"Winter Haven & Legoland, Florida" Winter Haven by noidiotsplease
Winter Haven Travel Guide: 28 reviews and 164 photos
Bookended by the busy metropolitan areas of Tampa and Orlando, Polk County is a unique slice of landlocked Florida speckled with numerous lakes, orange groves, and even a few hills. Vestiges of old Florida nostalgia also pepper its communities and small attractions, but don’t be fooled. Polk County is also an emerging modern metropolitan area home to more than a half-million residents and anchored by three distinctly different cities: Lakeland, Winter Haven, and Haines City. Of these, Winter Haven has reaffirmed its status as the county's primary tourist destination thanks to the arrival of Legoland Florida.
The opening of Cypress Gardens in 1936 on Lake Eloise made Winter Haven one of the original tourist magnets of pre-Disney World Florida. Noted for its beautiful botanical gardens and water ski shows, Cypress Gardens eventually faded from prominence as bigger, more thrilling theme parks began to open two counties away. Ultimately, the historic park closed in 2009, but this ending created the opportunity for Winter Haven to experience an even bigger new beginning. Today, Legoland Florida, the largest Legoland in the world, sits in the place once occupied by Cypress Gardens. Bigger, better marketed, and more widely appealing than its predecessor, Legoland has put Winter Haven back on the map, giving tourists a very legitimate reason to take the 45-minute drive (or shuttle bus ride) away from Disney World.
I have been to Legoland twice now, and can say that it has an authenticity that seems lacking at times from the other theme park giants near Orlando. This park is deliberately designed to ensure that children have a great time, but it is also offers a lot of fun for those adults still in touch with their childhood selves. Legoland is not about Hollywood special effects or fairy tale “magic.” It is a place that celebrates childlike creativity and innovation in both its rides and in the countless Lego creations found throughout the park. While in recent years Disney and Universal have gravitated more toward “adult” interests, like nightclubs and flashy restaurants, Legoland maintains the childlike innocence of sorts that has kept Lego a trusted and well-loved toy brand for generations. Over the years, Lego sets have embraced many traditional childhood interests and become staple products of many popularly marketed movies. As a result, Legoland rides and attractions reflect various interests, including knights and dragons, ancient Egypt and African safaris, firetrucks and police cars, pirates and boats, city buildings and landmarks, and even nods to Star Wars and super heroes.
In a state full of oceanside and gulfside communities that beckon residents and visitors alike with the promises of a sandy-toes beach life, Winter Haven has carved an aquatic niche of its own. Nestled amidst an inland “chain of lakes” connected by canals, Winter Haven is certainly not lacking in waterfront property. After our first visit to Legoland, we drove through the heart of the city on the way back toward Interstate 4. Like many cities home to more than 30,000 residents, Winter Haven has a quaint downtown square, commercial corridors lined with retail, and neighborhoods nestled under shade trees. Unlike most cities though, it seems that no matter where one goes, even in the most commercialized districts, another lake is within walking distance. While Winter Haven may have lost its former status as a Spring Training destination and demographically hasn’t boomed in the same way as Lakeland, it is nevertheless a naturally beautiful place that will hopefully enjoy positive perks from the increased profile that Legoland brings.
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When visiting Legoland be sure to rid the "Island in the Sky" to get a 360-degree panoramic view of the park,... more travel advice
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