Expansion at Legoland

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Mia's Riding Adventure, a ride in the Heartlake City section of Legoland Florida Resort.
Mia's Riding Adventure, a ride in the Heartlake City section of Legoland Florida Resort. Photo Credit: Chip Litherland for Legoland Florida/Merlin Entertainments Group Inc.

Legoland Florida Resort will make its latest push within the Orlando-area theme park market next week with the opening of Heartlake City.

Themed after Lego's popular Friends product line, Heartlake City's marquee attraction will be Mia's Riding Adventure, where riders sit on horses anchored around a large platform that spins as it moves up and down a half-pipe-shaped roller-coaster track. The area will also offer the interactive musical "Friends to the Rescue" and a photo-op attraction called Stephanie's News Room. Throughout Heartlake City, visitors will be reminded of the five Friends — Olivia, Stephanie, Emma, Mia and Andrea — as well as the characters' various interests.

It's a relatively small expansion for Legoland. Heartlake City covers approximately one acre, park spokeswoman Brittany Williams said. It will be the 13th specifically themed section within the park, joining, for example, Funtown, Land of Adventure and Lego City.

Still, the June 26 opening will come barely a month after the rollout of the 152-room Legoland Hotel, at the doorstep of the theme park. Designed almost exclusively for Legoland's child-centric target market, the hotel offers workshops on Lego building, has Lego models and bunkbeds in every room and even child-sized check-in counters.

The moves fit with Legoland's overall strategy to build market share in Central Florida, where seven Disney, Universal and SeaWorld attractions are among the top 25 theme park draws in the world, according to the 2014 Global Attractions Attendance Report.

“We are targeting families with children from the ages of 2 and 12,” Williams said. “We don't have to be all things to all people. We bring in families with small children who can really have their first theme park experience.”

Legoland opened in 2011 on the site of former Cypress Gardens amusement park in Winter Haven, and it has expanded every year. It added a five-acre water park in 2012; its World of Chima, modeled after the Cartoon Network's Legends of Chima series, in 2013; and the farm-themed Duplo Valley last year

Legoland declined to provide information on park attendance, but Williams said the expansions have only been possible because of healthy numbers at the gate.

Nevertheless, Legoland has work to do if it is to seep fully into the consciousness of Orlando theme-park tourists, said Michael Tine, an Orlando-based agent for Destinations in Florida. He said the agency has been getting more Legoland requests, but such requests still aren't a regular occurrence.

“I would say they're trying,” he said of the park. “They definitely still have some challenges though."

One of those challenges is the Legoland's Winter Haven location, 45 minutes to the southwest of the Magic Kingdom and well removed from the Orlando metro area.

Tine noted that the opening last month of the I-Drive 360 complex, which features the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel, should help Legoland. Merlin Entertainment owns both attractions, and it runs a shuttle from I-Drive 360 to Legoland.

Williams agreed that Merlin's newest park will be a boon, and she said that the Sea Life Aquarium at I-Drive 360 will be particularly helpful because it caters to the same demographic as Legoland: young children.

“We're very happy with where we are,” she said of Legoland's progress.

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