If you have kids, chances are you have Legos. They provide hours and hours of entertainment for kids and help foster imagination. But they do have an evil downside. Ask any parent if they like Legos, and chances are they’ll say “yes” but it will almost immediately be followed by a “but they’re responsible for the greatest pain I’ve ever felt, including childbirth.”
For those of you who have yet to experience the joy of stepping down — HARD — on a Lego, typically at 2 a.m. as you rush to your crying child’s bedside, well, let me just tell you, it’s not something you’ll ever want to repeat. The Lego tends to leave a brand, usually in the shape of a couple small circles, on the bottom of your foot that lasts a surprisingly long time.
Now, take that pain, multiply it by 10 and add a hot and humid late summer day in Florida, and you start to understand what our first — and likely last — trip to Legoland Florida was like.
Several months ago, we bought two tickets to Legoland at a silent auction at E’s school. We decided we’d wait until after the summer and we were encouraged that we, for the most part, heard positive things from other people we knew who visited Central Florida’s newest theme park.
As we started looking at our fall schedule, we realized it was pretty much all booked up already. How does that happen? One thing we’ve been surprised by over the past couple years is how (relatively) empty the Disney parks are on Labor Day weekend. So we checked our go-to resource guide, Easy WDW, and saw that once again, the crowds were a 3 (on a scale of 1-10) for this weekend. If Disney has low crowds, surely Legoland must, too. Famous last words.
We arrived at Legoland Florida in Winter Have at about 9:45, 15 minutes before the park was scheduled to open. We quickly paid at the parking lot entrance and were directed to our spot. We were happy to see that the lot wasn’t very crowded and that it’d only be a few minutes’ walk from our car to the front gates. So far, so good.
We had two tickets but we still needed to buy one for E. We noticed that the line to get into the park was already long but so was the ticket line. Drawing upon our vast theme park experience, we knew the front gate line would go fairly quickly, so it didn’t make sense for us to split up yet. Oh Murphy, you and your law are so adorably maddening.
We got into the ticket line, which was long but didn’t look outrageously long. We were probably about five lanes of the rope divider from the front and there were several ticket windows open. We got into line and waited. And waited. Under the hot sun. It was not a good start to the day. When we got about two lanes from the front, I left DadJovi and E. to wait for tickets and I went and got into the front gates line once we noticed that it wasn’t really moving.
In the time it took them to finish getting their tickets and get over to my spot in line, I’d moved exactly five feet forward. Again, in the hot sun. The Jovi family was starting to break down.
He looks happy, no? Thanks to the power of camera timestamps, I know that this photo was taken 53 minutes after the photo above … and we were still very far from actually going through the ticket turnstyles.
Waiting more than one hour to get into a park? I’m sorry, Legoland, but that is unacceptable. And this is Florida. If you’re going to make people stand in line that long, you’ve GOT to throw some shade up over them. Kids were melting down (and looked like they were actually melting) left and right.
Finally, at long last, we made it inside. We spotted a castle and hoped it would cast a spell on our sour moods.
Some of us had a harder time than others shaking off the grumpies.
We decided to hit the Dragon ride first. We knew it was one we’d want to do and when we got into the line, the estimated wait time sign read 15 minutes. We should have known better.
About 35 minutes later, we were finally getting on the ride. But at least we were finally in the shade and the fans were going so the line didn’t feel that bad. Finally, it was our turn to tame the dragon.
Yup, that giant smoke-breathing dragon with the glowing eyes is made of Legos. Pretty cool. And the hills weren’t too shabby either.
Up next, E. got to channel her inner Medieval warrior and do some jousting.
She loved the ride, and again, unlike the front gates, the wait was short, covered and pleasant. One of the best things about all the lines at Legoland is that each one contains a little “pen” for the kids to play in while the parents wait in line. They enter toward the beginning of the line and there’s an exit near the end of the line. Brilliant.
It’s just too bad Legoland Florida can’t apply that same crowd control logic to other lines throughout the park (that’s called foreshadowing, my friends).
As we worked our way through the park, we let E. explore things that caught her eye. She played for some time on a great play structure in Lego Kingdoms called The Forestmen’s Hideout and she even convinced us to attend the Big Test Live Show.
