Full disclosure: I'm not into theme parks. That said, I love LEGOLAND Florida. If your kids are under twelve and are LEGO fanatics, they too will fall in love with a park dedicated to their age group and their obsession: the LEGO brick that has inspired creativity galore in family rooms and bedrooms across the globe.
This 150-acre park specializes in family fun with over fifty pink-knuckle rides (scary-free thrills), fourteen areas (called zones), live shows, and remarkably good 4D movies. LEGOLAND has a full water park and Duplo Village for toddlers, plus great ways to get discounted admission prices. (You better not skip to the end of this article to read them!)
My kids' firm favorites include LEGO Ninjago – The Ride! (kind of like King's Dominion's Boo Blasters), Flying School, The Great LEGO Race (the new virtual-reality coaster), The Dragon, Driving School and Beetle Bounce. My favorites? The water ski show, the aforementioned movies and taking pictures of my kids every chance I got!
But I really love this theme park because of what I like to call "art in the park." LEGOLAND calls it Miniland USA - and it consists entirely of LEGO bricks transformed into scenes from our world. You'll see the NASA space shuttle blast off in Florida, the Eiffel Tower, monuments in Washington, D.C. and the New York City skyline. As a former Californian, I was tickled by an entire area devoted to San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Painted Ladies (those iconic Victorian homes, to save you time googling). Kids will be amazed to see life-size LEGO Darth Vadar and R2-D2. FromStar wars, they will also see the Millennium Falcon taking off from Tatooine and the invasion of Naboo, plus the newest stage to join LEGOLAND, The Force Awakens exhibit, featuring dramatic scenes from the Episode VII movie, enhanced with lighting, sound effects and animation . In LEGO parlance, this translates to super-duper cool Star Wars LEGO attractions that your kids will go crazy over. Just like the rest of LEGOLAND Florida!
For the best LEGOLAND Florida experience, try visiting for two full days. You can easily spend a whole day on LEGOLAND's dry rides and another day in the raging water park. Of course, plan to play in the water park when the temps rise.
Day 1: The Rides
Preparing for an efficient day at any theme park means planning. Theme park warriors strategize successfully long before they actually arrive. So explore the LEGOLAND website and use the following information to get the most bang for your buck.
LEGOLAND opens at ten in the morning every day. I know you are on vacation, but this is not the time to sleep in. Why? Because mornings are the sweet spot in LEGOLAND. The wall of people seems to appear around noon or one o'clock. Then came nine-fifteen to give yourself plenty of time to park, stand in line, get your picture taken in front of the LEGOLAND sign (free to pose), use the toilet and so on.
LEGOLAND consists of fourteen zones (Imagination, Wheels, Building, Creation, etc.) each with many rides and play areas, and most with dining options. When you first arrive, pick up a LEGOLAND map and today's show schedule.
Travel mom $suggestions:LEGOLAND allows you to bring snack-filled backpacks and a small cooler with drinks into the park.
When you arrive, run - don't walk! – to the new virtual reality roller coaster in LEGO Technic: The Great LEGO Race. This extremely popular groundbreaking ride is the latest addition to LEGOLAND and it deserves every accolade it has received. Riders put on virtual reality goggles and have their minds blown by this experience. This tour's line is Greek food festival long - no joke! Therefore, you want to get there as soon as possible in the morning. (Kids must be at least six years old and forty-eight inches tall to wear the VR headset.)
Next, if the Great LEGO Race still has a short queue, take another turn. If the line is already insanely long, quickly head to the Flight School and Driving School rides in LEGO City towards the back of the park. Why? For the other guests will stroll through the front parts of the park. If your family heads to the back of the park and works its way forward, you'll encounter fewer people and quieter cows—at least in the morning.
Our favorite show is the Pirate's Cove Live Water Ski Show, featuring water skis, jet skis, boats - and water skiers jumping off ramps and climbing people's pyramids. Don't miss this fun show that takes place at several specific times throughout the day. (Check the show guide you picked up at the gate.) Save LEGOLAND's three 4D movies in the 700-seat Fun Town Theater for the afternoons. Your kids will love the surprisingly good 12-minute movies, and you'll enjoy all the delicious air conditioning.
Is LEGOLAND for the little ones? Yes definitely! Cutie pies under the age of two are placed at LEGOLAND. Toddlers will love the character meet and greets (check the show guide for locations and times), the Grand Carousel in Fun Town, a live show in Heartlake City, and an entire area dedicated to their sweet selves in Duplo Valley.
Travel mom $suggestions:Bring your strollers to the park or rent a single ($16) or double ($22) stroller each day. The best news? These little ones under the age of two get free entry.
Day two: Water park
LEGOLAND's colorful water park is located at the back of LEGO City behind the Flight School and is a destination in itself. Like its land counterpart, the water park offers plenty of fun without the scares, with a modest thrill or two for the older kids. Hours vary, but summer water park hours are usually from eleven or noon to four (always check LEGOLAND.com for hours). If you're trying to visit both parks in one day, spend the morning on the dry rides and the afternoon at the water park.
