Oh boy oh boy oh boy – where do I even start?!
So last Tuesday we took a big group of family over to Legoland for the day … anyone who follows me on Twitter is probably already well aware of that, thanks to the constant deluge of pictures that I excitedly posted throughout the day! Overall it was a blast – all of the figures and scenes were incredible, and as I had tweeted at the time, just walking through Miniland was probably worth the cost of admission alone for me. Granted, I don’t really see us getting annual passes to the place, but I’d definitely be more than happy to go back the next time somebody else comes to town who can appreciate it as much as I did.
Now that said, there were also definitely some parts of the day that I was less than impressed with, so I wanted to take some time here in a more elaborated form to go over exactly what I did and didn’t like about my trip to Legoland Florida…
Getting There Is Half the Battle
First and foremost, one thing soon became painfully clear – we live in Tampa, and we spend an awful lot of time at the theme parks over in Orlando, and frankly, Legoland is convenient to neither of those places. It wouldn’t be so bad if the park was right off a major freeway, but instead it’s nestled way off the beaten trail with not nearly enough signs pointing you in the right direction. My first thought was that maybe location was a big reason why Cypress Gardens went out of business…
Don’t Worry – It’s Bigger Than It Actually Looks
Admittedly I got even more nervous about what to expect upon pulling into the parking lot that seemed smaller than I’ve seen at some Walmarts, but here with a $12 parking fee! Truth be told, the actual park is pretty comparable to most theme parks – Legoland Florida covers 145 acres, the Magic Kingdom at Disney World is 110 acres, and Universal Studios – 125 acres – so don’t let the parking lot fool you like I did! 😉
First Impressions at the Front Gate
It didn’t take long for me … and my wife … to realize that I was going to be taking a lot of pictures during the next however many hours we were at the park! In fact, about halfway through I did actually have to stop and delete a bunch from a previous trip to make room on my memory card. All in all, I took 323 photos on my regular camera alone, so that’s not counting anything I took with my iPhone!
One other point that I noted early on, and mind you I wasn’t necessarily complaining about it because it meant our wait times were pretty reasonable, but for the most part, there was hardly anybody there at noon on a weekday in July. It picked up a little in the early afternoon, but then immediately dropped when threats of rain moved in. Really, the only place we encountered crowds was at the pizza place for lunch, but we’ll talk about that fiasco in a second… 😛
Amazing Scenery, Shoddy Rides
Although I absolutely loved the countless figures built from Legos spread throughout the entire park, a big thing that I wasn’t nearly as impressed with was the rides. And granted, I will say that progressively they did get better as we moved throughout the park (we roughly did Fun Town, Duplo Village, Medieval, Miniland (take 1), Lego City, Technic, Land of Adventure, Miniland (take 2)) … it’s just that a lot of them really seemed like aside from the random Lego integration, the rides themselves were comparable to county fair rides, some (like those in the Duplo area) even looking like they had just been put up that weekend!
It honestly took me a couple of hours to realize that at least for me, I was going to have to look past the rides themselves and focus on the Legos if I wanted to have a good time, and I did, and ended up having a great time. It’s just that I’m used to Disney attractions that are meticulously designed with incredible quality and amazing attention to detail, whereas some of these felt like the designers just went through the line-up at the fair and said, “How can we work Legos into this one?”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sold on the figures alone, but kid-oriented or not, the rides themselves do need some work.
Florida is Really Hot
One other beef that I kind of had … at least until the sun went away when the thunder clouds moved in … was that there weren’t nearly enough places in the shade to protect you from the hot sun, save for the queue areas themselves, I suppose. If you look at other theme parks, the majority of their attractions are actually indoors and for good reason!
Also, one of the beverage carts would only take cash when I went to buy a water to cool down, which was kind of annoying.
OMG – MINILAND IS AMAZING!!!!!
I seriously can’t say enough about this part because the whole thing absolutely blew me away! I could’ve spent hours checking out all of the minute details hidden in each of the unique areas – happenings on the streets of New York, local flair from around Florida … as far as I was concerned, my admission paid for me to get into Miniland and all of the rest was just gravy.
