Tag Archives: Theme Park

Happy First Birthday LEGOLAND Florida

Legos, those small brightly colored interlocking bricks, were designed as a child’s toy but many adults consider them a hobby.  A stash of Lego’s can provide hours of stimulating creative fun for almost any age. In fact, the company name “Lego” was derived from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. Perhaps that’s why they remain popular some 60 years after their debut.

Entrance to Legoland Florida
Entrance to Legoland Florida

Florida unveiled Legoland, its newest theme park, in October, 2011. The former grounds of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven were transformed into what I’d call “the ultimate world of Lego.” Visitors are greeted by life-sized Lego creations and entertained by an assortment of 50 family-friendly rides, shows and other attractions.

Big Lego Monsters
Big Lego Monsters

Miniland, a marvelous model village of landmarks and scenes from around the world, acts as the hub. The city layouts include buildings, bridges, lakes or famous structures made entirely from Lego’s–some with moveable parts like a parading band in front of the White House.

Miniland at Legoland Florida
Miniland at Legoland Florida

On October 15, 2012 Legoland is celebrating its first birthday and guests can join the party with a 50% off single day admission. In addition, a prize patrol will give away hundreds of gifts and free cupcakes for the first 5,000. Gifts include prizes such as: Meet a Master Model Builder, free Hero Passes for front-of-the-line access to rides, and free single day or annual passes to Legoland Florida.

Previous visitors to Cypress Gardens may remember the famous botanical gardens and Legoland wisely retained this beautiful serene space. (Hint to grandparents- sneak off here to get away from the crowds.)

Lego Southern Belle at the former Cypress Gardens
Lego Southern Belle at the former Cypress Gardens

The ever popular water ski show was rejuvenated and now features a Lego-Pirate themed performance. The chance to sit and watch under a covered amphitheater becomes a joy for tired feet. A forewarning — Legoland’s property covers 150-acres.

A few more tips:

The water park was added before the summer of 2012, but requires a higher priced ticket.

Tourists visiting nearby Orlando can take a $5 shuttle bus directly to the Legoland, eliminating the parking fee and drive after an exhausting day.

Purchasing tickets online saves money and avoids long lines at the entrance gate.

Gift shops sell all things Lego and I dare say every kid will leave with a new Lego product.

Legoland Florida has a free phone app for android and i-phones.

Debi Lander with Lego Darth Vader
Debi Lander with Lego Darth Vader

Park operating hours are 10am-5pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.legoland.com

Lego-Pirate Themed Water Ski Show

Lego-Pirate Themed Water Ski Show

Wonders at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwart's Castle in Orlando

Sometimes you look forward to visiting a place to the point that you’re disappointed when you finally arrive. Not so with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.  I entered Universal’s Islands of Adventure around 4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon which turned out to be advantageous timing. Hoards of hot, dreary guests were leaving as I walked in. I headed straight back through the theme park, past colorful Seuss Landing, to the 20-acre complex of Hogsmeade.

The snow capped Victorian village feels exactly like stepping into the pages of J.K. Rowling’s famous books.  The place is enchanting, even with throngs of tourists; you feel the author’s dreams and imagination come to life.  HoneyDukes candy shoppe is a luscious allure of sweets, the florists shop window contains screaming mandrake plants and the owl post office sends mail with Hogsmeade stamps.

I didn’t tarry in town, rather high-tailed it to Hogswarts Castle for “the ride.” Signage noted a waiting time of 75 minutes, but I entered the singles line which cut the queue to about 35 minutes. (Hint- families can save time using this approach as long as they don’t mind splitting up for the ride.) While waiting within the castle, visitors are entertained by talking portraits, holograms and the profound sorting hat.

I spoke with Amy from Pennsylvania and her two daughters Elizabeth and Karen. They were repeating their third ride of the day. They’d also visited the park the day before and plan to return for spring break. Needless of say this family of experts cherish all things Harry Potter.

Finally, I was ready to sit down and ride my broomstick on the Forbidden Journey. Off  I flew, up and down swooping to great heights and through narrow alley ways and castle towers. I followed Harry on his adventures, playing Quidditch, escaping from the Whomping Willow tree and immense spiders dangling down to my knees. A fire-spewing dragon roared hot breath at my face, I was squirted by plants, and saw eerie apparitions.  The fast moving thrill was the best amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden: a mix of Disney’s Space Mountain, Haunted House and 3-D Star Wars effects. Just lovely.

I exited and stopped for a Butterbeer– a frozen drink to cool down from the overwhelming heat. Yum- tastes like a cream soda, sweet butterscotch, with a frothy head of a Guinness.

Raising a mug of Butterbeer

I spent about 25 minutes standing outside Ollivander’s wand shop. Upon entering, the costumed shop owner selects one lucky lad to find a wand from the vast collection. The first two offerings were failures, certainly not meant for him, but the third attempt united the wizard and spell caster. Very well done.