If you choose a 2-day card, it's smart to drive land tours for a whole day and go to the water park the next day. The place is huge! If LEGOLAND is a one-time trip for your family, it makes more sense to dedicate every day to land or water.
When you arrive at the water park (you're one of the first families in, right?), you'll find a Surf Shop stocked with oops-I-forgot items like sunscreen, swimsuits for kids and adults, and sunglasses.
Opposite the Surf Shop are two huge changing rooms with private changing cubicles. Both medium and large lockers sit next to the locker room and cost $9 to $15 for the day. (Låse takes both cash and credit cards.)
From your locker you can see the Beach-n-Brick Grill, which serves a great selection of snacks and meals. My kids love the big pretzels and picky eaters will find PB&J sandwiches. To save money we grabbed bottled water from our cupboards. Conveniently located by the dining and changing rooms is the DUPLO Splash Safari for little guys (watery fun for six and under).
But the best trip of all - in my book - is also a stone's throw from the lockers. The Build-a-Raft River is a thousand-foot-long lazy river that lets kids (and parents) float along with large bobbing LEGO bricks and build LEGO towers on these unique rafts using the bobbing bricks. The lazy river surrounds splashing fountains, lifeguards and LEGO creations galore.
Cross a small bridge and you're now in a huge part of the water park, home to a huge wave pool, zillions of chaise lounges, LEGO-built stations for kids to create, toilets and an ice house.
Older kids will find light thrills on three slides and a 60-foot slide, which for obvious reasons I've never been on. (Kids must be at least forty-eight inches tall to ride these slides.)
But my kids' favorite is a water playhouse called the Joker Soaker (like King's Dominion's Splash House) that has multiple levels of H20 fun topped with a 300 gallon tip bucket.
Travel mom $suggestions:When visiting LEGOLAND's water park, you must bring your own towels and bathing suits, water bottle, snacks, bug spray and sunscreen.
On the way
I have known travelers who consider the journey part of the vacation. Still others want to get from point A to point B as cheaply – or quickly – as possible. LEGOLAND Florida is technically in a small community called Winter Haven that carries Orlando, which is considered one of the least walkable cities in America, which means you'll need a rental car if you're not driving to Florida. Check out these ways to get from RVA to Orlando to decide what's best for your family.
Flying away in a jet plane
Don't want to waste valuable vacation hours driving to Orlando? Airfare from RVA to Orlando is about $280 round trip per person. person. Flight prices increase during the busy seasons, are less expensive during the week and fall sharply in the period between high and low seasons. (Some swear that you'll get the best price if you secure your plane tickets fifty-four days in advance.)
Say yes to Amtrak Roomettes
Are you ready for a truly amazing experience that your family will rave about forever? Consider riding the rails on an Amtrak roomette that holds two people each. Each room provides two cozy beds and a potty/sink combo. Roomettes also offers impressive meals with menus, desserts and cloth napkins. Two roomettes — which sleep four people in total — cost about $1,400 round trip during a summer week. (Weekends are more like $1,600 for two roomettes.) For small families, Amtrak also has a three-person sleeper, but it books up early and isn't available on all trains.
Long drive, but you know the drill
To save money, consider my least favorite—yet often used—way to travel: the arduous drive from RVA to Winter Haven. If you skip bathroom stops, have the kind of car that lets you skip gas stops, and get lucky with no traffic challenges of any kind, you'll make it to Winter Haven in just eleven hours. Or steal my strategy: Time those bathroom breaks. I hit the gas, give everyone a few seconds to use the facilities, then toss bags of chips into the black hole that is our backseat—and we'll be in Winter Haven in twelve hours.
Once you're in the Orlando area, you'll find yourself on Interstate 4. A wonderful team of engineers really nailed it when they created the friendly and spacious I-4, because it's pretty cool to float down this highway to the amusement parks. (Remember that commute hours—like any city—produce traffic.)
Are you trying to convince yourself that hotels don't matter because they're "just where we lay our heads at night?" Trust me, after a long day at an amusement park, you want a comfortable place to flop. See a solid list of properties near – and some right next to – LEGOLAND. Keep in mind that some hotels include a resort fee, parking fee and Florida hotel tax (a combination of sales tax plus a hotel tax that can equal 12 to 14 percent depending on the county). Triple-checking hotel costs and fees before your trip is your best bet to avoid sticker shock.
Value Stay: Comfort Inn & Suites
If you want a cheaper LEGOLAND trip, here's my plan. To begin with, we sleep outside the tourist district. We don't sleep near Disney World or Universal, nor do we live near LEGOLAND itself. Second, the property must provide a good free breakfast. But my main must-have? Security. I've stayed in funky hotels where I've saved a bundle but also listened to sirens screaming through the night. Never again.
