A Californian's Florida Adventure - Part 7

Edited: December 3, 2017, 4:50 PM

If you missed last week's report, click here to read about my day at the Magic Kingdom.

Sunday, October 1st marked the one week point in this trip. While several days still remained, it was at this point that exhaustion began to catch up to us. After all, we'd just done two consecutive 16 hour days, with 12 hour days preceding those. Sunday was to be the longest day of the trip...18 hours at the park. However, we opted to make it a late start, a decision with some notable pros and cons.

After four days at Walt Disney World and a day at Busch Gardens Tampa, it was time to move over to Florida's remaining destination parks...the Universal Orlando Resort. While I did pop in for a brief visit after Aquatica, this was to be our full day to enjoy both Universal Orlando parks to the fullest. In addition, we would be attending Halloween Horror Nights in the evening, an event that rivals Knott's Scary Farm as the best in the industry. Other than visiting the Magic Kingdom, this would likely be the highlight of the trip.

It also will not be the subject of this week's report.

Instead, let us jump ahead to Monday, the rest and recovery day of the trip. Of course, we still did a park on this day, but the goal was to take it easy after three insane days in a row.

Part 7 - The Lands of Florida

Florida is home to a total of nine major theme parks. Four of these comprise the Walt Disney World resort, and it would be very difficult to find someone who has done a significant vacation to Central Florida (aka longer than a weekend trip) and not set foot in at least one of these parks. Two of the parks make up Universal Orlando Resort, the cross town rival to Disney, where visitors can get a similar experience with a skew toward thrill rides and high-tech modern IP attractions. The seventh is SeaWorld Orlando, a park that once led the industry and has now fallen so far behind it may never catch up. The eighth is Busch Gardens Tampa, a park somewhat removed from Orlando that offers the best collection of roller coasters in the region. The ninth and final park isn't even in the same league as these, with a much narrower demographic and somewhat different target audience. In fact, most enthusiasts who visit Florida don't even consider it on their trip. But does that mean it isn't worth a visit?

Legoland Florida


Legoland California opened when I was 8 years old, and while trip to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm were more frequent, Legoland is a park I grew up with. Up until the mid-2000s (the point at which the youngest of my siblings began to age out of the park), we visited a couple times per year. Even after that, I still try to visit the park once every few years, as I find it a very unique park that is unlike anything else I've seen. My most recent visit was in 2013, and there's a fair chance I may try to visit again next year.

As a result, Legoland Florida was of more interest to me than one would expect, mainly for the chance to compare it with the Legoland I knew. Unlike California's park, Legoland Florida is not organically Lego...it began life way back in 1936 as Cypress Gardens. Back then, it was primarily a botanical garden, with very little that would be considered typical of an amusement park. Over the years, the park changed hands several times until it closed due to low attendance in 2003. The next year, Cypress Gardens was reborn as Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, with a sizable collection of new mechanical rides. The park was a failure, and closed its gates following the 2009 season. For a brief period, the fate of the park was uncertain. However, Merlin Entertainment ended up purchasing the property, and it was reborn as Legoland Florida in the fall of 2011. About half the rides were kept (though all were given a Lego overlay), and a collection of Legoland staples were added to the park. Since then, the park has seen occasional growth, but attendance has not been quite as high as would be expected for a park of this caliber.

Despite my interest in visiting, however, Legoland Florida wasn't added until the last minute. The park is not cheap, and unlike a Disney park there really isn't much appeal for adults. However, as it was included in the Go Orlando card and Evan had never been there, we decided to add it to the trip instead of another waterpark day (especially given the issues plaguing Volcano Bay).

Legoland Florida's problems become evident before you even reach the park. Unlike everything else in Florida, the park is nowhere near I-4. Instead, it requires a long drive on a US highway full of stoplights. From Andrew's house, the drive was less than 30 miles, but it took us about an hour to reach the park. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a sparsely populated parking lot that was about 80% SUVs. Yep, we're in the right place.


