! We all love Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort, but there are other places in Central Florida that can be a great place to take your family. There’s Kennedy Space Center near Port Canaveral, Busch Gardens Tampa on the west coast, and SeaWorld in Orlando. This week we’re heading about 45 minutes south of Orlando to Winter Haven, home of LEGOLAND FLORIDA.
It had been about three years since I had last been to Legoland with my family, and the experience was even better than I remembered. Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite parts of Legoland Florida, starting with…
# 6 – Onsite resorts
Readers of the SATURDAY SIX know we love staying onsite, as – for us – the convenience factor and amenities justify the higher prices compared to staying offsite. Legoland Florida now has two onsite resorts. The first, Legoland Hotel, is closer to the Legoland theme park than Disney Contemporary is to the Magic Kingdom. We opted to stay at their other resort, the Legoland Beach Retreat, which is located about a half mile away from the park.
The Beach Retreat is separated into 13 areas, each one named after a Lego minifigure character. Each area is a small cul-de-sac, with about 5-7 bungalows. In the center of each cul-de-sac is a play area for kids.
While we didn’t request it, our room was in Shark Suit Guy’s Cove. Shark Suit Guy is one of our favorite LEGO characters, so the trip started off great.
The bunglaows themselves are pretty adorable, looking like little houses built out of LEGO bricks and with LEGO decorations everywhere. When you walk in, the first area is the master bedroom.
Beyond that was a second bedroom which contained a bunk bed. There was also a pull out bed underneath the bottom bunk.
In a great touch, there was a LEGO toy on each of the kid’s beds. I have often railed in the monthly Disney Outlet Store Photo Report that Disney should take a fraction of the junk they send to outlet stores and either leave merchandise on the beds like this, or give to Mousekeeping in order for them to surprise guests.
It was actually shocking how many details and “little things” that LEGOLAND got right in terms of providing for families. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a bathroom where there were towel hooks placed for both adults and young children.
The toilet had a seat in which you could bring down an adapter for the kids too.
The room also had a master switch, which allowed every single light to be turned off with the flick of a switch.
Some of the amenities included the main pool area and Sandy’s Castle restaurant. LEGO characters come out during the dinner hours at the restaurant and there is a giant “sand castle” play area that is filled with LEGO bricks for the kids to play with.
Call me a jaded theme park fan, but I was legitimately shocked to find out there was a free breakfast buffet every morning for those staying at the Beach Retreat. When I was told about it upon check in, I figured it had to be like one of those complementary breakfasts some hotel chains offer with a limited selection of danishes and cold cereal.
Instead my mind was blown when it was a full out buffet filled with pretty much everything you could want, especially if you have kids. French toast sticks, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, breakfast burrito, and tater tots were some of the hot items offered. Cereal, all types of bread (including bagels), oatmeal, and fruit were also available. Not only was there unlimited coffee, juice, and milk, but there was even a Coke Freestyle machine. PINCH ME, I’M DREAMING.
There is a “Bricks Bar” at the end of the restaurant, and we tried out the signature Fish In A Bag drink. By now you should realize I’m a sucker for gimmicks, and this one is pretty unique. The drink contains Malibu rum, orange Pinnacle vodka, and Sprite, garnished with mint leaves and an orange slice. This is like an adult’s version of a Capri Sun pouch and got a thumb’s up.
As Beach Retreat guests, we got free preferred parking into the LEGOLAND park. The parking was just steps away from the LEGOLAND Hotel, so we decided to head in to take a look around.
There was a LEGO knight character walking around taking photos with guests. There is an elaborate Medieval castle play area in the lobby of the hotel filled with thousands of LEGO bricks for kids to play with.
There is a table service restaurant off the main lobby, as well as the Skyline Lounge. There were tons of LEGO details everywhere.
Including this Stormtrooper watching TV.
The LEGOLAND Hotel seemed pretty cool from the parts we saw, but I would be hard pressed not to stay at the Beach Retreat if we came back. For us the Beach Retreat was reminiscent of stays at places like Disney’s Art of Animation or the Minion Suite at Universal’s Portofino Bay, just a blast for the entire family (and the extra space doesn’t hurt when it comes for your sanity.)
# 5 – Apple Fries
Walt Disney World has its fair share of iconic snacks, including the Mickey Bar and the Dole Whip, but for me one of the all time greatest theme park snacks in Florida are Granny’s Apple Fries. LEGOLAND says they ” cook Granny Smith apples, dust them with cinnamon sugar, add some secret ingredients and serve them with a vanilla cream dipping sauce.” They are absolutely incredible, and even better was the version served with vanilla soft serve ice cream and caramel sauce.
# 4 – Cypress Gardens
When I was growing up, my family would always make places like Cypress Gardens part of our Florida vacation. Opening in 1938, Cypres Gardens was an institution in Florida, but in 2010 the area was sold to Merlin Entertainments to build LEGOLAND. Thankfully, LEGOLAND has kept the spirit of Cypress Gardens alive with a large botanical gardens walk through experience. I will admit that as a kid I was bored out of my mind walking through stuff like this, but now it’s something I really enjoyed. In fact, one of the things we decided on was to come back to LEGOLAND without the kids so that we could spend a lot more time enjoying the nature experience.
