Legoland Florida confirmed

January 20, 2010, 11:17 AM · Polk County (Florida) tourism officials Merlin Entertainments e-mailed a county commissioner in advance of tomorrow's announcement, confirming that Merlin would convert the old Cypress Gardens amusement park that it bought into a Legoland theme park.

E-mails to public officials in Florida are public records, so The Ledger newspaper in Lakeland (just up the road from Cypress Gardens) got a copy:

Helpful Facts: Confidential until Thursday.

1. LEGOLAND Florida will be the fifth LEGOLAND attraction worldwide (CA, Denmark, England, and Germany).

2. Merlin is the second largest attraction company in the world, second only behind Disney.

3. Merlin's massive research in the area already indicated that; the LEGOLAND brand already has high recognition and a 90% intention to visit by families in their target market.

4. LEGOLAND, CA, is the fastest growing theme park in the U.S., realizing an astounding 6% growth in 2009. The park was also recognized by Amusement Today as the country's best theme park for children for the sixth consecutive year.

5. Check out Merlin's website ( for a broad overview of their operations.

Okay, let's break this down. Will Legoland Florida succeed in a location where so many other park management teams and concepts have failed?

Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.

Update: Reminder to new Theme Park Insider readers that you can visit our Legoland California page to get a feel for what types of attractions might be coming to Legoland Florida.

Update 2, Jan. 21: Live coverage of the press conference, in the comments. Photos to come.

Update 3: Who wins, and who loses, with Legoland in Florida?

Replies (51)

January 20, 2010 at 11:34 AM · This is a FANTASTIC addition! Winter Haven is a PERFECT fit for a Legoland park!
January 20, 2010 at 11:37 AM · I'm voting "success," but with great hesitation. While Carlsbad (Legoland California's location) is situated between the San Diego and Los Angeles/Orange County areas, it is right on Interstate 5, with a beach and outlet mall at the same exit.

Winter Haven is located several miles off Interstate 4, and the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas are nowhere near as large as LA and San Diego.

Only a powerful brand name could pull visitors to this site, which has seen multiple efforts fail in the past.

All that said, Legoland is such a powerful brand. Parents of elementary-aged kids who visit Legoland tend to become fiercely loyal to it. The park does provide a unique experience - one that might pull many visitors down I-4 to try it.

Merlin faces immense design challenges with this site, however. The gardens will have to be retained. Is there enough room for a water park and a SeaLife aquarium and a hotel, as Legoland has or will build in California? Can existing roads and local infrastructure handle the crowds during peak seasons? Will too many people try to visit when the park opens, leaving them with a bad experience and leading to bad worth-of-mouth? (Legoland is not designed to handle well more than 20,000 visitors a day, IMO. That's a *very* light day at the big Disney parks.)

Merlin must overcome the design challenge and open the park in the dead of the offseason (to minimize initial crowds). But I'm betting - again, with hestitation - that it can and Legoland Florida will succeed, though at attendance levels far below other Central Florida theme parks.

January 20, 2010 at 11:41 AM · Doesn't Cypress Gardens already have a water park?

Splash Island.

January 20, 2010 at 11:42 AM · And Mr. Niles, could you explain your statement "The gardens will have to be retained?"
January 20, 2010 at 11:43 AM · I think this will be good for that section of FL - new hotels, restaurants, etc. I've lived in Orlando for 5 years now and never had much desire to check out Cypress, Legoland has a bigger draw for me. At least, I can't see this doing any worse than CG did.
January 20, 2010 at 11:47 AM · I can't imagine Merlin wanting the PR disaster that would come from bulldozing the gardens. (Frankly, I think that an awesome "Enchanted Walk" could be built through that area.)

There's plenty of room on the Cypress Gardens site; the question is positioning the various elements of a Legoland Resort in way that doesn't become a logistical hassle for visitors. I think it can be done, though. I'll be interested to hear what they shoot for as an opening date.

By the way, Central Florida Legoland fans should be sending a huge thank-you to the elected officials in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois who passed on hosting this park in their communities.