My absolute favorite section was probably the Florida one because I loved seeing all of the things that our state is known for, from the beaches to the Daytona 500 to Kennedy Space Center! That one in particular blew my mind, and it didn’t hurt that someone who works the Twitter account for KSC re-tweeted some of my enthusiasm for the scene, either! They did a really amazing job putting that whole thing together … makes me wish that my Lego space shuttle model was just a wee bit bigger!
Downtown Tampa was a particular treat, too, because I used to work there and still love driving through all of the buildings.
One that I would’ve loved to see them include, although I kinda understand for trademark and competitive reasons, would’ve been some models of Walt Disney World. I’ve seen random models like the Main Street train station done by various Lego Users Group members and I’ve even entertained the idea of trying to do something myself eventually, but come on – even though our beaches are very nice, let’s face it – the first thing anyone thinks of when you mention Florida is the mouse. 😉
…was frankly a bit of a disappointment. We ate at a pizza place, and I love pizza, and there was even a really cool figure of a Lego pizza chef outside the place!, but the interior itself left something to be desired. It was just a bad design for a restaurant – tables were overly crammed into rooms, awkwardly funneling guests to two small buffet areas at one end of the restaurant. I have a feeling that something else used to be in that building before and it was just converted into a buffet restaurant.
It probably didn’t help that a group of about 30 kids – who all wanted to pay separately – came in just ahead of us.
It was very cramped, and very loud, and the pizza wasn’t all that good. Sub school cafeteria, even. I don’t expect much from theme park counter service, but I expect a little better than that.
Also, the soda machines wouldn’t dispense water for the majority of our meal, so I was stuck with diet soda, which I haven’t consumed in over a year.
In hindsight, I wish we had trekked back to one of the other restaurants that we passed coming in (Market Restaurant) because not only did the food and space look better, but they had a lot more Legos to look at while you were eating. The pizza place had none – just the one dude greeting you outside. 😥
Exploring the Cypress Gardens
After lunch I sort of got separated from the group for a bit, and while they moved to the back of the park to try Lego Driving School, I wandered around taking pictures for a bit and eventually ended up in the actual Cypress Gardens themselves. I kind of had a feeling that I wasn’t going to see them any other time because 1) kids are bored by plants, and 2) there were maybe half a dozen people in the whole area during my tour, so I took the opportunity to walk around the trails and surprisingly, it actually became one of the highlights of my trip!
The place is like another world – very quiet because nobody’s there, and all of the larger than life plants just make you feel very small, culminating of course with the absolutely incredible Banyan tree that dominates the back of the garden. At the time, I tweeted that it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings and a week later, I still don’t have a better way to describe that massive thing.
They also had just a couple of Lego figures in the garden as well, dressed as southern belles near the entrance. It was definitely worth wandering astray to go check out, though!
Back at Legoland…
By the time I eventually met back up with the rest of the fam, it was getting ready to storm and we actually spent the next hour running around trying to find someone who had gone out looking for me without a cell phone (oops?). This kind of took the wind out of everybody, I think, because they closed down a lot of areas due to lightning, but once we finally got the group all back together, we were able to check out a couple of other random ideas before finally calling it a day. The kids finally got to do driving school (meh), we did a couple of rides over in the Technic area (ok), then the safari (too fast to take pictures 🙁 ) and a couple of other random adventure rides, and that was about it.
Oh yeah, and we also did the Lego Factory Tour on our way out, which ended up being a huge disappointment because it was basically just one room before emptying into a gift shop. Maybe there was supposed to be a video or something beforehand, but they weren’t playing it when we came through … I was kind of hoping for something a bit more like when they show you how they make chocolate at the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. They need to expand and do more with this because it has a lot of potential to be awesome…
Ok, actually because of the thunderstorm – can’t really fault them for that, but what I can fault them for was how they handled it because instead of finding a sign at the ramp leading up to the park that said they were closed for inclement weather, we didn’t know until we were trying to put our tickets in the turnstiles that we wouldn’t be getting in at that time. There were even other people walking around inside the gates (although none in the water) … ultimately it was all just very confusing and could’ve been handled a lot better.
