New Year’s Eve at Legoland Florida

Hogmany (New Year’s Eve for non-Scots) was our day for Legoland.  The kids had been to Legoland in England twice and completely loved it so their grandparents had gifted them tickets to Legoland for Christmas.  We were all pretty much theme-parked out by that point so were hoping for a day of smaller crowds and shorter queues.

Part of the joy of Legoland is just the fact that anything and everything has been Lego-fied.  Since three of the kids and I are all massive lego fans, it adds to the fun.  There were Lego Christmas decorations ornamenting the park including full-size snowmen, Santa with his sleigh and reindeer and an incredibly tall Christmas tree made out of lego and adorned with lego baubles and candy canes.

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First stop was a double decker carousel containing galloping lego horses.  The horses were designed to be just like the ones the kids have from their lego ‘Lord of the Rings’ sets which was cool.  Then there was more lego animal action as we boarded cars to go on a lego safari past such brick-built beasties as lions, hippos, elephants and meerkats.  The ride was simple but the pleasure came from seeing the thought and effort that had been invested in creating the detailed, full-size models.

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Next up was the Lost Kingdom Adventure, which seems to be inspired by old-timey adventure serials.  Set in an Egyptian pyramid, wagons carried us through darkened rooms filled with treasures and money and baddy treasure seekers as we used laser guns to shoot at various targets.  Sticking with the Egyptian theme, the adjacent ride was called Beetle Bounce – inspired by scarab beetles – which involved being strapped into a bench that was lifted higher and higher and then being gradually bounced back down again.  Mr Pict and all of the boys wanted to go on it but no sooner was he seated and buckled in than our 7 year old started to whimper and wail.  It was another case of him wanting to push himself into doing something he was actually not comfortable with.  Despite it being a fairly straightforward and gentle ride – which everyone else enjoyed – he screamed and cried his way through it.  My hope is that after all of these theme park ride experiences, he will realise that he just does not actually enjoy rides involving height or speed – just like his mother.

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We then headed to the Medieval area where there were more lego horses, this time for jousting.  The 7 year old, who is daft about horses, and our youngest both queued up so they could have a turn riding on the horses.  They looped around a track past various targets and were all smiles all the way around.  Once again it was simple but effective.

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The dinosaur area was where those who wanted to do something more adventurous could experience some thrills.  There was a wooden roller coaster, which perhaps made it look a bit rickety and ropey, named the Coastersaurus.  Mr Pict, his father and our oldest son went on it while the rest of us nibbled at our packed lunches.  As rollercoasters go, it was a manageable one for all concerned.  It had one steep ascent followed by a sudden descent and some speedy undulations.

The Lego Theatre was showing a 4D show called ‘Spellbreaker’.  It looked vintage with very basic animation and soundtracking but the characters were appealing, the story was sweet and the 3D moments were really good.  That’s the thing about Legoland: its simplicity, just making everything fun and toy-like, is where its charm lies.  It doesn’t need to be loud, brash and frenetic to be appealing.After the film show, it was time for a live action show.  Legoland had taken over the site of an older park named Cypress Gardens.  Mr Pict and his parents remembered visiting the botanical gardens and viewing water skiing performances from an auditorium.  It turned out that Legoland had taken that model and just adapted it to their theme.  We were ushered into and seated at the same auditorium, overlooking a stretch of water.  The theme was pirates so we watched as a group of good guys, led by a stunt water skiing woman and supported by a group of lego soldiers, went into combat with a group of pirates who also performed stunts on their water skis and speedboats.  The villain of the piece was a peg-legged pirate named Brickbeard who was dressed up as a minifigure.  The quality of the show was impressive and the rate of stunts had us applauding almost constantly.  The kids loved all the jumps and leaps and the minifigure characters.  Afterwards, the little ones were stoked to be able to meet one of the lego soldiers.

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My kids are not remotely interested in “real world” lego.  They like the stuff that sparks more fantasy type imaginative play, such as super heroes, ninjas and ‘Lord of the Rings’.  Lego City, therefore, is not their bag.  Regardless, however, we headed into the Lego City section.  The queues were ridiculous by that stage in the day except for an emergency vehicle experience.  Mr Pict were one team out of three.  They were loaded into a police van and they had to pump a lever – like an old time railroad handcar – to make it move.  Once they got to one end of the area, they had to jump out, pump water from a fire hydrant and aim the hose that was blasting with water at a target in a window area.  Once that target had collapsed from the force of the water they had to jump back in the van and pump it back to the start line.  They were all exhausted at the end of it and it was fun for them to have to work as a team.

My favourite thing about Legoland is not a ride at all or even an event.  It is just an area.  What I love is the whole area dedicated to just lego models of different parts of the world, different cities and landmarks.  I love the creativity, the imagination and the skill involved. It’s inspirational.  The Legoland back in Britain showcased models of different European countries.  Instead the one in Florida had models of representing bits of Florida and a few other US cities – Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC – all of which I have visited.The casinos of Las Vegas are weird and wacky enough without being in lego version.  The boys loved the volcano, the Venice casino and the little wedding ceremony.  Mr Pict and I have a half-baked plan to renew our wedding vows in a tacky Vegas ceremony, maybe even officiated by an Elvis, followed by a road trip second honeymoon (with the kids) along Route 66.  Maybe we should have a lego themed renewal.  The boys loved seeing all of the bits of lego New York because it was an American city they had been to and because New York is the setting for some of their lego video games.  Favourite bits were Times Square, the skyscrapers and Rockefeller Plaza and Grand Central Terminal.  We loved all the little people bustling about in the train station, especially the people going up the escalator.  I had just finished reading the kids a book set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 so they enjoyed seeing that city, including the sea lions at the bay.  Ohttps://flic.kr/p/qBHh1Tf course, mini Washington DC was where all the mini monuments were.  As we were just in actual Washington DC in April, the boys had fun recognising the sites they had visited, the Lincoln Memorial and White House in particular.

