Legoland Florida unveils park plans, starts ticket sales

The opening of Legoland Florida is still 12 months away, but tickets went on sale Thursday on the new theme park’s Web site.

The reward for buying in advance – way, way in advance, in this case – is a big discount. Tickets are $65 for adults and $55 for chidlren ages 3-12 and seniors ages 60 and older. An annual pass, which is good until the end of 2012, is on sale now for $99.

And if you’re already convinced you’re going to love Legoland Florida for life, the park is also selling an “Ambassador” pass for $2,500. It offers lifetime admission, preferred parking, special events and discounts on food and merchandise.

Legoland Florida officials also detailed the layout of the park, which will include 10 lands: The Beginning, Fun Town, Miniland USA, Castle Hill, Land of Adventure, XTreme, LEGO City, Imagination Zone, Pirate Cove and DUPLO Village.

The centerpiece of the park, Miniland USA, will include Lego versions of several Florida landmarks including Kennedy Space Center and Key West’s Mallory Square.

Legoland Florida is being built on 150 acres in Winter Haven, Florida, on the site of the former Cypress Gardens theme park. Many of the original gardens, including a 30-acre wooded grove, will be maintained at the new park.

Legoland Florida will be geared toward families with children ages 2 to 12 with more than 50 rides, shows and interactive attractions.

Classic Florida Starliner roller coaster rescued from storage

A 1960s-era, wooden roller coaster known as the Starliner will be pulled out of the mothballs and brought back to its original home: Panama City Beach, Florida.

Teddy and Jenny Meeks announced last week that they have bought the Starliner, which has been in storage in Tampa since 2008. The couple and two other partners are spending $2 million to acquire the coaster, refurbish it and relocate it to a site on Panama City Beach near Pier Park.

The Starliner was born in 1963 at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach, where it was ridden by countless vacationing families for more than four decades, until the park closed in 2004.

The 70-foot-tall coaster was then relocated to Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven, Florida. But in 2008, Cypress Gardens shut down its rides and the Starliner was put in storage. Earlier this year, Legoland bought the Cypress Gardens property and announced that the Starliner would not be included in the plans for Legoland Florida.

Enter the Meeks, who had previously purchased a balloon ride and a biplane ride from the Miracle Strip and installed them at Pier Park. Teddy Meeks told the Panama City News Herald that the Starliner will keep its wooden structure, but will get a new magnetic braking structure and other safety improvements.

The ride is expected to open no later than the spring of 2012.

LEGOLAND is coming to Florida!

I’d normally be skeptical about another theme park opening in Florida. Does the state really need another one? But, when I saw the announcement from Merlin Entertainments, I changed my mind very quickly. After all, every city should have a LEGOLAND®. By the end of 2011, Winter Haven, Florida will open in this new attraction, which will sit on 145 acres that is currently home to Cypress Gardens. The development will involve a “significant multi-million dollar investment over a number of years” and eventually will include accommodations and other branded attractions along with the theme park. When the project is finished, this will be the world’s largest LEGOLAND.

The park is intended to mirror the LEGOLAND Parks already up and running in Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and California. But, like the others, it won’t be a mere copy. The Winter Haven park will have its own “twist” that reflects its Florida home. The theme park will be only 30 minutes from Orlando, making it easy to integrate into a vacation that includes the usual theme parks, and it’s also close to Tampa. Preliminary research showed that vacationers were extremely likely to visit the park. And, the track record of the California park, which has been voted the best children’s theme park by Amusement Today for six years in a row, making this a smart move for Merlin.

%Gallery-83789%Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments, calls LEGOLAND Florida “one of the most exciting and important projects Merlin ahs ever developed.” He explains, “It is a unique opportunity for us; Florida is the biggest family tourist centre in the world. We have been looking for the right site there for some time and in Winter Haven we plan to create one of the best and certainly most beautiful, theme parks in the world. LEGOLAND California has already proven how much US families love the unique LEGOLAND concept.”

The new LEGOLAND park will have more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, including LEGO models and interactive experiences. It’ll also bring more than 1,000 new jobs to the area by the time it opens. This is music to the ears of the state’s governor, Charlie Crist, who says, “We are delighted at this news. We are extremely happy that the future of Cypress Gardens is secure. LEGOLAND is one of the most exciting names in family attractions and a welcome new addition to Florida.”