WINTER HAVEN — Legoland Florida officials hear one question more than any other from potential visitors.
What is Legoland?
More than just intricate models crafted from the popular plastic bricks, they assure questioners. Much more.
Think dozens of rides, shows and attractions, many of them hands on, some of them educational, and all of them geared toward 2- to 12-year-olds.
"This will be the ultimate family-friendly resort," said John Jakobsen, managing director of Legoland parks worldwide, who on Thursday unveiled video mockups of the park's coming attractions. "It's designed to put kids in control and take more than a day to see."
Spread over 150 acres that once were Cypress Gardens, Legoland Florida is slated to debut in October 2011, after a more than $200 million investment by a Danish toy giant and its majority-owned British partner Merlin Entertainments Group. A water park, hotels and possibly other attractions come later.
Construction is well under way, with more than 100 model artists at the four other Legolands in Europe and California stockpiling Lego dragons, castles and Bob the Builder figures. In about six months, on-site Lego building gets serious, and the park will ramp up hiring an operations staff of 1,000.
On Thursday, Legoland started selling tickets online priced similar to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Until Dec. 31, buyers can get a $10 discount on the daily $75 admission for adults, $65 for kids 3 through 12 and seniors 60 and up. There's also a $30 discount for the $129 adult annual pass, but not the $99 pass for kids.
Attraction highlights include a midget motorway where kids as young as 3 are awarded a personal driver's license, a build-your-own Lego robot lab, and a wide variety of tame amusement rides.
Of course, everything will be built from off-the-shelf Lego bricks — or look as if it is. And there will be scattered stores stocked with toys and videos from the vast Lego and Duplo arsenal. Anything left will be found in what's called the Big Store — the size of a small supermarket — at the exit gate.
The trademark centerpiece, Miniland, will be a 25 million Lego brick extravaganza that re-creates familiar sites from U.S. destinations, including Washington, Las Vegas, Manhattan and iconic spots around Florida — the Kennedy Space Center, Daytona Speedway, Bok Tower in Lake Wales and Mallory Square in Key West.
Two roller coasters and a few rides left from the old park will be rethemed, but park officials ensure the only thrills will be ones an entire family can share.
"We do pink knuckle rides, not white-knuckle rides," said Adrian Jones, park general manager.
Merlin Entertainments becomes the fifth owner trying to restore prosperity to an attraction taken off the beaten track by Walt Disney and the Interstate highway system. Three of the failures were steered by the biggest and most successful industry players.
Narrowing the appeal to families with young kids and seniors looking for passive experiences limits the audience.
But the formula has been successful enough at four other parks for Merlin to start building a sixth park in Malaysia, while a pint-size indoor Legoland in Chicago will be replicated in Dallas.
The original Cypress Gardens botanical gardens, widely regarded as the cornerstone of Florida's first theme park, are protected by a state conservation easement. The gardens will reopen intact, including the old Florida swimming pool featured in an Esther Williams movie.
Cypress Gardens' trademark southern belles in hoop skirts will be posing in the foliage, but designers have not decided how. Don't be surprised if they are built of Legos.