In California, everything inside is meant to resemble a construction made out of Legos. In Florida, however, it is obvious the park wasn't always a Legoland park. Most of the buildings from the old park are more or less the same, and while Lego models can be found scattered about it feels more like an overlay than an infusion during the design of the park.


Also, unlike most major theme parks, this one follows a linear layout. The main part of the park is a stretched oval, with dead-end areas branching off from both sides. We did wind up making a few wrong turns while exploring the park, and despite the relatively small size of the park it required a fair bit of walking.


Our first stop of the day was the Dragon, a medieval-themed junior coaster. This ride begins with a dark ride section through a castle, where Lego-matronic characters engage in all sorts of playful shenanigans. After this, riders encounter a giant Lego dragon guarding its treasure hoard. They are rescued by Merlin, who sends them on a flight outside the castle. For a junior coaster, this one is pretty decent, with a good length and just the right amount of thrills. I do prefer California's incarnation by a hair due to the setting (on top of a hill rather than on open pavement), but the ride was still quite fun. It's also the most popular of the park's four roller coasters.


Next up, we headed to the Land of Adventure for the Lost Kingdom Adventure, a Sally Corp. shooting dark ride. While I enjoy this one in California, it's never been one of my favorites as the guns are difficult to use. Fortunately, the Florida version was reworked a bit, making it much easier to score points and redoing some scenes so that the ride flows better. In fact, this is probably my favorite attraction at Legoland Florida, and is the only one I kind of wanted to re-ride (we ended up not doing so).


Next door is the park's next coaster, Coastersaurus. Built by Martin & Vleminckx, this is a junior wood coaster that actually packs a bit of a punch. While there's nothing extreme on the ride, it does feature floater airtime over a majority of the hills, and it is tall enough to have a decent first drop. Despite a semi-rough ride, this was the best of the park's four coasters.


Tucked behind Coastersaurus is Lego Ninjago World, a nicely themed section of the park housing their newest ride.


Dubbed simply Ninjago: The Ride, this is an interactive attraction similar to Voyage to the Iron Reef. However, one major thing sets this ride apart...riders shoot using hand motions rather than guns. It is a creative ride, notably better than Iron Reef, but there is a huge learning curve to the aiming system and this one wears you out a bit too much to be re-rideable. Still, it is a perfect attraction for this park, and a much needed ride given the lack of other dark ride-esque attractions (such as California's Fairy Tale Brook).


At the back of Legoland Florida lies Lego City, an urban area similar to California's Fun Town, but lacking a lot of the creativity. Here, Legoland's staple attractions such as


Driving School,


Boating School, and


the Rescue Academy can be found.


All of these are a ton of fun, but our training of choice was Flying School, a suspended family coaster that never made its way west.


After riding, I can see why...this just isn't a very good ride. Not only does it have the highest height restriction in the park (44"), it also is a rough and uncomfortable ride with fewer thrills than Dragon. This coaster was a leftover from the Cypress Gardens days (along with Coastersaurus), but unlike the latter this one should have been replaced with something better. Plus, it is tucked way at the end of a dead-end path, making it a little bit of a trek to access.


Following Flying School, only one coaster remained, so we made our way to the ride known as Project X or, more commonly, Lego Technic Test Track.


A wild mouse coaster, this is by far the largest and most extreme at the park, though still friendly for all but the youngest members of the family. Though lacking the theming found in California, this version gives a slightly better ride with less braking. It's not as good as Coastersaurus, but is still a fun family coaster. I am very curious to see how the VR transformation into The Great Lego Race is received, as this doesn't seem like a ride that lends itself well to that technology.


With the four coasters and two dark rides done, there was very little else that appealed to us ride-wise at the park. However, Legoland is about more than just the rides.