Did you know to put out a fire you put the wet stuff on the hot stuff? Thanks to a catchy song, we all know that now. Thank you firefighters in training.
Things were finally starting to turn around on our day. Sure, it was hot and crowded. Most of the lines for the rides were about 30 minutes long, which is totally acceptable on a holiday weekend at a theme park. We zipped through the first half of the park and we were really enjoying ourselves. But then we made the fateful decision to head into the Legoland Water Park.
Originally, we weren’t sure if we were even going to hit the water park, so I ddn’t bring a suit for myself, although I did pack ones for E. and DadJovi. I just figured they could go in and I’d find something else to amuse myself while they hit the waterslides. But after our rough start, he decided there was no way he was going into the waterpark alone, so he bought water park add-ons for all of us (which I think were $12 each). I figured, fine, I’ll just sit in a lounge chair and soak my feet and watch them.
As soon as we entered the water park, we knew that wasn’t going to happen. For starters, it was packed. Like, I’m talking picture the worst, most unorganized crowd you’ve ever been in — a crowded train, a customs line at Atlanta, a major holiday parade. You get the idea.
As we came in through the gates, I sent DadJovi and E. to the changing room while I hit the surf shop to check out suits for myself. It turned out the suits were less than $40 and since I haven’t bought myself one yet this summer, I figured why not. OK, this is where your timing for this story starts (it’ll be important in a moment). Within a few minutes, DadJovi and E. were back and in suits. It was about 1 p.m., so he said, “Let’s eat lunch before we swim. I’ll go get in the food line.” We checked it out and I’d say there were maybe 30 people in front of him, tops. Again, a long line but seemingly manageable. After all, I still had to pick out a suit, try them on, get changed, then rent a locker. We should both be done by about the same time.
We weren’t. Not by a long shot. After I did all of those things I just listed above, which took probably close to 30 minutes, I found DadJovi in line and noticed that he’d advanced maybe 10 feet in line. And he still had a long way to go. I told him I’d go find us a table since I’d likely have to wait.
E. and I stalked the area next to the food line that had tables — there were maybe 20, tops. For the entire waterpark. Eventually a group got up and we snagged the table. We sat down to wait. And wait. And wait. “Surely he’s got to be done by now,” I thought. “Maybe he just doesn’t see where we’re sitting.” I walked to the line because I could still see E. at the table and there he was … still waiting. I could tell that he was mentally shutting down. In case I’ve never mentioned it, he gets really claustrophobic in crowds and this was an extreme.
He’d just ordered our food, so I sent him to sit down with E. and said I’d wait on our order. He’d ordered three things: a pre-packaged kid’s PB&J, a hot dog for him and a grilled chicken sandwich for me. All simple things. The way the process worked is you ordered at one of three windows, then they send everyone to one “big” window to wait on their food. And it’s mayhem. There’s no room to stand and everyone is so fed up with waiting that they’re shoving close to the window to pounce on each item that’s put up in it.
And I had to wait in that second line for at least 20 minutes.
It was, in a word, a disaster.
We had already stowed our bags in the locker so we had no clocks but the best we’ve been able to estimate judging the receipt from my bathing suit and the food receipt is that the entire process took about 75 minutes. 75 minutes to get a hot dog, a PB&J and a chicken sandwich. That’s outrageous.
Again, I understand that it’s a holiday weekend. And I now know that we should have brought our lunches with us. But I can’t believe that this is the system. They’ve had MONTHS to work issues like this out. How can THIS be the system for getting a lunch in the only restaurant in the waterpark area? I’m sure other restaurants throughout Legoland can’t be this bad (although I wouldn’t doubt it. Later, I stopped in a store to get 1 Gatorade and 1 bottle of water. There was one person in front of me and it still took me 10 minutes to pay) but if you’re going to promote the waterpark as a fun place to go, especially with children, you HAVE to have food choices.
I also can’t stop thinking about the father with the son in the wheelchair I saw who was literally trapped by the tables because there was nowhere else for them to sit and then no way out. It took me and one other man moving two tables aside to get them out of there, trying to help them wedge by the misplaced poles and tight line area around the bar that intrudes on the ONE shaded dining area.
