If you are planning (or considering) a visit to Legoland Florida, I can recommend a few tools for you to use. First, there’s the official Legoland Florida website, where you can find park maps, ride descriptions, height requirements, online ticketing, and other information. Also, Lego launched apps for both iOS (look in the iTunes app store) and Android devices (find the app here), which I found useful both in planning our day and while we were exploring the park. (There is, however, no Wifi that I found in the park, but I had a pretty strong 4G/3G signal in most of the park.)
Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven, FL, about an hour’s drive from the Walt Disney World resort. To get to Legoland from WDW, you must take I-4 W to US-27 S. There is also a shuttle that Legoland operates to get you to and from the park, $10 per person, round trip. (There is currently a special price being offered of $5 per person, round trip, but when that promotion is over, it will revert back to $10 per person.) The shuttle leaves at 9:00 am from the Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (which is very close to WDW and would probably be a pretty cheap cab ride from any of the WDW hotels) and leaves the park to return you to the outlets at park closing.
The parking lot is divided into sections, much like WDW parking lots. It is, however, much smaller than any of the WDW parking lots, but it is also not marked quite as well. There are far fewer section and row markers than there are at WDW, so make a special effort if you drive to Legoland to remember your section or get another landmark you can use to find your car at the end of the day.
I would recommend buying your admission tickets ahead of time if possible, as the line to wait for a ticket window at park opening was really long on the day we went, and it moved very slowly. There is a small ticket discount available to AAA members.
There was no bag check of any kind when we visited the park, contrary to the current procedures at many other Central Florida theme parks.
There are several locations for food in the park, indoor and outdoor counter service locations, a Pizza and Pasta buffet, snack locations, and many food carts dotted throughout. (Please note, the food carts and outdoor game locations were all cash-only when we visited. You may want to make sure to bring some good old-fashioned folding money when you go to Legoland to keep more options open to you.)
We weren’t excited about the look of the burgers available at the counter service in Lego Kingdom area we were in when we started to get hungry for lunch, so we went back to the front of the park where The Market restaurant was located. I’m very glad we did, because we actually had excellent meals at very reasonable (for a theme park) prices there. Get ready for a load of pictures!
There’s indoor and outdoor seating at The Market. If you sit indoors, you get to take in all of the Lego-built decorations as you eat.
There’s a round table near the front windows where many people can play and build with Duplo blocks. The area is decorated with lots of food-related Lego creations.
Now begins a series of pictures of the menus at The Market, which will show you the wide variety of food available along with current pricing.
From this menu (below) my daughter had the macaroni and cheese. It was a large portion and included a large cup of grapes and a full-sized bottle of water. I thought that was a really great value for $5.49 at a theme park.
I had the 1/4 chicken plate for lunch. (Pictured below, and I cut the chicken open to show that it was cooked well, still juicy but not underdone.) There were several choices for sides and I got to pick two, the rice and roasted potatoes. I was expecting the food to be kind of bland, but it wasn’t at all. All of the items I ate were well-seasoned and flavorful without me adding any seasonings myself.
Below is the menu for sweets at The Market. The portions were pretty large for the price and the items looked nice and fresh.
Legoland has fairly obviously chosen Pepsi for its beverage locations. It is available at all the counter service locations and in many of the snack and beverage carts throughout the park. Here is the soda selection that was available at The Market:
There was also a coffee stand in The Market, which made my husband’s eyes light up when he saw it. It was “real” coffee (as opposed to the Nescafe that is largely what is available at WDW) and he was a much happier park-goer once he got his cup of black coffee.
I spoke to one of the employees at The Market about the food and she told me a lot of things that I was really happy to hear. She mentioned that nearly all of the food is sourced locally. I asked, “Within the state of Florida?” and she corrected that to, “Within Polk County, actually.” Legoland Florida is located in Polk County, so the ingredients coming in for use at the restaurants there are very fresh indeed. You really can taste it in the food, too. I would have been happy with that meal, at those prices, at a regular restaurant in my neighborhood.
A Warning for Budget-Conscious Parents
If you are working on a budget for a visit to Legoland Florida, you may want to consider either having a talk about expectations with your kids or putting a little wiggle room in your budget. There are a LOT of carnival-style games (similar to the games in the Dinoland area of Animal Kingdom) and they are in every land in the park. There’s also an on-ride photo available for most of the larger attractions (though I thought the picture quality on the photos was really awful) and you can purchase that photo in various packages at $15, $20, and $25 price points. Add to that face painting stands and other stand-alone, additional cost kiosks, and you might find yourself either saying, “No!” a lot, or spending more in the park that you’d originally anticipated.
