Legoland Florida is inviting locals to the Winter Haven Orange Dome from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 8 to find out more about their plans for a new theme park. [Read more…]
Today Merlin Entertainments announced a multi-million dollar investment for its biggest family tourist center in the world with the planned opening of Legoland Florida.
Merlin purchased the historical Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla. from property investment company Land South Group and will open Legoland Florida on the site at the end of 2011. The deal to buy the 145-acre site includes the current theme park and waterpark as well as an operating lease in perpetuity on the historic botanical gardens. Merlin plans a significant multi-million dollar investment over a number of years, up to and beyond opening, in what will be the biggest Legoland to date. In line with the group’s “resort” strategy for its theme parks, this is likely to include both accommodation and the addition of further branded attractions from the Merlin portfolio. This will build on the $100 million invested over the last few years in improved infrastructure on the site.
The Florida development will be Merlin’s second Legoland Park in North America. It will provide a full-day, year round, theme park experience geared towards families with children between the ages of two and 12. Its design will mirror the successful concept of the four existing Legoland Parks in Denmark, Germany, U.K. and California. However, as with the other four, it will also have its own unique “twist” reflecting its stunning location and adding a Florida flavour.
The decision to open a Legoland Park in Florida follows considerable research in the area by Merlin over a number of years. This indicated a high recognition of the Legoland Park brand and a 90 percent plus intention to visit by families in this target market. The issue has been to find the ideal site. Cypress Gardens has long been a popular location for millions of visitors. Merlin believes its Central Florida location, approximately 50 minutes from Orlando and also close to Tampa, is the perfect site for Legoland.
The development follows the success of Legoland California which opened in 1999. Legoland California was recently voted the country’s best children’s theme park by “Amusement Today” for the sixth year running. It is also recognized as the fastest growing theme park in the U.S., enjoying an increase in visitor numbers year-on-year, including six percent in 2009.
Legoland Florida will be the biggest Legoland Park ever opened and will offer a unique mix of more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, including spectacular Lego models and other interactive elements for the whole family to enjoy together.
The park is expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs by opening; as well as boosting the Florida economy through the use of local contractors for development.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When will the park open?
The Legoland makeover will take approximately two years. They’re expecting to open at the end of 2011.
Why open it in Polk County?
Officials said they visited Cypress Gardens in past years and fell in love with the place. They explained that their other theme parks are located on beautiful grounds. They looked at many locations in Orlando but ultimately chose Cypress Gardens. They also added that if they had built from scratch on another location, it would have taken them five or six years.
Will the gardens remain?
Yes. They stressed that they will keep the beautiful gardens.
What about the Southern Belles and the Florida shaped pool?
They haven’t decided if they’ll remain yet or not.
Will they keep the water ski shows?
They haven’t decided for sure, but they hope to. They think the water ski show could easily be themed with the Lego brand.
Will the Cypress Gardens name remain?
Maybe in some form. The location will be called Legoland Florida, and eventually Legoland Florida Resort. They are thinking about calling the gardens part of Legoland “Cypress Gardens”. If so, you’d go to Legoland Florida to visit the Cypress Gardens.
How many attractions will there be?
Somewhere around 50 all together. This includes rides and shows.
Will any of the Cypress Gardens rides remain? What about the wooden roller coasters?
Some of Cypress Gardens’ rides have already been removed. Some of them have been sold but not moved off property yet. Officials said they will probably keep some of the rides and retheme them. They are thinking about keeping one of the wooden roller coasters but didn’t say which one.
Will a Legoland hotel be built?
They plan to eventually build an onsite hotel, but not until a while after the opening.
Where is it located and how do I get there?
The property is about a 45 to 55 minute drive from Downtown Disney. From Orlando, you would take I-4 West to exit 55, (U.S. 27 South), then turn right on Cypress Gardens Boulevard. It’s an easy drive if I-4 traffic isn’t bad.
Will they offer promotions with other Central Florida theme parks?
They hope to. They said they’re willing to work with any of the other theme park companies including Disney.
Will the water park remain? Will it become a Legoland waterpark?
Yes, the water park will remain. It won’t become a Legoland Water Park right away, but if their upcoming first Legoland Water Park, which opens in California in June, does well, they may bring it here.
Will the waterpark be included with admission to Legoland?
No. It will require a separate ticket.
How much will ticket prices be to Legoland?
They haven’t announced prices yet, but a current one-day adult ticket to Legoland California is $67.
Here’s video from the press conference:
Here’s a look at the Legoland California Resort. This will give you an idea of the types of attractions that are coming to Legoland Florida:
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It seems the cat may have gotten out of the bag. The Lakeland Ledger has obtained an e-mail sent to Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson that says Legoland is coming to Cypress Gardens. All e-mails sent to public official’s business e-mail accounts are public record.
But the e-mail wasn’t sent from Merlin Entertainments Group officials (Merlin, owner of Legoland, has purchased the Cypress Gardens property). It was sent by Mark Jackson, a director with Central Florida Tourism & Sports Marketing. So it’s possible he has assumed the announcement will be Legoland, but not likely.
Here are some details listed in the e-mail:
“Helpful Facts: Confidential until Thursday.
1. LEGOLAND Florida will be the fifth LEGOLAND attraction worldwide (CA, Denmark, England, and Germany).
2. Merlin is the second largest attraction company in the world, second only behind Disney.
3. Merlin’s massive research in the area already indicated that; the LEGOLAND brand already has high recognition and a 90% intention to visit by families in their target market.