As for the waterpark itself, sigh. We did the lazy river but of course it took forever to get rafts and there are about 2 of those special Lego rafts (where you can build towers with floating Legos) for every 15 boring normal rafts. Needless to say, E. didn’t get one of those special ones. It wouldn’t have mattered. The lazy river was so packed that you felt like you were riding rafts with strangers anyway. Every part of it was about 4 rafts across.
We next hit the wave pool, which thankfully was a lot of fun. The waves were exactly the right height for little ones and we spent a lot of time swimming and playing in there. E. was too short for all of the waterslides (most were 48 inches, and she’s 43), so we headed to Joker Soaker interactive playground. DadJovi took E. in and they tried to do a couple of water slides but E. got knocked down by some wild older boys.
The highlight for me though was when the huge bucket on top of the structure filled up with water and dumped its contents right on E. and DadJovi, who used his body to shield her from the sudden, strong rush of water. I was so tired and cranky that I could not stop laughing. Like serious, tears rolling down my face laughing.
We took that as our cue to leave the waterpark.
We quickly changed and rushed over to the one thing E. told us she really wanted to see: the Pirate Show, which features waterskiing as a nod to the former Cypress Gardens water-ski shows.
This show was pretty great. My favorite part? The hero of the show was a heroine, Miranda.
Yes, that’s our girl Miranda, riding in to the rescue.
The show was a lot of fun and is the one thing E. points to as her favorite part of the day.
For me, my favorite part was the old Cypress Gardens section and the most amazing banyan tree I’ve ever seen.
That entire thing is ONE tree. Pretty awesome, huh? Nature trumps plastic for me any day.
E. just kept trying to find “princesses.” No matter how much I tried to explain Southern Belles to her, there was no convincing her that these two weren’t Cinderella and Belle.
You can take the girl out of Disney but you can’t take the Disney out of the girl.
And DadJovi’s favorite part of the day was Miniland USA. It was pretty spectacular.
E. is pressing a button that sends a “cannon” firing out of the pirate ship as it sails around the lagoon. And yes, everything you see (other than E., the mountain and the fence) is made out of Legos.
DadJovi loved exploring his hometown of Daytona, and I loved checking out my old home of Washington, DC. Look, the whole Obama family is waving to us from the steps of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, even Bo the dog!
The whole area was spectacular. From the large-scale cities …
… to the clever small scenes, like John Lennon playing guitar by the Imagine circle in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, we enjoyed every moment of Miniland.
Before leaving, we hit a few more rides, most memorably the Project X roller coaster. This.was.awesome. I can’t believe E. was big enough to ride a roller coaster this extreme.
She and I loved every second of it but DadJovi was FREAKING OUT that E. was going to fall out. Of course, this also made me laugh hysterically. Those curves that you see at the top are no joke. It feels like your car is going to tip over every time and you can see how far off the ground it is. Scary good fun!
On our way out, we stopped by to say hello to a couple old friends.
So what’s the final takeaway? The park has potential. There are some great rides and this week’s announcement about the coming Star Wars section of Miniland is exciting. And at the end of the day, E. had a great time, and that was really the only thing that mattered to us.
But frankly, I don’t think we’ll be returning.
I want to give the park some allowances for the fact that it’s still relatively new and it was a holiday weekend. But every interaction we had with customer service, from the front gates to the restaurant lines to even the ride operators themselves, was sorely missing the Disney touch. I know it’s not fair to compare a small park to a giant like Disney but when both are in your backyard, you’ve got to make a choice.
Throughout the day, we kept longing for Disney and its efficient lines and stellar customer service. Legoland’s management team could learn a lot of things from spending some time in the Disney parks. Things don’t have to be elaborate to be efficient — get some carts that sell quick snacks and beverages. Throw up some shade over the areas with frequent lines (i.e. the the front gates). And for God’s sake, add more tables to your dining areas.
When you do, let me know and we’ll think about coming back. In the meantime, you can find us at Disney.
Have you ever been to Legoland? Did we just hit it on the worst day possible? What’s the longest you’ve ever waited for something at a theme park?