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.