There are a fairly large number of rides in the park to enjoy. Even with much lower overall crowd numbers than any Disney park would have even on a slow day (you can tell just by looking at the size of the Legoland parking lot that they aren’t planning to welcome anywhere near the number of visitors a WDW park gets) the rides all had surprisingly long (it seemed to me, based on the crowd size) wait times. When you get closer to the front of the line and start to watch the load procedures, the number of vehicles operating, and the number of seats available in each ride vehicle, you start to understand why there’s such a wait. There is nowhere near the amount of riders per hour on any of these attractions as there are even on the slowest loaders in WDW, and the load times for each vehicle are very long compared to WDW rides, as well. It may be that the staff is still new to their positions and things will become more streamlined later, but if you are a fan of the Disney level of efficiency where ride loading and riders per hour is concerned, I would advise you to try to think as little about that as you can during your visit to Legoland.
The good news about the attractions, if you have younger kids, is that many of these rides have very low height requirements. In fact, my five year old daughter is taller than 48″, which at Legoland means that she could have wandered around on her own riding things all by herself for most of the day, as that is the minimum height requirement to ride solo at many of the Legoland attractions. The bad news comes if you are a tall, long-legged, or larger than average sized adult. There is not a lot of accommodation room on many of the headline attractions at Legoland. Even worse, there was not a test seat available at the entrance of the rides, so it was impossible to know if my husband, a tall drink of water at 6’6″ and very long-legged, would have anywhere to put his legs on the rides so that the restraints could still close to whatever number of “clicks” was necessary before they could launch the vehicle. After one ride that he was barely able to fold himself into and another that he had to bow out of at the loading station, we just started to skip most of the headliners. That was really a shame, because several of those rides looked pretty fun but we really didn’t want to split up on what was supposed to be a family day.
Also, several of the attractions are actually kid-only, like the two driving school attractions. Others end up with few adults riding, if any, like the Beetle Bounce in the Land of Adventure section. There are several seats on each of the ride vehicles at Beetle Bounce, but there is a limit of one adult per vehicle. When we got in line, I wanted to experience the attraction with my kid. However, it was so slow loading that by the time we were close enough to the front that they were offering her one of the many open seats left after two adults and their kids boarded, I told her to go ahead and get on the ride and I’d wait for her at the exit just so we could save the time in line. It didn’t ruin my day or anything like that, but it’s sad that so many things in the park offered up fun for my daughter but very little or nothing for the adults to do.
This made me think back to the story that’s often told about why Walt Disney wanted to build Disneyland in the first place. As the story goes, Walt took his daughters to an amusement park and found himself sitting on a bench for a lot of the day, waving to his kids as they had fun a few yards away from him. He decided that there should be a place where a whole family could go and everyone could have fun at the same time, enjoying rides together. There were definitely moments as an adult at Legoland where being there felt more like a sacrifice I was making so my daughter could have fun, rather than all of us having fun together. It’s not a deal breaker per se, but it’s certainly something to consider.
Shows and Exhibits
As Negative Nancy as I was just now about Legoland Florida’s attractions, I would like to go wholeheartedly the other direction now and tell you that the shows and exhibits here are definitely the gems of the park. From the legacy areas of the park that previously existed at this location, Cypress Gardens, to the Miniland USA area and the Live Stunt Water Ski Show, there is a lot to see. A lot of the beauty of Cypress Gardens was lovingly restored and will be maintained by Legoland Florida, and it is worth seeing.
Legoland USA is, in a word, stunning. If you’ve ever played with Lego (and I assume you have, if you are interested in going to this park) then you will find the sheer scale and complexity of the various creations here to be pretty mind-blowing. There are buses and cars that really move through on the “roads”, boats that move around in the water, water effects, race cars you can drag race against each other, and detailed scale models of many recognizable landmarks throughout the USA.
Here are a few pictures I snapped as we explored Miniland USA:
We were also able to catch the Pirate’s Cove Live Water Ski Show. We really enjoyed the show, a mixture of pretty impressive water ski stunts and comedic action from some costumed minifig characters. It also had a strong and brave female protagonist, which is something of a rarity that you come to appreciate when you are raising a daughter. Here are some shots of the action at the show:
We also enjoyed Build + test, an area where you can check out some wheels, build your own Lego car, and then test your car against other cars on various race tracks. This is definitely a not-miss if you have a builder enthusiast in your party.