4. LEGOLAND, CA, is the fastest growing theme park in the U.S., realizing an astounding 6% growth in 2009. The park was also recognized by Amusement Today as the country’s best theme park for children for the sixth consecutive year.
5. Check out Merlin’s website (www.merlinentertainments.biz.) for a broad overview of their operations.”
We plan on being there tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. for the announcement. Check our Twitter account at www.twitter.com/attractions for news from the press conference. We’ll also have all the details, as well as photos and video here tomorrow afternoon.
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Merlin Entertainments Group has purchased Cypress Gardens.
A spokeswoman for Merlin said the purchase includes the current Cypress Gardens theme park, the Splash Island water park and the adjacent botanical gardens. The company did not disclose the sales price.
Merlin is the second busiest amusement operator in the world. Its holdings include Legoland theme parks, Madame Tussaud’s wax museums and the London Eye.
The acquisition also increases the already substantial presence of private-equity colossus The Blackstone Group in Central Florida’s theme-park industry. Blackstone, which has fall purchased SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and co-owns Universal Orlando, holds a majority stake in Merlin.
Last June, we reported rumors of Legoland possibly coming to Central Florida. Some Legoland visitors took a Legoland online survey which asked their thoughts about visiting Legoland Florida if it were to be built. It also asked what they thought about Legoland being built where Cypress Gardens is located.
Cypress Gardens closed last September after a months-long closing and removing all of their rides, then reopening with just the gardens and ski show.
A press conference has been scheduled for next Thursday to discuss the sale. The Stars of Florida Waterski Show Web site also lists Jan. 21 as an important date, stating “Check back to this website for news on Cypress Gardens! Jan. 21st could be a big day!”
By Andy Guinigundo
Let’s go over the scorecard: The Blackstone Group describes itself as an “alternative asset manager and financial advisory firm”. In this layman’s definition it is a company that owns companies. Most recently, it acquired Busch Entertainment Corporation – the company that owns Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. Blackstone also jointly owns Universal Orlando with NBC Universal. Blackstone is also the parent company of Merlin Entertainments Group who run Legoland parks worldwide, Tussauds, as in Madame Tussauds of wax museum fame, Sea Life Aquariums, and other entertainment holdings worldwide.
Why go through the exhaustive amusement park family tree? Well, about 38 miles southwest of Walt Disney World there is a classic park that sits closed: Cypress Gardens. While I am not here to fan the flames of rumor, it has been speculated that perhaps Merlin is looking to put a Legoland in this location. If Legoland might be a Central Florida neighbor, let’s take a closer look at the only U.S. version of the park and throw in a little Halloween for fun.
About 30 miles north of San Diego and one hour south of Anaheim is Carlsbad, Calif. Carlsbad is home to the 128-acre Legoland California and Sea Life Aquarium which comprise the Legoland California Resort. As any theme park, it is made up of interactive attractions, rides, shows and restaurants. They describe themselves as a “family” park aimed particularly at children age 2 to 12 years old and their families.
Of course, the theme is the Danish building blocks called Lego. There are more than 15,000 Lego models park-wide made of more than 35 million Lego bricks. Scenes include the Las Vegas Strip and Washington D.C. Master model builders have the ability to build anything to depict current events. Recent models include the Presidential Inauguration and the Little League World Series winners from California.
The park is made up of several themed lands. Some of these are Dino Island, Explore Village, Fun Town, Pirate Shores, Miniland USA and Land of Adventure. Attractions within these lands include the “standards”: water attractions (Splash Battle, Soak-n-Sail), a dark ride (Lost Kingdom Adventure), driving ride (Volvo Driving School, LEGO TECHNIC Test Track), flying rides (Sky Patrol, Cargo Ace), and coasters (Coastersaurus, Knights’ Tournament).
Sea Life Aquarium is also owned by Merlin and is part of the Legoland California Resort. Guests pay a separate entry fee into this 36,000 square foot, two-story structure that houses 36 displays with more than 250,000 gallons of water. The aquarium emphasizes education, interactivity, and sea conservation. More than 200 species of underwater creatures are featured. These include sharks, seahorses, puffer fish, jellyfish, stingrays and others.
Just like Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, Legoland has special seasonal events. For the Halloween season, they’ve brought back the Brick-or-Treat Party again for 2009. Each Saturday and Sunday in October, kids 12 years old and under take part in costume contests, trick-or-treating, dance contests and other live entertainment in a not-too-spooky environment. Costumes are judged in one of three categories: creative, spooky and Lego. Trick-or-treating takes place on the Brick-or-Treat Trail where children receive treats, trading cards and a commemorative Lego brick. Brick-or-Treat is included in the daily admission or guests can attend just the evening party at a special price.
So, a lot of questions persist. Will they build it? Will we come? Is Orlando a case of the more the merrier or is the market saturated with parks already? These are questions for someone more financially savvy than me to ponder. There is certainly a segment of Orlando visitors that meet the age demographic. I believe the Lego brand is unique. I remember building things with Lego as a child. I have a desire for my kids to play with toys like Lego that expand the imagination. What could be wrong with an amusement park centered on building, imagination and adventure?
• Andy Guinigundo is the author of the Out of The Loop column in “Orlando Attractions Magazine”. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and three daughters. He grew up frequenting theme parks around Ohio and making trips to Orlando with his family. While for most of the year, he’s out of the Orlando loop, he tries to visit Florida at least once a year.