Unfortunately, this park had been hit by Hurricane Irma, so the Cypress Gardens section of the park was closed off. From what little we could see, it looked like a really nice area, but it will have to wait for a future visit should I ever return.


That left Miniland as the main area to explore. For those unfamiliar, Miniland is a collection of Lego reproductions of famous locations around the world. Many of the models contain moving and/or interactive elements, and all are extremely well done. I'll let the pictures do the talking here.







There's also a Star Wars Miniland with Lego recreations from the Lucas-era films.



And with that, we headed out. In total, I think we spent less than three hours at Legoland Florida. It just isn't a place meant for adults, and unlike Legoland California, the park just doesn't have the right atmosphere. Like I mentioned before, it feels more like a generic regional park with a Lego overlay rather than an organic Legoland.


That said, I would not say Legoland Florida is bad by any means, or recommend against visiting if you have kids in the 4-10 age group. The park is designed for kids, with plenty of interactive elements and creative queue setups to let kids play while their parents wait (if there is a wait...we rarely saw any).


Additionally, the park is operated very well and is a beautiful place to hang out if you like nature and the Cypress Gardens are open. It is a hassle to get to the park, and it isn't cheap despite the limited offerings compared to Disney or Universal, but if you've got a ticket that includes the park or you just need a break from bigger, more crowded parks, I highly recommend it.


With the better part of a day remaining, Evan and I chose to venture to another secondary theme park in the area. As it turned out, in this case theme park meant tourist trap, but it was a more entertaining tourist trap than I think either of us expected.



Gatorland is a zoo/theme park/wildlife preserve showcasing thousands of alligators and crocodiles (along with a few other animals).


Billed as the "Alligator Capital of the World," the park consists of a series of boardwalks over marshland crawling with gators. Some of those housed here are rescued nuisance gators, while others are simply here naturally.


They've also got a few leucistic alligators.

Humorous signs warn visitors not to join the gators as, after all, "trespassers will be eaten."



I'm not joking, it's in the park rules.


Also, don't pester the wildlife.

For those wondering, Gatorland does feature a couple of amusement rides. A miniature railroad surrounds a portion of the park, and an upcharge zipline allows riders to soar above the gator ponds. However, neither of these are main draws of the park. Instead, for those who want to do more than observe the hoards of gators, two live shows play several times each day.


First up is the Gator Wrestlin' show. Just as the name implies, this consists of an expert handler wrangling a gator and showing it off to the audience.


It's in interesting show with a lot more demonstration than action, but unlike a theme park stunt show this one is real. For those who want in on the action, the park offers Rookie Wrestling after the show, where guests can pose for a picture with a gator.


The more popular show at Gatorland is the Gator Jumparoo. This one is framed as a competition between two candidates applying for a job as a gator trainer, with the position going to whoever can feed the most gators.


At first, the show is simply tossing chicken into the water, but it quickly progresses to the main event, where chicken is suspended above the lake for gators to jump to. It's an amusing show with plenty of action, though it is basically one trick repeated over and over.


On the whole, I wouldn't say that Gatorland is worth a special trip just to visit, especially not at the expense of the theme parks. However, if you're somewhat nearby it is a great half-day diversion to do something different without spending a ton of money (it'd be a great option for the morning of departure day if you've got a late flight). The place is small, but there's enough to fill three hours or so, particularly if you like alligators.


After Gatorland closed at 5 P.M., we headed back to Andrew's house for an early retirement. After all, this day followed up three long days, and the following day would be yet another long one.

To see the full collection of photos from these parks, click here.

Replies (6)

December 3, 2017, 5:00 PM

Nice report. Sad to see Legoland FL isn't quite there yet. This wouldn't be the first park "rescue" by Merlin (Legoland Windsor was once a Lion Safari Park... If you want to "experience" it you can by watching the (Cringeworthy) film adaptation of the British TV series "On the busses".

