This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend. If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.
Okay! When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera. That was fun! Really! Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points! But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.
I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment. I didn’t have my compression shorts on. And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples. And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean. Some gingerness in the upper thigh region. A little scratchiness on the man nipples.
I mentioned at last Friday’s weigh-in that we had a plan to visit Legoland Florida over the weekend – and visit Legoland we did. The tickets are pretty expensive (and don’t include parking!), so we found that it made sense to buy season passes. All we have to do is go one more time and they more than pay for themselves. I ordered them online last Friday, and off we went.
Legoland Florida is in a town called Winter Haven, and has only been in existence since 2011. I’ve been coming down here now for 9 months, and from the beginning I’ve thought that Winter Haven was a weird place to put a major amusement park. It turns out, though, that the site for Legoland is the site of an old Florida institution called Cypress Gardens. Cypress Gardens went bankrupt in the 2000s (9/11 and the three-hurricane year of 2004 did them in), and Legoland bought the whole shebang and fixed it up.
Our first impression was that the administration of the park, and in particular the lines, feels like an old, somewhat rural, amusement park. Disney World is famous for how well than handle a huge number of people and their line management. Busch Gardens is also quite good at it. Legoland? Not as much.
Not that this is going to be a negative post – that’s pretty much my only critical comment. We had a really good day.
Two things really stood out early in the park. First, the large-scale Lego “statues” are unbelievable. The chef in that picture above is almost an afterthought, and had to have taken hours and hours to build. Second only to the grandeur was the attention to detail – there were little Lego details everywhere. Squirrels in the trees, stop signs made out of Legos, just every detail.
Right inside the park there is a carousel. In retrospect, we should have headed straight to the back of the park and worked our way forward – the line was long and the rides were short. But we got in line, and rode the Lego horses.
And then we came to the most amazing thing.
They call it the Mini-City. They have all of these scenes and cities that they re-create … with Legos. The attention to detail is mind boggling.
They have the Florida State Capitol, Washington DC, Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in NYC, just an unbelievable spread of Lego detail. We were amazed.
Just up from that is a sandwich place for lunch, and then we split up so I could take a look at a couple of different things.
The original Cypress Gardens Park had been built around a big botanical garden, which itself was built around a big banyan tree that was planted back in the 1930s. As the park started going through financial distress and started changing hands in the 80s (and all the way through 2011), there was some concern in Florida about the “old Florida” elements of the park – and particularly the botanical garden – being dismantled and swept away. At one point either Polk County or the State of Florida actually owned the property and just leased it out, to make sure that this didn’t happen (not sure how that ownership works now). As part of that, in the middle of Legoland and on the edge of the lake, the old Cypress Gardens Botanical Park still exists – and I needed to go take a look at that. So my wife took the bigger kid and they went looking for rides, and I took the baby and we went for a walk.
Right inside the gate we saw our alligator, so we got that out of the way. Little guy, but he was there. And then we started winding through the grounds. Because of the middle of the day and the fact that I couldn’t chase birds and butterflies (babies, you know – plus people waiting on me), I didn’t get a ton of pictures. But let me tell you, the place is beautiful … and then you walk up on the banyan tree.
This thing – wow. As the limbs grow, they send out their own roots that, when they find the ground, develop into their own little trunks to support the limbs. Over the course of 80 – 90 years, it develops into this massive system of limbs and trunks and roots and just an amazing piece of nature.
We walked around a bit more, and then hurried back to meet up with the other two. When the weather breaks a bit here, I’ll go back during the day (I only work 15 minutes from Legoland) and get some good pictures.
And then came the rides and the ice cream.
At this point, the day was hot and we were starting to lose our children to tiredness and crankiness, so after that dinosaur roller coaster we mostly just pushed through.
One thing we had missed, though, over by the Mini City, was the Star Wars section. They had scenes set up from the movies, but the cool things were the statues.
Here I will say that Darth Maul is an under-rated Darth, I feel. There was also a Darth Vader, but the line for him was several people long. We waited zero minutes at Darth Maul for the opportunity to take a picture – and he was really cool. #nerdalert
We really had a great time, and we learned some things.
11am on Saturday morning is not an ideal time to arrive. Chaos entering the park, but it was calm and quiet by the time we left around 4pm. Either get there early or go ahead and wait until after lunch. This may change when the weather gets better – if the park fills up, all bets are off.
When it is busy, head straight to the back of the park and work forward. You’ll be working the opposite way of the crowds. This is a good thing.
There are lots of scheduled things – shows, etc. – that, now that we’ve seen the whole park, we will be sure and make time for next time.
Will let you know how it goes when we take our next trip.