For all the things Legoland has going for it, the park still has had some obstacles to being a perfect attraction. There's the long drive across Winter Haven. The $14 parking. And the fact there's really not much for the tiniest tots to do.
The park has addressed that last part in spades this season, revamping its Duplo Valley toddler section for children 5 and younger with all-new rides and facilities. What better way to give it a test-drive than to drive my own 2-year-old daughter (known to most friends and family as the Pink Ninja, thanks to a creative aunt) to Polk County and give it a spin?
First of all, Duplo Valley is more of a pit stop than a main event, but if you're toting several screaming rugrats with you for the day, it's a welcome respite for the smallest tykes that can't ride the Coastersaurus.
There are two small rail rides, the Duplo Train and Duplo Tractor, that are basically the same small loop on mini-sized cars, across the quad from each other. Don't be surprised if your kid wants to try both anyway (although it can be a 30-minute wait or more for a 90-second trip).
More inviting is the Duplo Farm, a blessedly air-conditioned refuge for folks looking to hide from the sweltering heat of inland Florida. There are slides, playhouses and yes, blocks for all to play with — including a closed off Tot Spot for the under-2s in the group. That amounts to a relatively quiet room with bigger blocks and smaller tables.
There was plenty of "Look what I built, dad!" being shouted across the barn, but be warned: The motion-activated double doors open and close constantly, so keep in mind it ends up being only somewhat cooler than outside when the place is packed.
The barn also features a baby care center that is packed with changing tables and nursing rooms. Closing in on 3, the Ninja is directed to the restrooms outside, which could benefit from shorter potties built for smaller bottoms, but the care center would have been a welcome option for us a year ago.
If the blissful air-conditioning isn't enough, there's a Splash & Play water pad outside, stuffed with Duplo-style animals and water jets. But the Ninja, weaned on Dell Holmes Park's splash pad in St. Pete, was a tad disappointed in the meager size of the water park, but splashed away nonetheless. That is, until the necessarily overchlorinated water got in her eyes one too many times and ended the afternoon for lunch and nap time.
On the way out of the park, I asked the Ninja what she liked best.
"The train! It was my favorite!"
But what about the barn?
"Yes, that was my favorite, too!"
And what about the splash pad?
"That was also my favorite!"
So you liked all the parts?
"Yes, all the parts were my favorite!"
And really, that's the only response you need in a theme park attraction, isn't it?