Merlin Entertainments Group has revealed its plans for LEGOLAND Florida, outlining the areas of the former Cypress Gardens theme park that it intends to retain as part of the new resort.
LEGOLAND Florida is scheduled to open by the end of 2011, and will feature more than 50 rides, shows and attractions. The park will be located in Winter Haven on the site of Cypress Gardens, which was purchased by Merlin for $22.3 million in January. The company shared its plans for the new park at a special "open house" event for local residents and prospective employees on Thursday.
Several areas and attractions from the Cypress Gardens park will become part of LEGOLAND Florida, although all will be extensively rethemed and updated to suit the park's target audience of families with 2-12 year-old children. The rethemed areas will include:
- The Beginning - entrance area, featuring The Big Shop (formerly Jubilee Mercantile) which will offer a large selection of LEGO toys.
- Fun Town - home to the LEGO Factory Tour (where guests can learn all about LEGO), the 153-foot Observation Tower (a carry-over from Cypress Gardens) and the Clutch Powers 4-D show.
- DUPLO Village - aimed at younger children, includes play areas and rides featuring trucks and cars. Formerly known as Gamesville.
- Imagination Zone - featuring the Kid Power Towers slides plus an extensive selection of LEGO for guests to build models with.
- Miniland USA - home to LEGO reproductions of famous landmarks including Las Vegas, New York City and Washington D.C. Florida icons such as the Kennedy Space Center and the Daytona Speedway will also be recreated.
- Dino Island - featuring a dinosaur-themed revamp of the existing Triple Hurricane wooden rollercoaster.
All-new areas of LEGOLAND Florida will include:
- Castle Hill - home to the Dragon Coaster (which extends both indoors and outdoors), The Hideaways rope climb area and "jousting" astride LEGO horses.
- Land of Adventure - Egyptian-themed land based around a mock Pharoah's temple, featuring the Beetle Bounce "frog jumper" up-and-down ride.
- LEGO City - featuring the LEGOLAND Driving School and LEGO boats, along with the Fun Town Fire Academy, in which guests use LEGO fire trucks to hose down a burning building.
Cypress Gardens' wooden rollercoaster The Starliner is being taken down in the hope that Merlin can sell it on to a new owner, after the company decided it could not be made to fit the LEGOLAND theme.
Other famous elements of Cypress Gardens will become part of the LEGOLAND Florida resort, with the gardens themselves being among the most notable elements to be retained. No LEGO theming will be added to the gardens, but the returning Ski Show will be updated with a to-be-defined LEGO storyline.
Merlin hopes to convert the 145-acre LEGOLAND Florida site into a multi-day destination, creating over 1,000 jobs in the process. It plans to invest hundreds of millions into the project, adding hotels and attractions based on its other brands which include Madame Tussaud's Wax Museums and SeaLife aquariums. It is likely the company will also seek to convert the existing Splash Island water park to a LEGO theme, supporting its plans to add LEGO water parks to a number of its locations. However, the water park will not open at the same time as the theme park.
The location of Cypress Gardens has weighed heavily against it in the fiercely competitive Florida market. Situated close to Winter Haven, south of Orlando, the site is around an hour's drive away from Walt Disney World. Merlin is hoping that a combination of LEGOLAND'S brand - which Varney described as "one of the strongest in the world" - and promised road improvements from Polk County will help establish the new resort as a destination worth travelling to. In addition to the infrastructure improvements, Polk Country will pay Merlin $150,000 a year to support job creation and $350,000 to boost marketing.
Founded as a botanical garden in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope, Cypress Gardens quickly grew into a major attraction. The previous owners, Land South Adventures, paid $16.8 million to take over the park following a 2007 bankruptcy sale. The company's plans included opening a new museum dedicated to its history and expanding the water park. However, the planned expansion was never completed and the park has struggled in the face of heavy competition from Florida's other attractions.
The park closed again in September last year, immediately sparking rumors of a Merlin takeover of the site. The park's botanical gardens and water park had only re-opened in March 2009 following a five-month closure, although its rides and animal exhibits did not return.
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