I ate dinner at The Three Boomsticks Restaurant, choosing the combo plate of chicken, ribs, roasted potatoes and corn on the cob instead of the more English fish and chips. Far better than anticipated for theme park food.  I completed the meal with a Hogs Head brew, a Sam Adam’s like beer. Total cost of the meal and drink –$19.95. The quantity proved way more than I could eat.

I had a delightful ride on the Hippogriff, a roller coaster which passes by Hagrid’s cottage.  Perfect for youngsters or those who wish a tamer experience. When I was nearing The Dragon Challenge, lightening crackled and the outdoor attractions closed.  I meandered  through the village, stopping to shop on my way out of the park.  The young couple in front of me said they were visiting for the tenth time. The endearing place, built at the cost of $265 million, seems to put a spell on some folk.

In three and a half hours I had pretty well covered the Wizarding World but must confess I saw nothing else in Universal’s huge arena. That’s okay with me, this muggle wanted  to step into Hermione’s shoes and couldn’t have danced through a happier eve.

Evening descends on Hogsmeade


I Disclose:

While I received a free ticket to Universal as a paid attendee at The Travel Bloggers Show in Orlando, the pass in no way encouraged this blog.  As was previously mentioned in an earlier post, I had planned to visit the park this fall. I do want to thank Universal for the special opportunity and will definitely return.

Recommended Restaurants in Sea World Orlando

Sitting in Shark's Underwater Grill
Gazing into the Shark Tank at Sharks Underwater Grill

Over the years I’ve learned a day at a theme park is improved when my group takes time to sit down and eat in a restaurant versus snacking at fast food. So, when lunchtime rolled around on our first day at Sea World, we chose Voyagers close tothe sea lion and otter stadium.

My grandchildren naturally wanted the kid’s meal; one chose chicken fingers which came with French fries; the other wanted macaroni and cheese with baby carrots. Both included a little box of raisins and a blue Shamu souvenir lunch box. Price $8.00 (I think?)

I ordered baked barbeque chicken, which was yummy.My son ate pizza and his wife had a wrap.All the plates were filled high and the food appeared fresh and healthier than expected.

Soon we were exploring the park again and ran into Shark Encounter- a 700,000 gallon aquarium containing a walk-through acrylic tunnel for viewing. Gulp.

One wall of the huge tank adjoins Sharks Underwater Grill, an upscale restaurant with a good bite. Dim lighting, coupled with illumination from the fish tank creates an eerie atmosphere, not to mention the flashing teeth on hundreds of sharks.

We stopped and  made reservations, returning at 6:30 PM to dine eye-to eye with the scary demons of the deep.

Seems rather astonishing, but upon entering the room a quiet and unrushed feeling prevails; enough to make you forget the frenzied theme park outside the door.The swaying movement from the array of creatures is mesmerizing.Many of the predators swim rapidly back and forth while others, a saw tooth shark, for example, arose from the deep only occasionally. A mammoth grouper seemed to hover near our table.

If you arrive early, check out the sleek bar– another living seascape.The lobby contains a glowing glass cylinder filled with small neon fish that propel themselves forward or float backward.Do fish ever get dizzy?

The menu touts “Floribbean-style” food, a blend of fresh Florida and Caribbean fare.I ordered salmon filet and was extremely pleased with a tangy yet sweet sauce over the fleshy serving.A spicy side of peppery mashed potatoes and fresh vegetable medley completed my plate.

My husband enjoyed the Citrus Caesar salad, which surprised me, as he is finicky about his choice of dressing.He was disappointed, however, in the Steak en Croute, which he said lacked punch and tasted too much like hamburger.

Sea-World_-Restaurant r
A Gummy Shark

The grandkids, ages 4 and 6, ordered popcorn shrimp and fries from the children’s menu. A large gummy shark adorned their dinner plates, a cute touch.We paid $2 extra for a shark cozie to surround their juice glasses–a real hit.In fact, I almost purchased a few of these clever drink coolers for an at-home pool party!

I admit I wasn’t expecting gourmet food but our dinner turned out to be the catch of the day. The food was delightfully tasty and certainly the surroundings produced an unforgettable thrill. If you go to Sea World, you owe it to yourself to dine with sharks at, none other than Sharks Underwater Grill .

Day Two

We ate a hearty breakfast at our hotel before returning for day two at Sea World, hence were able to bypass the Cypress Bakery- which smelled divine. We didn’t even feel hungry at lunch time. Instead, the kids had an ice cream at the Polar Parlor — a dolphin- shaped treat.

Of course, a bit later my teenage daughter was “starving,” so I took her into the Seafire Inn for a Greek salad.It was big enough to share.

And that’s it for our dining!  I’d like to commend the management for offering Mama’s Kitchen Healthy Alternatives a cafe serving whole-wheat bagels, turkey chili and sweet potato chips.

Overall –A thumbs up for food in the theme park.