December 3, 2017, 6:34 PM

The original Cypress Gardens was always a nice relaxing place to visit, but on the way out there it was great to drop into Boardwalk & Baseball for a roller coaster ride or two. Then one time we went back ... and B&B was no more. Finding it gone, was one of the few low points of our many holidays to the sunshine state. We can get into Gatorland for next to nothing this time of year, but I see enough gators when I’m out fishing .... !! although it still sounds like the good old gatorland it always used to be ... :)

December 4, 2017, 6:40 AM

Don’t forget the waterski show at legoland. Seeing all the legos on skis is a lot of fun.

Edited: December 7, 2017, 9:23 AM

I had never been to any Legoland park, so had no experience to base my expectations on prior to our visit in October. I had been to Cyprus Gardens when I was a kid, and was a bit disappointed to find that part of the park closed during our visit because of Irma. However, I really enjoyed the aforementioned water ski show not only as a solid 30-minute show, but as an homage to the tradition of the original park.

I understand your criticism of the park in terms of overall theme (older buildings converted instead of designed from the ground up with a Lego-look), but I was not bothered with it. I actually liked all the Lego figures everywhere, including in unexpected places like in gift shops, rooftops, and landscaped areas. When we visited (on a Monday), the park was very quiet, and even though we didn't wait more than 15 minutes for any one ride (The Dragon had the longest line of the day), there was plenty to do, and our 7-year old son had a blast. The overall elongated layout of the park was pretty annoying, but I was more frustrated with all the dead ends. Even the new Ninjago section created yet another dead end at the attraction. I guess that's what happens when you're working off a previously built-up layout that's up against a body of water, but new attractions could have been better positioned in the park without all of the nooks and crannies and dead ends.

I agree that this really isn't a park for adults, and targets a pretty specific age group (5-12) that will always limit the audience and overall growth of the park. However, my wife and I had a lot of fun even when we let our son wander off on his own for a few minutes. Miniland by itself could take over an hour if you take the time to observe the intricate details of the sets. Another attraction that wasn't mentioned was the Mindstorm classes that kids can sign up for in the Imagination Zone. My son did one, and had a lot of fun building and programming a drumming monkey - the CM leading the class stayed in character the entire time, and was overall a really cool experience.

December 13, 2017, 7:45 AM

Great report AJ. Gave me a solid idea of what Legoland Florida has to offer. We Have considered taking the 8 yr old grandson there on our next Orlando trip. But based on your report, I almost feel he has "outgrown" this park. Especially when considering the hassle factor of going there vs. Busch Gardens (he is quite a coaster fan so that seems to be a better choice). Enjoyed your other reports in this series also.

December 14, 2017, 10:36 PM

Chad, for someone who hasn't been to a Legoland park before, I've got a feeling Legoland Florida is more than sufficient. For someone who has visited a proper Legoland, however, it is a bit lacking. I also wasn't aware that Legoland Windsor was something different before...I'll have to check that out.

Tracy, sadly I didn't have time to see either the waterski show or the 4D movie. If I go back, I'll make sure to fit these in as both are said to be very good.

Russell, I think visiting as a parent would give a lot more appreciation to the park. It is definitely a great park for kids in elementary school (and those traveling with them), and in some ways it can be better than Disney for that age group. I agree about all the dead ends...we actually ended up getting lost at one point due to them. I also remember doing the Mindstorm attraction at Legoland California when I was a kid. It is an extremely fun attraction, and something you can't find at any other theme park.

Ed, 8 is probably on the bubble for the park. I think your grandson would enjoy the park (particularly if he is a Lego fan), but if he needs thrill rides to be excited it may not be the best choice. Be sure to check his height before going for Busch Gardens, however...if he's not 54", he'll be unable to ride many of the top coasters.

Lastly, apologies for delays in the continuation of this report. Part 8 is going to be very long, and holiday plans have slowed progress somewhat. Look for part 8 sometime next week, and the final part (which will combine parts 9 and 10 into one) the week after.

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