LEGOLAND Florida held its official grand opening over the weekend, making it Central Florida’s newest theme park. Located in Winter Haven, around an hour’s drive away from the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, LEGOLAND Florida has embraced the history of the former Cypress Gardens park and combined its natural beauty and landscaped elegance with the familiar vibrant colors and interactivity that LEGO is known for worldwide. It’s a park that’s created specifically for kids, but a surprisingly large amount of what’s featured at LEGOLAND Florida can be enjoyed by adults too – particularly those who are LEGO fans.
The opening of LEGOLAND Florida took place over two days, beginning with an opening ceremony and park-wide preview for the press on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, followed the next day by the official public grand opening on the morning of Oct. 15.
We attended both ceremonies and spent two full days inside the new LEGOLAND Florida theme park, experiencing and capturing all of the best and most exciting aspects – as well as a few not-quite-ready-for-primetime elements. In the coming days, we’ll be bringing you highlights featuring the best of the best of the park, including hundreds of photos, plenty of video, and reviews of the rides, shows, and food along with tips for best taking it all in.
But today we start with the opening ceremonies themselves, first from Friday featuring remarks from LEGOLAND Florida General Manager Adrian Jones and CEO of Merlin Entertainments Group Nick Varney, as well as the ceremonial placing of the golden brick – the final piece to the giant puzzle that is LEGOLAND Florida.
Video: Highlights of the LEGOLAND Florida opening ceremony for the media
The most noteworthy statement made during the LEGOLAND Florida opening delivered to the press was that there are plans to transform the single-day park into a multi-day resort destination, with the announcement of a LEGOLAND Florida water park and hotel to be built in the coming years, along with new rides being added to the current park. So while LEGOLAND Florida has just opened, there is already more LEGO fun to look forward to.
Shortly after that opening ceremony, I chatted with lead LEGOLAND Florida designer Bill Vollbrecht about what it took to create the new park in the exiting Cypress Gardens space, as well as how they have differentiated it from the many other theme parks in Central Florida.
Video: Interview with LEGOLAND Florida designer Bill Vollbrecht
Vollbrecht mentioned that LEGOLAND Florida is different than every other theme park experience in the area simply by staying true to its brand: LEGO. With decades of history, just about everyone knows what LEGO is all about the park pulls together the best and most impressive LEGO creations around.
Later in the day, I talked with Chairman and CEO of Sally Corporation John Wood about the Lost Kingdom dark ride the Jacksonville company has created for LEGOLAND Florida.
Video: Chairman and CEO of Sally Corporation John Wood discusses the Lost Kingdom ride
Lost Kingdom is definitely a highlight amongst all of the rides offered at LEGOLAND Florida and the closest offering to the type of ride guests are accustomed to when visiting Orlando’s theme parks. We’ll have more from this ride later this week as we explore LEGOLAND Florida even deeper.
While the streets of LEGOLAND Florida were rather empty during the limited-access media preview day, thousands showed up first thing in the morning for the official grand opening the next day. While the new park may not have drawn anywhere near the size of the crowd that the opening of Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter did when it opened last year, it was an impressive sight to see thousands of excited faces for the opening moment and throughout the day, enjoying the new entertainment now brought to the area.
Video: LEGOLAND Florida official grand opening on Oct. 15, 2011
With seemingly endless confetti in the air and music blasting, the thousands outside poured into the park, ready to experience the new rides, shows, and interactive attractions that make up LEGOLAND Florida.
But is the park a success? Is the LEGO brand strong enough to draw the visitors the park needs to stick around and expand as planned? Does its unique theme and kid-targeted entertainment set it apart from the rest? Or will its distant location from Orlando’s popular parks prevent it from taking hold? We’ll explore these topics and more in our ongoing coverage of LEGOLAND Florida, so keep checking back in the coming days to see it all and get a feel for what the park is truly like.
In the meantime, here’s just a “small” sampling of what’s to come throughout this week:
(Photos by Ricky Brigante, Darcie Vance, and Michael Gavin)