Also, I guess from the promotional materials I kinda got the impression that the front gate to the water park was adjacent to the front gate of Legoland, like how Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are … but instead you literally have to walk all the way through the park to get to the water park. I guess that’s because you also have to buy a park ticket to get in – the water park is just an add-on and can’t be purchased separately, but this also confused me because I thought that they were really two separate entities.
Final Notes & Critiques…
- Overall, I was kind of surprised that we didn’t actually get to do everything during the day – probably due to a number of things … threat of thunderstorms, the kids eventually getting cranky, and just not everyone having interest in everything sometimes. I honestly didn’t even care about missing any of the remaining rides, per say, but there were still some random figures mixed throughout that I would’ve liked to get a closer look at.
- Shopping at Legoland … for me, was really nothing special … at least once the glow of seeing nearly every Lego set on the market finally wore off. They really need to come up with some sets that you can only get at the parks because save for a couple of t-shirts and random junk, there really wasn’t much that I couldn’t order online or pick-up at Walmart for cheaper. We did end up buying one set for Sara and a couple of minifigs and other random things for me, but even though I was impressed early on by the huge display of the new Lord of the Rings sets, there was still that nagging reminder that I could get them cheaper online…
- If/when we do it again, I’d definitely wait until we actually get to the water park before buying water park tickets so that we don’t waste them again like we did this time. It’s only $10/piece or whatever, but across the whole group that’d buy an extra Lego set or two instead if the place ends up being closed all day due to “inclement weather,” which we happen to have “quite a bit” here in Florida during “hurricane season.” 😉
- I’d also strongly recommend keeping an eye out for discounts and ordering in advance because they’ve had some great promotions running lately. We ended up getting a child ticket FREE with each adult ticket, so $150 got us 2 adults and 2 kids … not bad!
- And of course, probably the single most ridiculous thing that we came across all day – the gift shops at Legoland Florida DO NOT ACCEPT the Lego VIP Program!!! All I can say is … WTF?!?!?! The explanation I was given at the register is that technically the park is owned and operated by Merlin Entertainment and not actually Lego, but that’s just retarded. Legoland is the single most iconic representation of the Lego brand outside of the bricks themselves, which we’ve been in awe of all day long, and now you won’t honor a not so great discount system to begin with in the park’s flagship store that sells damn near every single Lego set imaginable?!
It’s a dumb policy and they need to do whatever they have to do to change it. Disney tries to pull the same sort of crap with some of their on-site vendors not participating in certain Disney World programs, and it pisses me off just as much then, too.
Lego is Lego.
VIPs are supposed to be your most valuable customers.
Legoland is supposed to be the premiere destination for Lego enthusiasts (like VIPs).
I seriously shouldn’t have to be connecting the dots like this… 👿
Regardless, it was still a pretty great day and I’m kind of surprised that it took a fan like myself that long to get out there! The figures are amazing and Miniland itself proved to be nothing short of an incredible feat of micro-design! Plus, I love that they’re continuing to expand so rapidly – technically, the water park only opened about a month and a half ago, and the entire park itself last October, not to mention rumors of a Lego-themed resort hotel on the horizon, too. I don’t know if it’s in concern that they need more draw to support the park’s remote location as a viable destination, but whatever gets people in the door. This is a park that up until the summer months was only open 5 days a week, so I sincerely hope that they can improve attendance enough to keep the bills paid because it seems like they’ve got a great concept here, even if some of the rides still need a little polish…
Another random point – I just read a rumor that the future might also hold a Miniland expansion to add a Lego Star Wars area to mimic the one that Legoland California has, which would be pretty freaking sweet!
All in all, it was a good solid day touring Florida’s newest theme park, and I look forward to checking out whatever new things are added as well as sharing my own favorites the next time a fellow Lego fanatic comes to town.
(Want even more photos?! Go check out my entire photo set over at Flickr for 165 pictures of fun!!!)