Legoland Florida unites past and present as it reopens iconic areas of Cypress Gardens
Published: March 8, 2014 at 11:52 AM
I remember visiting Cypress Gardens when I was very young. My Dad's brother and his family would come down from Ohio, and Cypress Gardens was always a place we would visit while they were here. It is about an hour's drive to the Winter Haven location, so I have to admit (other than maybe a couple of school field trips with my boys) I haven't been back much since. My Dad and my uncle are both in heaven now, and I have to wonder if they were watching on this special day, when I actually got to go back to some of those historic spots in the park that people have not been able access for so long. My Dad and my uncle loved this place, and I know they still would.
Reuniting the past and present, the park plans to bring more Lego bricks inside the gardens to make them a little more accessible to families.
"What makes Legoland Florida different than other Legoland parks is the fact that it is built in Cypress Gardens," Legoland general manager Adrian Jones said. "Cypress Gardens is still a brand that exists within the center and is almost the heartbeat of Legoland. It makes it different; it gives us a different edge, and it also makes it probably the most beautiful Legoland park in the world." The Florida-shaped pool and Oriental Gardens have been cut off to the public since the park opened in 2011, but park officials always planned to open them, Jones said.
First, they had to repair the iconic Florida Pool, built as a set for the 1953 Esther Williams movie "Easy to Love."
The tile that once surrounded the Florida-shaped pool (that juts out into Lake Eloise) has been replaced with mulch and light-blue cement. It was filled Wednesday with nearly 10,000 large Lego bricks and surrounded by oranges as an homage to Cypress Gardens' founder, Dick Pope Sr.
In yet another great way to reunite the past and present, the classic Cypress Gardens "Southern Belles" were on hand for the ceremony.
Even when the actual Southern Belles aren't there to visit with guests in person, their Lego counterparts will be there to smile and pose for pictures at all times.
The other iconic area that reopened was The Oriental Gardens. The Oriental Gardens look just as pristine as the rest of the 30-acre botanical gardens. The peacefulness and quiet of this place was something I did not appreciate as a child, but now, I finally get it. You can't help but become a little reflective listening to the gentle water fountains. I found myself speaking very softly to the people around me. You just feel like you should whisper to each other when you are in a place like this.
The garden could also play a key role as Legoland tries to position itself as a multi-day resort instead of a one-day attraction. The gardens could be opened to guests of the planned lakeside Legoland Hotel. Jones said the park is "full steam ahead" on building the four-story, 152-room Legoland Hotel after the final permits were approved Tuesday.
Bob Gernert, namesake for the Bob Gernert Jr. Museum of Winter Haven History and recently retired executive director of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce was also on had for the ribbon cutting. As part of the chamber, he played a significant role in urging the state to buy the botanical gardens.
Legoland has become a great steward of the state-owned land under consideration to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. Gernert said "Legoland, just by the fact that they take such good care of the park, have really nurtured and maintained this treasure."
"I have never walked into the gardens in the last 2-1/2 years that they weren't perfectly manicured, trimmed, and taken care of," he said. "I think the most exciting thing about this for me is the fact that it makes this park whole again. Now, there's no area left in the garden that is not accessible to the public."
In a very sweet gesture, Legoland created Bob's dream car out of Legos, complete with Bob and his bride nestled inside. Bob would later place the car in any place of his choosing inside Lego City. I heard that they made Bob and extra car to keep in his own home as well, and that they would be surprising him with that news later.
Cypress Gardens brought Esther Williams and Johnny Carson to Winter Haven, where they ate at Christy's Sundown and put the city on the map. Countless teenagers worked there as skiers and Southern Belles. Those teenagers are now parents and grandparents who are all undoubtedly enjoying Legoland together. To me that is really what reuniting the past and present is all about - and Legoland has accomplished this in spades.