January 20, 2010 at 12:04 PM · While I respect Robert's (I think I'm gonna just call him "Robert" from now on) opinion regarding the demolition of the existing gardens, I believe use of the phrase "PR disaster" is a bit of an overstatement. As long as they keep the trees and the natural lakeside setting, I believe Merlin can change the landscaping as they see fit. When he wrote: "The gardens will have to be retained," I thought there was some statutes regarding CG being a historic landmark or something.

That said, as long as Merlin creates a beautiful attraction (which they will) and a business model that does not require annual attendance numbers that must reach eight figures the park should be a great success.

And remember, while the park's location is a bit off of I-4, the exit on Highway 27 sits right in between Sea World and Busch Gardens -- making ticket packages for all the Merlin properties a promising marketing opportunity.

This idea has BIG WIN written all over it.

January 20, 2010 at 12:17 PM · I think the downfall of Cypress Gardens had to do with its location which is why I think Legoland will not do well unless Floridians really want to go.

All the best for Legoland, but its really nowhere near Orlando/Disney/Universal. Then again, Busch Gardens is further so who knows....

As for brand name, I find it hard for it to compete with Disney's and Universal's giant superthemed parks. One advantage in CA is that Universal Studios and Disneyland/DCA is not exactly the largest parks and usually are a side trip on a bigger CA trip. When people go to Orlando, its likely they are going to WDW or USO

Put me down as failure because of it not being that close to Orlando (as much as Disney or Universal)

January 20, 2010 at 12:16 PM · Just a correction: The e-mail to the county commissioner wasn't from Merlin Entertainments.
January 20, 2010 at 12:20 PM · I'm not sure which way this is going to go yet, so I'll refrain from voting.

It's got a lot going against it, especially when it comes to location. Will it prove too far for visitors to the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas to travel? Who knows.

Of course Lego is a huge brand and the name alone will attract guests but if the attendance figures will be enough to make the park economically viable is a different question.

If I was Merlin I'd be seriously considering trying to get Legoland added to the FlexTicket. By doing so guest purchasing the ticket due to the Orlando and Tampa based attraction would be much more inclined to visit Legoland as they've paid for it.

January 20, 2010 at 12:25 PM · Over on the discussion page, Robert estiated that a Legoland park cn welcome about 2 million visitors annually.

If Merlin creates a business model that requires an annual attendance of just 2 million people (about 5,500 a day) ... GAME OVER. It is a success. Period!

And (again) Merlin can package tickets (annual passes, etc.) with Sea World, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, etc.)

January 20, 2010 at 12:31 PM · Great, so instead of never-ever-ever planning on going to Cypress Gardens I'll just plan to never go to Legoland. I'm from south Orlando and even if they included admission on my SeaWorld annual pass at no additional charge I don't think I'd make the drive to see it.

As far as this 30 year old that got over his Lego obsession when he was about 5 goes, call it a fail.

Of course, I may not be their target market . . . although I do have annual passes to just about every park around here.

January 20, 2010 at 12:34 PM · Ironically, I think the biggest danger facing this park is getting too many visitors initially. Overwhelm Legoland with huge crowds and everyone has a bad time, leading to lousy word-of-mouth and poor attendance.

Legoland needs a steady stream of 5,000-15,000 visitors daily, which works very well when you are drawing from a pool of local parents of kids ages 3-11. I have no idea how Legoland would do when it is pulling from a pool of out-of-market visitors. How do they market to that, without drawing too large of a crowd?

Selfishly, I'm hoping that they decide to market through online advertising placed on theme park news and trip planning websites, but that's just my idea of what would work well for them... ;-)

Ultimately, Legoland needs to find a way to hit those numbers. The out-of-the-way placement in Winter Haven might help keep them down in range, but if the numbers fall off too much (and the relatively small local markets don't help), then the park would be in trouble.

