WINTER HAVEN — Legoland Florida officially opened Saturday, giving new life to the site that once was historic Cypress Gardens.
Parkgoers streamed onto the grounds, creating an early morning bottleneck at the turnstiles and a long ticket line for folks who had not made advance purchases, some of whom waited an hour or more just to gain admission.
"The worst line was coming in," said Ted Craig of Miami. After that, he found the park to be accessible to his two sons, Owen, 7, and Elliott, 4.
"The great thing about it is that it's extremely kid-friendly," said Craig, who has visited the Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif. His family, including wife Ana, drove to Polk County on Friday and spent the night in Winter Haven.
His son Elliott had high marks for the park's Junior Driving School, where he earned a Legoland drivers license.
"He won't let go of it," Ted Craig said.
Park officials were pleased with the crowds, said Jackie Wallace, Legoland Florida spokeswoman, who said they were a "little surprised" by the high number of walk-up customers.
"We're extremely pleased with the turnout today — lots of smiling faces," Wallace said.
Legoland does not release attendance numbers. Operating hours were extended to 6 p.m. for Saturday's guests.
Lines were no deterrent for Xiomara Diaz, who drove two days from New York with her partner, Venus Marrero, and her son, Drelyn Diaz, 9. "For the opening day, it's not bad," Diaz said.
Drelyn was not told where they were going until they arrived at the Legoland parking lot.
"It's awesome," said Drelyn after they were declared the winning team at the park's Rescue Academy attraction.
"It's very family-oriented, so that's good," said Xiomara Diaz, "And there's not many people yet, so that's good."
Erin Hughes of Tampa decided to spend two days at the theme park with her husband and four children, spending the night at an Orlando hotel on International Drive.
"Finally, a place where they can ride the rides and not worry about their height too much," she said.
Fiorella Vignolo and family added Legoland to their itinerary while vacationing from Peru. They spent 10 days in the area visiting Disney World and Universal Orlando, capping it off with the opening day of Legoland, the first theme park built in Central Florida since Universal's Islands of Adventure opened in 1999.
"I love Mickey Mouse, but this is different," Vignolo said. "For being the opening, it's very organized."
Lines fluctuated during the day. The queue for the Dragon roller coaster, Ford Driving School and Island in the Sky, a refurbished attraction from the site's Cypress Gardens days, snaked into the walkways. But later, the long lines shifted to other attractions, topping out at the 45-minute mark. Many rides posted a five-minute wait time.
Guests were still learning their way around the park Saturday. Lines for some restaurants at lunchtime were substantial, while other eateries were thinly populated.
The new park incorporated some of the elements of the old Cypress Gardens park, which closed in 2009. It has a new water-ski show, and the famed botanical gardens have been restored.
"I believe this is the most beautiful theme park in the world," said general manager Adrian Jones, before throwing an oversized Lego switch that ceremoniously opened the front gates.
Legoland Florida is the fifth — and largest — Lego-based theme park in the world, following locations in England, Germany, Denmark and California. A sixth Legoland is under construction in Malaysia.
On Friday, Legoland official announced that the Winter Haven park will add a water park in May, and a Lego-themed hotel in 2014 or 2015.
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