We did not get the opportunity to see any of the 4D movies, though I have heard from a friend of mine that her family enjoyed them when they visited the park. She highly recommended them and I am comfortable passing on her recommendation, especially when it was accompanied by her five year old son bouncing up and down next to her with both of his thumbs up.
The one poor exhibit that we saw was the Lego Factory, which we were all excited to see when we read about it, but then none of us were impressed by it when we went. It wasn’t functioning when we entered the park, so we went to it on the way out. It turned out that the factory features a short movie in a front room, and then completely fake “machines” that pretend to make Lego bricks in the back room. Even my daughter, at age 5, clearly saw that the machines were fake and that they weren’t actually making anything. Much more care was put into the shop at the exit of the factory than the factory itself, which is kind of sad.
There are also a few character photo ops in the park. We saw a generic minifig out at the entrance of the park when we entered in the morning, and Max was posing with his fans when we left the park in the afternoon. There was a park photographer there both times we saw characters out, and you could purchase the photos in a $15, $20, or $25 photo package, exactly the same as the ride photo packages that were available.
There are many play areas throughout the park, with several built for Legoland’s littlest visitors in Duplo Village and one aimed at bigger kids, The Forestmen’s Hideout in the Lego Kingdoms area. They were all clearly adored by the kids we saw playing in them, and they all got a good review from our daughter as well. They are, however, just another thing for the kids to do where the adults are just sitting around waiting.
I found the employees at Legoland Florida to be hit and miss, but much more miss than you’d see even on anyone’s worst day at a Walt Disney World park. We saw, many times throughout the day, employees strolling through the park in uniform, yammering on their mobile phones.
There was one interaction I had with a Legoland employee that was truly unimpressive, though. At the Forestman’s Hideout play area late in the day, there was a lost child. Another mother and I, as we were sitting there watching our own children play, spotted him yelling for his mom and crying and we approached him and tried to help him locate his mom. I found a Legoland Florida employee entering the play area after looking around a little (the only other park employee that I could see in the area was someone up in the play area, making sure the kids went down the slide feet first and one at a time) and the employee I spoke to did little to nothing about the lost child. He made no attempt to speak to the child (the other mother and I eventually got the boy calmed down enough that he could tell us his mother’s name and what he remembered about what she was wearing, and I was the one who walked around the surrounding area yelling, “Jennifer!” and looking for a woman with long, blond hair in a white shirt) and the employee did nothing to try to contact any other employees to help. He sort of wandered around looking like he was halfheartedly looking for something, but it did not appear to be anything that would proactively bring this child back to his mother. Eventually, about 10 minutes after we first noticed the boy crying, the problem was solved when his mother reappeared in the play area after she’d gone to a nearby food stand, but the employee had been no help at all either in reuniting them or in trying to calm the boy down. I was very unimpressed with the staff and their general level of training after witnessing that.
There’s also a general lack of the spontaneous greetings and waves you get from many cast members at WDW parks, but that sort of pales in comparison next to watching an employee basically ignore a frightened and panicky lost child.
There were indeed several notable exceptions, of course, like several employees who were much more friendly and professional when we encountered them. One standout employee that comes to mind was the woman I talked to who was working that day at The Market, who spoke to me in a very helpful and informative way about the food being served there.
Was Legoland worth the drive/money? I’ll give this a qualified yes. I thought the gate prices were expensive, especially when you compare it to what you get with a one day admission to Walt Disney World. However, when you take into account the unique features of the park, like Miniland USA and the Pirate’s Cove Live Water Ski Show, you start to see a little more value in that admission ticket. I can’t say that I’m chomping at the bit to go back, though, with the memory of slow-loading rides and tiny ride vehicles fresh in my mind.
How does it compare to Disney? It doesn’t. It just plain doesn’t even come close. If you are a Walt Disney World fan and you are planning a visit to Legoland Florida, I would give you this advice: Resist at all costs any attempts by your brain to compare your experience at Legoland with your experience at any Disney park, because you will only find yourself feeling disappointed. If you enjoy Legoland just for what it is and what it has to offer, you will have a much better time there.
Would we go again? Ah…maybe. But not anytime soon. When you compare the extra hour it takes to get there, the lack of rides that all of us can enjoy together, the extra expense of the admission tickets when we already have annual passes to Walt Disney World, it’s just not that enticing. We really loved Miniland USA and the Live Water Ski Show, but it’s just not enough to pull us down there again soon or make us want to upgrade to annual passes.