©2015 The LEGO Group
Until recently, the Legoland Park in Winter Haven, Florida mostly existed as a side trip from Disney World or a short excursion for those who lived just a car ride away (knowing they'd have to stay in a sub-par hotel for the night). But the new opening of the self-proclaimed "Five-Gazillion Star" Legoland Resort Hotel (they launched in summer, 2015) is a complete game-changer for the region — offering an enjoyable vacation all its own.
As a smaller and more manageable theme park than Disney World, Legoland has always been a nice option for kids and parents seeking a fun but stress-free outing. The hotel utilizes that same philosophy, with some extra points for thoughtful parent-planning and the cheeky Lego spirit that accompanies its products and movies.
The five-story, 152-room hotel is convenient and practical in every way that Disney is not. Located just steps from the park (one can literally walk from the carousel ride to a guest room in six minutes), the resort makes the most of the Lego brand, without hitting you over the head with it. The lobby is full of Lego models, and more than two million bricks were used throughout the hotel. Lego beds, characters, and airplanes delight and amaze children at every turn. Ever better, troughs of actual Legos pieces are placed throughout the common areas for children to build and play with anytime they desire. Even the bathrooms, with painted characters decorating each stall, are super cute.
The rooms are all themed (pirate, friends, etc.), with more Lego models, rugs, and wall paintings to match the subject. The Premium Kingdom room was perfect for a family of four. Children are greeted with an exciting "scavenger hunt" that leads them to a treasure chest filled with games and a couple of Lego gifts (which helps, as your kids will want new Legos every second you are there). The layout was ideal, and included a king bed with TV for mom and dad, a bunk bed/separate sleeping area with TV for two kids, a mini refrigerator, and a desk. The bathrooms featured products from The Honest Company (it's the little touches that matter), while all rooms include Wi-Fi. Oh, and getting to the room via the amusing disco elevator with "lava" tiles and funny music never got old.
The food at Legoland hotel was surprisingly good. This isn't fine dining, it's clearly made for families — conceptualized around speed, convenience, and price — but given those considerations, the product was shockingly appetizing. The two restaurant options are Bricks Family Restaurant (a buffet) and Skyline Lounge (sit-down, but still a casual atmosphere). Possibly the best part of the entire experience is the flow between one place and the next, with all of it situated around kid activities. Skyline Lounge, which is directly adjacent to the building "castle", is the perfect place to grab a post-park snack and cocktail. The American Mule with Tito Vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer goes well with their hummus as you watch your children build, play, and meet characters. The kids can even take part in a Lego building contest where they get to present their creations to the "audience" (all while you sip away).
The Brick Restaurant is the best choice for a full family meal; you just can't beat a no-wait, tons-of-choices buffet when dealing with children. Sous Chef Brandon Burke (who is French-trained) spoke to us about their culinary approach, saying, "You don't want to make silly food. You want to make good food that everybody will eat." Some of these items include "no brainers" like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs for kids, while selections like the olive and pickled vegetable bar, a brisket carving station, and a truly respectable salad area up the culinary ante.
So far, Burke says the BBQ night has been the most popular. "We are in the south, kind of," he jokes. Everything from smoked ribs and turkey to a selection of ten sauces for wings made for a respectable BBQ assortment. Burke says they now skip pizza night, as they realized it didn't offer enough variety. The Mexican area, with options like a nacho bar and fajitas/quesadillas (with real sautéed vegetables), is also a big success with kids and adults alike. The dessert table features chocolate cake, ice cream, and more, in addition to fresh fruit and yogurt. Bricks also offers a full breakfast buffet, including items you'd expect, like French toast sticks, bacon, eggs, and pancakes — plus ones you might not, like fresh smoothies.
A large part of the restaurant's philosophy, says Burke, is buying local produce. "We do fresh from Florida. We actually have fruit trees and a garden just outside these windows." What they can't grow onsite, they look to the surrounding farms to supply (not many people realize that central Florida an agriculture leader). "All of our meat comes from a farm in Ocala … There are a lot of farmers in the Tampa area we buy produce and cheese from. We also buy Key West pink shrimp, and gulf grouper. A lot of which is local."
Major perks, activities, and amenities also come with staying at the Legoland Hotel. The resort has an excellent, well-thought-out pool (that looks directly over the park and Lake Eloise), which is full of brightly-colored floating Lego "blocks" that keep kids entertained for hours. They also offer a free "Master Model Builder" workshop throughout the day for that extra Lego oomph. Guests of the hotel can also get into the park 30 minutes earlier than the public, which is a nice way to avoid any entrance lines.
Legoland Hotel created a resort that doesn't even attempt to compete with the magnitude of the "other" Central Florida parks, but rather offers an adorable, convenient, fun, and manageable option for those seeking something different.