January 20, 2010 at 12:41 PM · Legoland Carlsbad is a great park, and is successful even though it is located in an inconvenient place. Part of what has made it a success is their post-opening investment, with multiple gates and resort accommodations. If they do the same thing in Florida, then it's likely they can attract tourists for an overnight stay before or after an Orlando vacation. When you add this potential market to the Orlando/Tampa family market, their prospects for success increase. Merlin has one thing none of the previous owners had: deep pockets.
January 20, 2010 at 2:35 PM · I vote for success, and plan to visit it a few times due to I know they will have to work the bugs out in the beginning. I just hope they do the flex pay since as a Orlando native for over 36 years (top that anyone lol) I've watched all the parks/attractions come(and go). I'm sure Legoland/Merlin knows what it's doing, again being the 2nd largest theme company, it doesn't get there with failed ideas. And honestly it's not that far of a drive, about 40 minutes from Disney. (mapquest if if you don't believe me or drive faster lol)

Besides, we still have Gatorland after all these years and it's not right next door to any of the parks, but yes it's still closer that L.L.C.G. will be.

January 20, 2010 at 3:02 PM · Success, I hope.

Frankly, Orlando needs a child's park. When Frommer's interviewed young children regarding their favorite thing about their Disney vacation, the majority voted in favor of their hotel pool.

Face it - I never see children having as good a time at theme parks as adults. They become overstimulated and overwhelmed, which leads to crankiness, which leads to fights, which leads to unhappy families.

Regardless, Merlin should up their game for the move. I'm talking revolutionary attractions. It can survive in California, sure, but Disney only has two parks there, and the other chains have one. Disney, Universal, and Anheuser-Busch all upped their game when they moved to Orlando.

January 20, 2010 at 3:29 PM · there is no way that legoland florida makes it more than 5 years after it opens. The location is horrendous, and there will not be enough appeal for tourist with older kids. Tourist are already forking over a G just to go and stay at disney for a couple days, they are not going to drive 20 mins to an inferior childrens park no matter what its called. The few people who do go will only go once, and without local repeat business i dont see the park making to much money.
January 20, 2010 at 3:33 PM · While Cypress Gardens' location was a big factor in its downfall, Cypress Gardens didn't have the brand name recognition of Legoland. And with Legoland's smaller park capacity, this is a great location for them. If you put Legoland right in the middle of Theme Park alley, a LOT more people would go. More people than the park could possibly handle. A small park like Legoland needs to be more out of the way, and I think they've found the perfect location. they've seen the property, so they know it will fit what they need. It'll do just fine.
January 20, 2010 at 3:38 PM · Sweet Deal! And Im sure it will be a hit!...I ve always been a fan of this place. And have stated a few times it can work. As for the Gardens sorry all they need to stay as is the registered as a Historic land mark. I also think the Satrliner and Triple hurricane will remain as well. One being a clasic Robert Allen. And the other fairly new. And I dont think Merlin would waste thier money to bulldoze them. Just give them a lego Theme and let the guest enjoy.
January 20, 2010 at 4:08 PM · With all due respect, Mr. Luis Gonzalez ... Worst ... post ... EVER!
January 20, 2010 at 5:13 PM · I say "fail." What's the first rule of real estate? Location, location, location. Cypress Gardens learned this the hard way -- the site is just too far off the beaten path.
January 20, 2010 at 5:26 PM · I vote success, but sadly I fear my boys will be "too cool" for Legoland by the time it is built. However, I am setting such a great example of being a kid for life that "too cool" may never come. =)
January 20, 2010 at 5:42 PM · Cypress Gardens was by no means a failure. It lasted many decades. It was at one time a destination park in itself. I believe Legoland will rely heavily on season passes and do quite well in that area as did Cypress for years. And a Legoland theme park should do a better job of selling season passes then Cypress ever did. I don't know the answer to this question, maybe Mr. Niles would know? What percentage of Disney vacationers stay on property versus off, mainly the area around the original entrance off 192 and south toward 27? From that side of the Disney property it is not that far of a ride. I believe many off property guest will make the trip for a day at Legoland. It's the crowd on the Universal side of Disney that may hesitate to make that trip. The addition of Legoland may also help those hotels along 192 attract visitors that want to go to Legoland during their Disney trip because of its proximity to Legoland? To take it one step further, maybe Legoland takes one of the many run down pieces of property in the area right outside the Disney Main gate? They would win all around. They could shuttle the guest to Legoland. I would venture to guess that a Lego themed hotel just outside Disney would have one of the highest occupancy rates.
January 20, 2010 at 5:48 PM · Cypress Gardens has been in business since the 1930's and while is true that the park has gone through different ownerships since mid 80's, I have noted that the problem is not about the distance between Disney World and Cypress Gardens. Is just the lack of interest from the prior owners to give the park a good promotion effort like other smaller parks like Gatorland, which to this day remains open, despite the low attendance compared to big theme parks like Universal and Disney. Another thing is that because the new Legoland will be managed by Merlin, who also has other powerful attractions in Europe and the US, most likely will start driving a massive advertisement campaign which will involve the use of siblings Universal Orlando and Sea World all together. Those of you that say that Legoland will not survive in Florida, need to have a read in the next 2 or 3 years to see if I was right or wrong about it.
January 20, 2010 at 6:01 PM · To TH Creative, part of the deal with the state of florida and polk county to help buy the original gardens back from a developer who was going to build condos on it was that the gardens had to stay in the original form that they are in and cannot be changed without state approval.I think the park can be a success if it is developed and built as a one of a kind park for florida. Merlin entertainment has deep pockets and can advertise very well. The park will be designed to appeal to younger kids and people who cannot afford $75-$80 tickets like the orlando parks charge. The other park owners did not have deep pockets and they could not advertise as well as needed. I know i will support it.
January 20, 2010 at 6:12 PM · Four solid reasons it will succeed.