# 3 – Miniland USA
As a person who has always loved LEGO bricks, one of my favorite parts of LEGOLAND is Miniland USA. Here you can see LEGO versions of classic landmarks from areas such as Las Vegas, New York City, and Washington DC. There are several sections dedicated to places in Florida, including the Daytona Speedway, Bok Tower, the Kennedy Space Center, along with cities such as Tampa, Key West and Miami. The newest section is dedicated to planets from the first six Star Wars movies, including Tatooine, Hoth, and Naboo. While adults can marvel at all the insane details (and there are some truly laugh out loud in jokes and you really pay attention) kids have interactive stations at all the areas to have fun with. If I were to make a list of my personal six favorite things from all the theme parks in Florida, Miniland USA would make that list.
# 2 – LEGOLAND Water Park
We showed up at LEGOLAND and were one of “those guests” who didn’t buy tickets in advance, which of course would save you money. Since we were staying at the Beach Resort, I asked for a 2 day-1 park ticket. This cost $113.99. I didn’t need a fancy Len Testa algorithm to realize the 2 park annual pass for $119 was a better deal. So this meant we were going to go to the LEGOLAND Water Park!
The Water Park is located at the very back of LEGOLAND. It has a large lazy river, a wave pool, a splash/play area with some small slides, some large slides, and a couple NAY NAY slides like Disney’s Summit Plummet. There’s also an area for very young kids that has tiny slides as well. Having the pass for the Water Park worked out great, because it allowed us to hit all our favorite LEGOLAND rides and then walk over to experience the Water Park attractions.
# 1 – The Rides
If you have kids between the ages of 4-12, there is a good chance they are going to absolutely love the attractions at LEGOLAND. One of the biggest surprises for us was The Dragon coaster. The theming around it was fun with the whole medieval castle deal, but what we didn’t know was that there was a large dark ride experience before the coaster thrills. This was fantastic. Thanks to the low crowds, we were also allowed to re-ride many of the coasters as much as we wanted.
Coastersaurus is a traditional wooden coaster. Many LEGOLAND attractions have LEGO based photo ops outside of the rides, including this Triceratops.
Ninjago is the newest area of LEGOLAND, and the one most like something you would see at Universal or Disney in terms of overall theming. There are several areas at the entrance of “the land” for the kids to interact with, including LEGO building and wall climbing. The actual queue is all indoors and the attraction is very much like Toy Story Midway Mania, except instead of a slingshot you are just using your hands to “shoot.” It’s an exhausting game but the kids absolutely loved it.
I’ve always wondered why people would need “virtual reality” for a roller coaster, but now I’m eating my words. I finally got a chance to experience VR on the LEGO Race VR Coaster and now I want VR for absolutely everything. It was like being in an actual version of the old Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races cartoons.
There are several “school” gimmicks that allow the kids to do things they’ve wanted to do for a long time. The Boating School ride allows them to be the captain of a boat. These boats are not on a track, as the kids are actually steering them.
The Ford Driving School has a pre-show explaining the “rules of the road” before taking the kids out on an elaborate driving course. The cars are basically versions of Power Wheels you can buy for your house (and then spend hours putting together.) There were about 20 kids driving on the track and all seemed to have a great time.
The Flying School had a facade like an airplane hanger, but the actual ride was just a roller coaster where your legs hang free like Universal’s old Dragon Challenge ride.
Lost Kingdom Adventure is a kid’s version of Universal’s Men in Black: Alien Attack or Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
Safari Trek was a very cute ride in which your jeep goes through several areas filled with LEGO animals including elephants, hippos, and even an ostrich.
For me, my favorite attraction was The LEGO Movie 4D show. Only a true sourpuss didn’t love The LEGO Movie from a couple years ago, and this follow up is HILARIOUS. 4D features all the main characters of The LEGO Movie, and it has a lot of fun with the fact that it doesn’t feature the original film’s Chris Pratt or Will Ferrell. There is no reason a film at LEGOLAND Florida needed to be this good, but it is.
(Note that all the other voice actors from The LEGO Movie reprise their roles, including Elizabeth Banks, Nick Offerman, and Charlie Day. Patton Oswalt’s Risky Business character steals the show.)
Honorable Mention – Your Photo ON LEGOS
As much as we love staying onsite, we love theme park merchandise even more. From Mickey Ears at the Magic Kingdom, to chocolate frogs in the Wizarding World, to a Fort Wilderness Air Freshener, we can’t get enough of great theme park souvenirs. Because of our cell phones, one thing we rarely purchase at Disney or Universal is photos, but LEGOLAND offers you the chance to purchase your picture made out of LEGO bricks. Highest possible recommendation for a unique memento to take home.
Double Secret Honorable Mention – That LEGO Guy From Downtown Disney!
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love LEGOLAND FLORIDA! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to our spirit animal Brandon Glover and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2018 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!