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Theme park built on bricks, creativity

Young motorists can drive electric cars at LEGOLAND Florida, the state’s newest theme park. Young motorists can drive electric cars at LEGOLAND Florida, the state’s newest theme park. (LEGOLAND FLORIDA)
By Christopher Klein
Globe Correspondent / October 30, 2011

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - There’s a new castle in Cinderella’s neighborhood. Less than 30 miles from Disney World, the Sunshine State’s latest fairy-tale fortress is one of the attractions at LEGOLAND Florida, which opened Oct. 15. Modeled on a LEGO play set, the medieval citadel features LEGO block versions of knights, damsels, and a fire-breathing dragon as well as a roller coaster roaring through its rooms.

Try to count all the Danish plastic bricks in the castle, let alone in all of LEGOLAND, and you’ll go madder than a hatter. More than 50 million LEGO blocks were used to construct everything from a menacing Darth Vader statue to a playful, water-squirting elephant, to a full-sized Ford Explorer.

Florida’s newest theme park has sprung from the relics of the state’s oldest, Cypress Gardens, which closed in 2009 after more than 70 years of operation. The old park’s historic wooden roller coaster and the Island in the Sky, a slow-moving rotating platform ride that soars 150 feet high, have been refurbished, and its lush botanical gardens - including live oaks dripping with Spanish moss that offer much-welcome shade - have been preserved.

LEGOLAND targets a younger set - children ages 2 to 12 - than do other central Florida theme parks, but even adults will love Miniland USA, which abounds with faithful LEGO re-creations of such notable landmarks as the Las Vegas Strip and the Manhattan skyline. The highlight is the LEGO version of the Sunshine State, from the antebellum mansions in the panhandle to Key West’s salty watering holes. No detail has been spared, from tiny sunbathers lounging on South Beach rooftops to miniature racing fans crowded in the grandstands of Daytona International Speedway.

Youngsters inspired by Miniland can get hands-on in the Imagination Zone and concoct their own LEGO creations, including robots and cars that race on a digitally timed track. Kids will also like riding the Safari Trek through a jungle of animated LEGO animals, mounting mechanical steeds on the Royal Joust, and dodging water cannon blasts on the Aquazone Wave Racers.

Children are actually welcome to go off the rails at LEGOLAND as they captain small boats and drive electric cars that, unlike in most amusement parks, are not mounted on tracks. At the Driving School, pint-sized motorists who master a training course with stop signs, roundabouts, and traffic lights receive official LEGOLAND driver’s licenses, ensuring that your backseat drivers will now be certified for the ride home.

Christopher Klein can be reached at christopherklein.com.

If You Go

LEGOLAND Florida
One LEGOLAND Way
Winter Haven
877-350-LEGO
florida.legoland.com
Adults $75, seniors and children ages 3-12 $65, under 3 free. Parking $12. Check website for days and hours.