I highly recommend the Comfort Inn & Suites Maingate South, which meets all three of the above criteria (4095 Hotel Drive, Davenport, Florida). Be careful to book the Comfort Inn in Davenport, Florida, and not Davenport, Iowa. (I'm serious!) Also, don't accidentally book the Quality Inn Maingate South like I did once. In my haste to find a cheap hotel I booked this disaster of a property and came close to ruining our trip.
Comfort Inn & Suites offers refrigerators and microwaves in every room, free breakfast, coin-operated laundry facilities, outdoor pool and free parking. The property is located just off I-4 and a 30 minute drive from LEGOLAND.
For a casual dinner, check out Giovanni's Pizza and the more upscale Ovation Bistro & Bar located next door to Giovanni's. Both are just a 4 minute drive from the Comfort Inn in Davenport, Florida (not Iowa!).
The resort is dripping in bells and whistles
If your heart ached after a trip to Maui (but the "kids are only young once" vibe prevailed), the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is calling your name. Unplug and relax at this beautiful resort that has two types of guest rooms. The first is a 16-story hotel with amazing rooms and a sweet view of the golf course and pool system. The other guest arrangement is 2- and 3-bedroom villas with the works: full kitchen, multiple bathrooms, laundry room and flat screens throughout.
This 4-star stunner is located just off I-4, about a mile from Disney World and forty minutes from LEGOLAND. You'll find both casual and fine dining at the Omni, a full spa, an impressive fitness room, a kids' club and best of all - a huge pool and lazy river system. I love that the Omni offers a free shuttle to Disney, but I'm not a fan of parking at $22 per night and the Omni resort fee creeping in at $30 per night. So count all those nickels and dimes when you do your trip math.
Travel mom $suggestions:On days when you know you'll be immersed in LEGOLAND fun from morning until exhaustion hits, consider a value stay like the Comfort Inn. Then when you have more time to play at a beautiful resort, go ahead and move to the Omni.
LEGOLAND Beach Retreat(et LEGO Value Resort)
The Beach Retreat is located across the street from LEGOLAND, giving this resort a get-away-from-it-all feel. The Beach Retreat offers adorable cottages decorated with LEGO bricks that sleep up to five. Guests enjoy a buffet breakfast along with a shuttle that takes you to and from the park throughout the day. The breakfast spot transforms into a lively dinner spot where parents can eat while the kids play on the lavish beach-themed LEGO playground. Best of all, the Beach Retreat boasts a beautiful pool filled with floating LEGO bricks and surrounded by colorful chaise lounges, fire pits, live music and a bar – with fun drinks – for the parents. On the downside, the resort fee here is $20 per night, but that includes parking and all the shuttle use. Also, the pool is closed during the day and there is not a coffee machine in the room.
Travel mom $suggestions:Stock your room's mini-fridge with food from the original, like the first-ever Publix supermarket, located a moment's drive from LEGOLAND Beach Retreat.
LEGOLAND Florida Hotel
This wildly fun "toy phone" welcomes visitors via a huge smoke-breathing LEGO dragon – created from 445,000 bricks – that roars from the rooftop hotel every fifteen minutes. The hotel hits the LEGO lover's jackpot with bricks and elaborate playgrounds, and it's just 150 steps from LEGOLAND (no, we didn't count!). The lobby alone will enchant children, so plan plenty of time to stop and build. Parents can supervise the children and relax in the Skyline Lounge.
The rooms come in standard and premium, and all rooms can accommodate up to five. Guest rooms come in four themes: pirate, adventure, kingdom and friends. The standard rooms are nicely kitted out in LEGO and the premium rooms are LEGO on steroids. Each room has a mini fridge, coffee maker and two flat screen TVs. VIP suites can accommodate up to six people. No spoilers, but the elevators are a hoot!
All rooms ensure your family a sumptuous hot breakfast, access to the beautiful heated pool overlooking Lake Eloise and a session for each child with a LEGO Master Builder. I'm not crazy about the hotel's resort fee of $25 per night. night, plus 12 percent tax. However, parking is included in the price. You'll also find massive storage space - just ask at the front desk! – to store your bags if you want to spend your first or last day in the park (and have not yet checked in or out). My overall review? This one is 5 star wowza for the kids!
Photos: Chip Litherland
Can adults go to Legoland Florida without a child? ›
Adults (18+) must be accompanied by at least one child (17 & under) to enter LEGOLAND Discovery Center.How many days do you need in Legoland Florida? ›
We recommend at least one full day to explore. If you are planning on visiting our LEGOLAND Water Park as well, you may want to consider purchasing an additional two-park ticket to ensure enough time to fully enjoy all LEGOLAND Florida Resort has to offer!What age is Legoland Florida for? ›
The park is geared for children between the ages of 2 - 12, however, older LEGO® fans may also enjoy the park. If your child is looking for thrill rides, then our park may not be suitable for them.