I’m raising a LEGO fanatic. I’ve always encouraged my 11-year old son’s fever for this imaginative outlet. Three years ago, we made the pilgrimage to LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, and last month, visited LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven on its grand opening weekend. These are the only two LEGOLAND theme park locations in the U.S., so it’s natural to make comparisons. These were our main observations:
Lots for Little Ones. LEGOLAND excels in catering to the pre-school set. In Florida, DUPLO Village is an entire section dedicated to children 5 and under, with indoor and outdoor play spaces. In California, Explore Village is similarly themed. There are several playgrounds and hands-on areas throughout these parks where LEGO pieces are available for recharging moments of creative play. Both have Baby Care Centers, stroller rentals, and healthy food options.
Signature Rides. You’ll find several rides and attractions unique to LEGOLAND, and both these parks include the popular Lost Kingdom Adventure with interactive target shooting with laser guns, the Aqua Zone Wave Racers, Royal Joust, Beetle Bounce and the Coastersaurus, Dragon, and LEGO Technic coasters. Both have driving schools – sponsored by Ford in Florida, and Volvo in California – where kids drive their own cars freely through simulated streets.
Miniland. The highlight of any LEGOLAND is this section with several large-scale LEGO replicas of major cities, recreated in amazing, artistic detail with interactive elements like water features, sound, moving pieces and vehicles. In California, part of the experience is a boat ride to view them from the water. The Florida section — originally constructed for Carlsbad — was moved to Winter Haven, and replaced with a Star Wars vignette.
Size. The Florida park, at 150 acres, is the world’s largest LEGOLAND. It includes the expansive former Cypress Gardens attraction. There is just too much to do and see in one day, especially in the “off-season” months when it may only be open for seven hours. We found that the California park was doable in one full day.
Unique Attractions. In Carlsbad, you’ll find the SEA LIFE Aquarium adjacent to LEGOLAND. Admission requires an upgraded ticket fee. You’ll discover 200 species of marine life in exhibits which include the new Octopus Garden, a Ray Lagoon, Kingdom of the Seahorse, and Discovery Zone Touch Pool. Amusingly, several incorporate LEGO sculpture, including the divers exploring the Lost City of Atlantis.
In Winter Haven, LEGOLAND purchased the land of what was once the Cypress Gardens attraction, and restored the lush gardens with species from around the world, as well as the cove for water ski shows. Today’s version tells the story of Brickbeard the Pirate, and features impressive water ski stunts. Also remaining is the Island in the Sky ride, a revolving disk which rises to 150 feet to offer 360-degree views of the entire park and Lake Eloise. It’s incorporated within the park, so there isn’t an extra admission fee.
Water Park Fun. The world’s first and only LEGOLAND Water Park is in Carlsbad. Four water slides emerge from the center attraction, a 45-foot tower which looks like it was built from oversized LEGO pieces. Build-a-Raft River, DUPLO Splash Safari, Orange Rush and Joker Soaker are attractions meant to get you wet. Currently, there is no water park at LEGOLAND Florida. This will likely change in the future, as there was one in the former Cypress Gardens which stands unused.
If you love LEGO, you’ll love both these parks. While you’ll find much in common as you stroll through the Land of Adventure, Fun Town, and the Imagination Zone, you will also experience unique rides, attractions, shops and eateries which make it worthwhile to visit both.
–Traci L. Suppa
Traci L. Suppa drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.