By Susan and Simon Veness
With all the announcements of mega-coasters, drop-towers, and thrill-rides galore, it’s nice to know younger guests haven’t been forgotten. LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven, just 45 minutes’ drive from the House of Mouse, caters to the age 2-12 crowd, and now there is even more reason to visit.
On 21 November, LEGOLAND announced it is building a long-awaited themed resort, the Legoland Florida Hotel, due to open in early to mid2015. During the announcement ceremony, British-born General Manager Adrian Jones said, “Here I stand again, making another announcement about how Legoland is about to expand. […]Why are we able to do this? The simple fact is that Legoland has been hugely successful, not only in meeting its business criteria for Merlin, but also in creating incredible moments for our millions of guests. So it comes as no surprise that I’m here to confirm the worst-kept secret in central Florida.” He then officially announced the Legoland Florida Hotel, and shortly afterwards, local dignitaries began throwing shovels-full of Lego bricks toward the crowd gathered for the announcement.
The hotel will be 4-storys tall, with 152 rooms and lots of room for future expansion. With views over Lake Eloise, the hotel is expected to be brightly coloured, its décor heavy on the Lego characters, and with the addition of a renovated boardwalk along the lake and easy access to the park’s spectacular gardens, it will quickly establish itself as the premier family-oriented accommodation option in Winter Haven.
Even as far back as 2011, when Merlin Entertainments purchased the former Cypress Gardens park and transformed it into Legoland, there were plans to build a resort hotel, earmarked for 2014 or 2015. Legoland in California already has a hotel, as do the England, Denmark, and Malaysia parks, and their heavily themed rooms could be the model on which this newest resort will be built. In fact, the bellhop model made entirely of Lego bricks, standing sentinel in the stage area for the Florida announcement, made its first appearance at the California hotel.
While it may have been a single-day park when it opened, Legoland Florida’s 2012 addition of a water park, the extended Mini-land which now features a Star Wars section, the fabulous World of Chima, and the upcoming enhancements to the Duplo Village toddlers section makes an overnight stay a sensible and value-conscious choice. And what kid doesn’t want to sleep right on the doorstep of a park designed especially for them? The hotel will be located next to the park’s famous entry archway, just steps away from the turnstiles. If you visited during Cypress Gardens’ heyday, you’ll recall the former animal section to the left of the entry; that’s where the new hotel will be located.
One thing is for certain, you can expect to see plenty of photo opportunities with those wonderful Lego characters you currently see all around the park!
Sticking with the ‘hotels’ theme, there is a lot of other new development either under way or on the horizon, including two hotels right at Walt Disney World’s doorstep. The former Orlando Vista Resort, Lake Buena Vista, suddenly began a major make-over two months ago, stripping it right down to the bare studs and structure, and, as of this past Wednesday, put up the first confirmation of what it will become in 2014. Instead of the less recognized brand it formerly was, it will become the latest in the smart, upscale Crown Plaza chain, and its opening date appears to be April 2014.
Right on Disney’s Hotel Boulevard, the former Royal Plaza hotel is undergoing a transformation and will become the [B]B Resort[/B], with 394 completely renovated rooms and suites and, according to their statement, will be “showcasing a stylish yet playful décor.”
Further afield, Downtown Orlando introduces central Florida’s first property of the trendy Aloft hotel chain, which could be a great choice for those looking to follow Orlando City Lions soccer team when they make their MLS debut at their new purpose-built stadium in 2015.
Travel Alert! If you are flying to Orlando (or leaving Orlando for home) between 27 November and 23 December, bear in mind tourism spikes for Thanksgiving (28 November), Christmas, and New Year, so holiday travellers going through Orlando International Airport should pack their patience when it comes to customs and security. Knowing it may be busy in advance helps take the edge off. Admittedly not much of the edge, but a little!
Restaurant Recommendation: Simon’s parents came over from England for a two-week visit this month, and one of their top requests was a traditional American breakfast. We tend to shy away from the buffet options, which are neither freshly-cooked nor particularly healthy, and instead took them to our two local diners, Denny’s and Perkins. Both serve up made-to-order breakfasts, and the concept of “have it your way” applies. Want one egg and toast? Done. Just interested in a muffin? Fine. Want Steak and Eggs or the Hearty Man’s Combo of smoked sausage, bacon, sausage links, two eggs, hash browns and three pancakes? It’s yours. Coffee refills, of course, are free. With locations directly across from the Downtown Disney entry to Walt Disney World, they’re a fantastic choice to set you up for a day of theme-parking, and if you go for the combo you’re not likely to need lunch, saving your hard-earned holiday dollars. Feeling generous after all that savings? Drop a few dollars into the pot at Perkins to benefit Give Kids the World’s efforts, making wishes come true for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Favourite Quote of the Week:We were at Epcot this past week enjoying the night-time entertainment with family. During the scene in IllumiNations when the earth globe makes its way into the center of the lagoon, a woman behind us was heard to say, “Hey, is that thing getting bigger? It looks like it’s getting bigger! How do they do that?” No one had the heart to point out the fact that it wasn’t getting bigger, it was just moving closer.