(1) Merlin Entertainment. They run successful attractions all over the world. They KNOW how to run a park -- including multiple (successful) Legoland franchises as well as theme parks in Orlando. They KNOW the market and the product.

(2) The Legoland business model (as Robert [I almost wrote "Mr. Niles"] has reported [on multiple occasions]) does not require annual attendance numbers that reach a zillion-billion-kajillion people. They don't need Disney numbers to be a success.

(3) Bundling ticket promotions. Merlin's parent company also owns Aquatica, Sea World Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa. They will create multi-park passes -- including annual passes -- that combine admissions to all three parks. They will maximize their marketing buck by promoting all three parks in advertisements. They already do this for Busch Gardens and Sea World.

(4) The Lego brand is recognized internationally. While Cypress Gardens is a theme park classic, it never, never, never had the name recognition with families that Lego has.

January 20, 2010 at 7:00 PM · An anonymous poster writes: "To TH Creative, part of the deal with the state of florida and polk county to help buy the original gardens back from a developer who was going to build condos on it was that the gardens had to stay in the original form that they are in and cannot be changed without state approval."

I Respond: Yeah, well considering that Governor Crist will be attending tomorrow's announcement, I would say that such considerations will be (or already have been) "worked out."

January 20, 2010 at 7:29 PM · A good product will be found by the people. It doesn't really matter if Legoland isn't in a place like Orlando. As long as they spend the money to make it high quality and market it well, Legoland will be just fine. If they can make it fly in Carlsbad, they can make it work in Winter Haven. All the sudden there's a little competition for the young children in Florida.
January 20, 2010 at 7:44 PM · I can not stress this enough. It is going to definetly fail. THis is because you have disney already and it can be somtimes to close to california. You need one on the eastcoast like newyofk. THey want to redevelope coneyisland so put one down on the old Astroland site this would be a great money maker
January 20, 2010 at 8:31 PM · Start spreading the news,
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it -
newyofk, newyofk
January 20, 2010 at 8:54 PM · ^^ROFLMAO!

Joshua, sometimes you really are my hero! =)

January 20, 2010 at 8:55 PM · I like TH's reasons, but the main question is: Will folks come out?

I feel FL is a different environment than CA. In CA, most of the parks are more of a Day trip with Disneyland being sorta two. Sure you go to Disneyland, but you are likely to see the Chinese Theater, Universal Studios, maybe catch a live show, etc.

In FL, if you are going to Disney, you are doing everything at Disney for the most part.

Lego is very popular brand, but will that be enough?

