There’s a special joy in retracing early childhood memories with your own kids.
Growing up in central Florida, I was spoiled for theme parks most of my young life. We spent plenty of time at Disney, but another big player in the 80’s was even closer to home: Cypress Gardens. Located in Winter Haven, Florida’s first theme park predated Walt Disney World by 35 years, and their assortment of kid-friendly rides, exotic gardens, and cuddly animals was all I needed for a fun-filled day.
The theme park from my childhood is mostly gone, but last weekend I finally made it back to that old stomping ground as Henrik and I enjoyed our first visit to Legoland Florida. Both boys have inherited my love of Lego, so I don’t know why it’s taken so long to check it out, especially since it’s barely 30 minutes away, without all the I-4 traffic that makes a day-trip to Disney more stressful.
While Kasper was out in Houston visiting my wife’s family, we had some “Henrik & Daddy time” and it gave me the push I needed to jump in the car and head to Winter Haven.
We arrived at Legoland about an hour after it opened, securing one of two EV charging spots close to the entrance. They have the same Chargepoint stations found in most public charging areas, but unlike Disney there is no fee, so hurray for free charging!
The weather forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, so I was surprised by the amount of people standing in line for tickets. We had purchased our passes online and thus proceeded straight into the park, but we then had to wait in a small line to get our photos taken for annual passes. It reminds me of Disney in the 80’s, when a season pass looked more like a laminated photo ID.
Making our way into the park, our first stop was Duplo Valley, an area that include splash zones, a large indoor playground, and a couple rides perfect for toddlers. We rode the Duplo Tractor and the Duplo Train, both simple slow rides that go twice around a short track. The tractor was Henrik’s favorite since he was “driving” the tractor while I sat behind him.
After the toddler rides we wandered through Miniland, which any Lego fan would consider the main attraction. I had seen photos of Miniland from other Legoland parks, but I was still blown away by the realism and scale of the models. Everything was bigger than I imagined, and the few photos I took don’t do it justice.
Henrik spent most of the time looking for buttons to push, as many displays included an interactive feature. There was a marching band in Washington DC that came to life, a drag race in Daytona, cannons to fire from huge pirate ships, and the Pier 39 seals in San Francisco would squirt water at whomever stood too close.
There were even models of famous central Florida architecture, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Annie Pfeiffer Chapel from our hometown! I can’t wait to visit with our big camera, especially with another adult who can keep up with Henrik while I photograph the amazing Lego details.
After Miniland, we passed through the Technic area to get to the milder Lego City rides, stopping first at the Ford Driving School. These small cars are for kids 3-5 years old, but Henrik was too hesitant to keep his foot on the pedal so that his car would keep driving forward.
Most of the time was spent watching the Legoland employees pull cars away from the curb when they got stuck. There is another version of the ride for older kids, but neither hits that thrill spot that Henrik has for the Tomorrowland Speedway at Disney. Of course, he’s not driving when we go on that ride, so it’s easier for him to enjoy.
We wandered through Lego City to the entrance of the water park, then backtracked for another short ride and then lunch. I promised Henrik an ice cream after lunch, and we found soft serve right next to the Forestman’s Hideout in Lego Kingdoms.
This certainly takes me back to my early Lego days, when castles and Robin Hood-types were in their prime. I had several Forestman Lego sets and they were among my favorite characters to play with. The huge play structure in Legoland is a perfect tribute to those old sets, with lots of room to climb and play, most of which is under a canopy of trees.
We did a bit more exploring after this, just getting a feel for other areas of the park, and cooled off in Duplo Farm, the indoor toddler play area. After a brief rain shower, we headed to the car, stopping in the Big Shop to find a new Lego set to take home. I was impressed with the shop, even bigger than the Lego Store in Disney Springs, and Henrik enjoyed picking out a small Lego Junior set, which kept him occupied the rest of the day.
There are still some areas of the park that we never saw, including The Land of Adventure, Ninjago World, and the Imagination Zone. Not to mention the original Cypress Gardens section, the botanical gardens that have been preserved from the old theme park of my youth. This was the first of what I’m sure will be many visits to Legoland, so I look forward to catching everything we missed and sharing more photos and video next time.