grand opening of The Lego Movie World last week, I took some time to wander around Legoland Florida — a park I hadn't visited before.Before the press events kicked off for the
Well, not as Legoland Florida. When I was a kid, I'd visited the park's predecessor, Cypress Gardens. Along with Silver Springs, Weeki Wachee, and Sunken Gardens, Cypress Gardens was one of Central Florida's legendary roadside attractions. Unfortunately, the roads they stood beside turned not to be important ones, not once Interstates 4 and 75 pulled all the snowbirds away.
Like a real-life Radiator Springs, Cypress Gardens lost the attention of many Florida visitors. For a while, it was part of the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens family, which helped boost attendance as the park become a "throw in" on SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa annual passes. (And APs for the late Circus World/Boardwalk and Baseball, too.) But SeaWorld parent Anheuser-Busch sold the park and by 2003, it was closed.
A new owner the next year installed a slew of amusement rides, but the park closed again by 2009. Fortunately, Legoland owner Merlin Entertainments stepped in, and the park reopened as Legoland Florida in 2011.
The southern belles returned, now in Lego form, but the real attraction remains the gardens themselves, beckoning you to explore the pathways. This is not like any other Legoland theme park.
Flowers lead the way down to Lake Eloise, upon whose shores Cypress Gardens was built.
The most photographed spot in the gardens might be its gazebo, with its southern belle sitting out front.
It can take a conscious effort to get lost enough to find the Oriental gardens in the back, but do not be deterred.
Nearby is the gardens' "Florida Pool," built for an Esther Williams movie. Yes, it's the shape of the state of Florida, thought that is best seen from the lake... or the air.
High water on Lake Eloise closed a few pathways on my visit, but there remains more then enough sights to delight on a walking tour of Cypress Gardens.
Of course, the walking tour most associate with any Legoland theme park is its Miniland, and the Florida park does not disappoint, offering some unique Florida sights, including the Kennedy Space Center...
...and the Daytona Speedway.
But I didn't want to just walk around this park. I wanted to go on some rides! But with no child accompanying me to check out the kid-focused attractions, and deadlines looming for The Lego Movie World, I opted to skip the interactive rides that I knew from Legoland California close to my home: Lost Kingdom Adventure and Ninjago The Ride. So that left the coasters.
I could not resist a ride on Legoland's classic The Dragon, which I always enjoy in California. The Legoland version uses the Vekoma Junior Coaster track originally installed at Cypress Gardens as Okeechobee Rampage in 2004, but it's the same delightful experience as I know from California.
But Legoland Florida's Coastersaurus is worlds better than its west-coast counterpart. Originally "Triple Hurricane," named for the three storms that delayed the park's reopening in 2004, this Great Coasters International wooden junior coaster delights throughout its 1,365-foot run.
But the first coaster I rode here was Flying School, a Vekoma Suspended Family Coaster. Typically, I avoid inverts, but since I had such a good time on Fast and Furry-ous at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi last summer, I figured I would give this one a try.
Ouch. A headbanger's ball from beginning to end. Coastersaurus — a woodie! — provided a far smoother ride. Tucked in the back of the park, this would be my first choice for an addition-by-subtraction upgrade should Legoland need a site for a future attraction. Or maybe just some extra open space.
The Great Lego Race was a virtual reality makeover of the park's old Project X coaster, a Mack Wilde Maus themed to Lego Technic at other Legoland parks, including California's. The VR is gone now, but the new name and entrance remain.
But let's return to Cypress Gardens before we call it a day. In addition to its botanical gardens, the park was known best for its epic water ski shows, a tradition that Legoland Florida continues with the Battle for Brickbeard's Bounty Ski Show. Here's the full show video... though I mercifully did not include the audience sing-along of "Baby Shark" from the pre-show. You're welcome.
Yes, Legoland is a children's park, and for that, they remain the world's best. But with its historic gardens, fun water ski show, a couple of neat coasters and shooters, and that new flying theater ride, there's plenty at this Legoland for even a parent of now-grown children to enjoy.Tweet
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