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.”

New York, Miami and Los Angeles most popular ports of entry

As usual, 15 ports of entry were responsible for 84 percent of overseas entries to the United States last October. This is an increase of two percentage points from October 2008, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The top three ports were New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles, together accounting for 39 percent of all arrivals from overseas. These three ports gained one percentage point of “arrival share” year-over-year. But, only four of the top 15 ports of entry posted increases from October 2008 to October 2009: Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. These changes come based on an increase of 1 percent in foreign visits to the United States.

Big Apple beats the Mouse: New York City tops tourists’ lists

Tourism to New York City dropped close to 4 percent last year. For a city already beleaguered by the financial crisis, this represents lost revenue we really could have used. But, the damage wasn’t as bad here as it was in Orlando, which slipped from its spot as the top tourist spot in the United States. This is the first time America’s cultural and financial capital has been the #1 tourist destination in the country since 1990.

Last year, 45.2 million people passed through New York City, and the projections for 2010 are for an increase of 3.2 percent. And, that’s in what is still expected to be a tough travel market.

[Photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

How did international visitors enter the U.S. this year?

If you visited the United States from overseas, you probably hit the ground in one of 15 ports of entry. These top first stops accounted for 84 percent of all entries from overseas in the first eight months of 2009– up almost 2 percentage points from the same period in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Traffic through the major ports is becoming slightly more concentrated. This doesn’t include visits from Canada and Mexico.

New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles continue to be the top three ports of entry for overseas visitors. Through August, these locations accounted for 39% of all arrivals from overseas, an increase of a percentage point from last year. Miami was the only one of these three to post a year-over-year increase, and it was joined only by Orlando MCO, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. Meanwhile, 11 of the top 15 ports of entry posted decreases in arrivals. This is hardly surprising, given that visits to the Untied States from overseas are down 9 percent so far this year.

Chicago was hit particularly hard, losing 18 percent of its entry traffic and moving into #7 on the list, behind Honolulu. Detroit lost 36 percent of its inbound visitor share, falling to #16 — after Boston, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale.

Orlando kid contest wants to know what makes you smile

All it takes is a short video and a good reason … and you could win a trip to Orlando. A new contest sponsored by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Florida Film Festival and an organization called KIDS FIRST! Will send a family of four to Orlando for three nights, with accommodations, airfare and rental car access included. Theme park tickets will also be available, but the filmmaker passes to the Florida Film Festival (which runs from April 8 – 19) is the real prize. I went last year and had a blast.

To win, a kid age 13 – 18 needs to answer a simple question: Why does Orlando make you smile? The answers, which must be by video, can either be animated or in live action and can’t exceed three minutes. The winners will be announced in late February, and their films will be premiered at the film festival.