January 20, 2010 at 9:38 PM · I think it will be a success. They have been looking into another park in the U.S. for a while (Missouri & Kansas area) and have done their research. Combining a classic themed area with all that the Lego brand offers (and has done well with) has to be successful. They have continued to add greatly in Carlsbad with the most incredible aquarium I have ever seen and are adding a water park now, too.
Our family will go as a part of a trip to Orlando!
January 20, 2010 at 9:56 PM · NEWWWW YOFFFFFK!

Intelligent analysis often comes with halfway decent spelling my friend. On the other hand, your idea about Legoland putting down at Coney Island isn't half bad. In theory it could be a success because it's New York City and there's only one decent amusement park (Rye Playland) around. In reality, the Coney Island redevelopment site is only about 15 acres and is tied up in city politics, land leases, historic landmarks, and disgruntled landowners/developers/citizens. They're better off at the Cypress Gardens site.

The issue with Cypress Gardens was that it was a small amusement park in a giant theme park market. There simply wasn't enough there to compete with the big guys. Legoland is not Cypress Gardens. Will it draw tourists from around the world like Disney? Probably not. Will it lure tourists away from the beach or their Disney shanty for the day? On some level it will. Will it draw Florida residents and the regional market? Absolutely. I see locals passing up Disney and it's crowds and cost in favor of something new for the kids, and then I see them coming back.

January 21, 2010 at 4:54 AM · The naysayers acting as armchair-quarterbacks on this thread seem to be ignoring some salient facts.

They ignore this point made in the email that broke the story: "LEGOLAND, CA, is the fastest growing theme park in the U.S., realizing an astounding 6% growth in 2009. The park was also recognized by Amusement Today as the country's best theme park for children for the sixth consecutive year." The product sells.

They ignore the fact that the Legoland business model does not require the parks to garner thermonuclear attendance numbers (a la Disney and Universal) -- a fact which causes no less a source than Robert Niles to write: "Ironically, I think the biggest danger facing this park is getting too many visitors initially."

They ignore the symbiotic relationship the park will have with Sea World, Aquatica and Busch Gardens -- creating opportunities for bundled ticket media and marketing campaigns.

But even more significant than these considerations they ignore the experience of Merlin Entertainments -- who operate more than 50 attractions worldwide. To imply that they have not sussed out the impact of competing attractions and/or the park's location off of I-4 just seems naive.

January 21, 2010 at 7:08 AM · Not that I have any faith that they WON'T do this, they'll need good sign-age and advertising ON I-4 in order for people to find it. I drive I-4 weekly between Orlando and Tampa and not ONCE have I seen a sign for an exit to Cypress Gardens (even when it was open).

I also think it will be a bigger hit with FL residents in the region. I hear more griping about Disney from locals, and I think they'll be happy to have a 'new' park to go to. I welcome another venue for some thrill rides, too.

(This coming from someone who has never visited a Legoland park....)

January 21, 2010 at 7:12 AM · Hi my name is Nick,

In response to TH Creative

"1) Merlin Entertainment. They run successful attractions all over the world. They KNOW how to run a park -- including multiple (successful) Legoland franchises as well as theme parks in Orlando. They KNOW the market and the product."

Um... what theme park does Merlin operate in Orlando?

I would also like to point out that you (TH) are making one VERY big assumption that simply because Blackstone owns the SeaWorld parks, and a majority of Merlin that the two will run in conjunction. I admit there is a possibility (mostly in the Flex Ticket) but beyond that I think it is unlikely.

AND just because Mr. Gonzales does not agree with your opinion does not make their post the worst ever! Simmer down and stop being such a bully!

That drive to Winter Haven is terrible terrible terrible! I think the park might do ok for a while, but without a better (faster) road system the longevity of the park is questionable.

