WINTER HAVEN — While shoveling a ceremonial scoop of Lego bricks, Legoland Florida executives announced Thursday that the theme park will build a 152-room hotel on its property by 2015.
The news is significant for both the theme park and the area. Since opening in 2011, the park has drawn many guests from families who are staying in Orlando and visiting the area's large theme parks like Disney or Universal.
A brightly-colored Lego-themed hotel is expected to draw more visitors for longer stays to Winter Haven, which is about 50 miles from Walt Disney World.
"This shifts us from a single day visit to a multi-day destination," said Adrian Jones, the general manager of Legoland Florida.
This will be the world's fifth Legoland Hotel; there is currently Lego-themed lodging in California, England and Denmark. Another hotel is under construction in Malaysia.
Local officials said they traveled to the California location and saw how the Legoland park and hotel has expanded the entire area's tourism offerings.
"This was our hope from the beginning," said Winter Haven Mayor JP Powell, adding that he's hoping other large hotel, restaurant and tourism companies will add outposts in the area — which was once orange groves decades ago.
Legoland Florida is located on what was once Cypress Gardens, an old-timey Florida theme park that offered water ski shows and Southern belles dressed in hoop skirts. Some of Cypress Gardens' amenities, such as the historic botanical area, were preserved and are still on Legoland grounds.
The new hotel will overlook Lake Eloise, where water ski shows are still held.
Legoland Florida is based on the building-block toys and has rides and attractions geared toward ages 2 to 12.