January 21, 2010 at 7:34 AM · I think this park will succeed mainly because of Merlin. They already know the industry and know how to run a successful park. I doubt Merlin would be taking a risk like this without extensive market research. Their money supply also isn't about to dry up. This isn't Hard Rock.
January 21, 2010 at 8:28 AM · I've already said it will be a success prior and people will go. I'm a local and we will have passes like we do with all the other parks. It just gives me one more option for a park to do when I(we) want to go to one. And for all those that say fail, why not look again at the voting, as you can see over 70% are behind it.
January 21, 2010 at 8:49 AM · Not sure if it will be a success or a failure. One thing I do know is that out of all the times (40ish) we have driven North to Disney and Universal not once did we stop at Cypress Gardens. I'm not sure I really ever understood what it was exactly. Nonetheless we will definetely try Legoland because it will be new and something completely different.
January 21, 2010 at 8:59 AM · My family and I flew specifically to California to visit legoland, because both of my kids wanted to go. The rest of CA, Hollywood etc was merely an added attraction. I have to believe that there are more people like us out there who will fly the 2.5 hours to Central florida and drive the 45 minutes to get to Legoland, FL. Its a combined 3.5 hour trip for northeasters vs flying clear across the country then driving to Legoland in Carlsbad.
January 21, 2010 at 9:59 AM · Park announcement on right now local news station in Orlando (News 13) They stated they plan to have it open by end of 2011 and WILL put lots of $$$$ into this park. Also stated by Nick Varney, CEO, that they believe this will be the best Legoland and largest.
January 21, 2010 at 10:12 AM · Orlando SentineL: Central Florida will be home to the world's largest Legoland by the end of 2011, Merlin Entertainments said Thursday.

The park, which is planned for the former site of the historic Cypress Gardens, is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs. The historical gardens will stay intact, according to Nick Varney, Merlin's chief executive officer.

Varney announced the details of Florida's newest theme park at a news conference attended by government and tourism officials, including Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Varney kicked off the event by calling Legoland Florida's "worst-kept secret," referring to the fact that details of today's announcement leaked out Wednesday, after an email surfaced confirming that it was indeed Legoland that was coming to Polk County.

January 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM · The sweetest four words of the report: "More than 1,000 jobs."
January 21, 2010 at 10:22 AM · TH already touched on what I forgot 1000 jobs. In the start of the annoucement was Varney used Walt Disney in his speach. How Disney started with a mouse, Legoland started with a single lego. I personally liked that touch, and they really did from the speach do their homework for Legoland Florida. Can't wait til 2011 to see what all they have planned.
January 21, 2010 at 10:52 AM · Robert Niles is looking AWFULLY GOOD giving some face time to Central Florida 13.
January 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM · I would make the effort to travel there and I am sure many other people would. Despite being difficult to get to I am sure that Transportation companies would provide transport there if it proved popular enough, which I think it would
January 21, 2010 at 1:09 PM · As someone who lives in Norway, my family and I have discussed plans of making the trip to Denmark just for Legoland(The Original). However, we do frequent Orlando often and would happily make the trip out there as long as they had good hotels (hopefully themed) in the area. Polk may not be "an attractive area" NOW, but Legoland has the power to turn it into some place worth the time. It will not be any competition to Orlando, rather it will make the trip to that area of Fl more worth it. Congrats to FL!
January 21, 2010 at 5:16 PM · worst comment ever!!!!!!!!!! LOL

I live in miami,fl. I've been to orlando an average of 3 time a year for 20 years. I'm going to try the park atleast once, but i just dont see young adults and old people going to the best CHILDRENS theme park more than once or twice. I agree that it has alot going for it in terms of leadership and expectations being low; and maybe 5 years is underestimating, but i have seen so much fail in the kissimmee area that it makes me a little weary for legoland's future.

side note- what will happen to the lego store at downtown disney?

R.I.P (splendid china, holyland)


January 22, 2010 at 6:46 AM · As a Florida mother of three boys, we have often talked about flying to California just for Lego Land. We are excited to have it in our "back yard" just 2 hours away. Have you ever been to the Lego Store in downtown Disney? Even in the off season, it is a complete mad house crawling with both children and adults who love the Lego brand. I think the park will be a success drawing crowds of people who love Legos to an area that is just enough off the beaten path to be enjoyable and relaxing.
January 22, 2010 at 10:36 AM · Let's see here. Legoland is going to lure people from Orlando, where they already have a half-dozen fabulous Disney and Universal Parks, to the middle of nowhere to a park that appeals mostly to boys 10 years old and under? Hmmm, let me think for a know, I believe I'm going to have to predict it fails.

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