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As Star Wars nerds, we were delighted to find that there was a whole model section devoted to scenes from Star Wars movies.  In Britain, the Star Wars sections had all been indoors but in Florida they were out in the open.  That made it easier for the detail to be observed, since they were not in darkened rooms, and the models could also be set in beside the foliage where appropriate, as with the Endor models and the Kashyyyk battle.  Being a fan of the classic Star Wars movies myself, I liked the scene of the rebel base on Hoth and the wampa cave and the scenes set on Tatooine, especially all the detail in the cantina scene.  The boys loved seeing the Millennium Falcon taking off from Mos Eisley and the full size lego models of Darth Maul, Darth Vader and R2D2.

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Sadly that was as many rides as we could go on.  The queues for the rides we had not been on were ridiculously long and – after so many days of theme parks – we were all up to our eyeballs with queuing and had little tolerance left for it.  It was not helped by the fact that the park was incomplete and construction work meant that some paths were dead ends and there were bottlenecks.  Therefore, the last thing we did during our daytime excursion of Legoland was also a throwback to the park’s Cypress Gardens era.  The Island in the Sky ride was essentially a rotating UFO on a metal stick.  We were seated in the UFO and it then slowly ascended 150 feet in the air and rotated 360 degrees affording us great views over the park.  I am not great with heights but somehow I managed it.

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After leaving to get dinner off site, we returned to Legoland.  It was completely dark by this point and the park had been lit up with festive lights everywhere.  We walked to the mini America area to get as clear a view of the fireworks as possible.  We were each handed a pair of glasses, just like the old fashioned 3D ones, to put on.  As soon as I did so, I noticed that the bulb of the street lights had turned into lego bricks.  Woah!  And then my 9 year old noticed that the focus light on my camera had also turned into a tiny lego brick.  Woah!  Every point of light in the park was a lego brick.  Incredible!  There was something built into the lenses that was turning all of the light into lego.  Then the fireworks started.  Ah-May-Zing!  It was inherently a pretty awesome fireworks display in any case but with every spark and burst turned into a shower of vivid, colourful, bright lego brick it was extra special.  My kids exclaimed, bubbled and brimmed with excitement throughout the display.  Afterwards they kept the glasses on so that they could see all of the fairy lights and decorations turned into lego bricks too.  Then on the car journey back to the villa, they oohed and aahed as each car headlight and taillight, each glowing window, each neon sign was also transformed into a lego brick.  Way beyond cool and a fabulous way to end our family fun in Florida.

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Fourth of July

Friday was only my second ever Independence Day spent in America and was the first for the children.  We have celebrated Independence Day in Britain because Mr Pict is half-American and frankly because it is a good excuse to barbecue and feast.  However, without the festival atmosphere, the red, white and blue everywhere and the fireworks, it could never be quite the same.

This Independence Day, therefore, was special because it was our first one spent in America as a family and also because my parents are here visiting.  The fact that three of us are fully non-American did not deter us.  We might be British but we all believe in a nation’s right to self-determination anyway so even politically we would have supported the Revolution.  And, of course, we get to barbecue and feast.  All celebrations end up revolving around food so this was no exception.  Mr Pict grilled up everything from hot dogs and sausages to pork chops, steak and chicken and I made up salads and potato salads.  Because we were not quite bloated enough, we then had chocolate cream pie or a patriotically decorated sponge cake.

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The only other time I have been in America for Independence Day was 19 years ago.  Mr Pict and I sat on the hard, cold, bum-numbing steps of the Lincoln Memorial for hours to snag a prime spot for viewing the fireworks over the National Mall.  That was a pretty spectacular experience but our rumps did pay the price.  This time we decided to keep it simple by staying locally so we headed out to one of the local High Schools to view their fireworks display.  Woefully ill-prepared, we had entirely failed to move our new lawn chairs into the boot (trunk) of the bigger car and we didn’t even have a blanket to sit on.  We were going to plonk ourselves on the grass when we spotted a long bench tipped over so we were able to right it and perch on it.  A chap running for Congress was offering people free water ice (which is a bit like a UK slushy) so the boys even got to have a snack despite having parents who had not adequately forward-planned.

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Daylight swiftly became dusk and settled into darkness and the sense of anticipation and expectation was palpable as the sky darkened to an inky blue.  Finally the fireworks started.  My kids are used to fireworks being in November (for Guy Fawkes night) and have usually watched displays while standing on the side of a loch, freezing cold and with their welly boots sinking further into sodden grass.  The only exception was watching fireworks during the last Summer Olympics.  It was, therefore, a welcome and lovely experience to be sitting on a balmy night watching the sky lit up with colourful, sparkling gunpowder.  It was a really good fireworks display with a fantastic finale.  We would definitely go to the same event in future years.

Overall it was a very successful Independence Day.

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Birthday

Today is my birthday.  That makes me (with the exception of my husband who lived in the US growing up) the first member of the Pict family to have a birthday in the US.

My kids are off school today because of an election so my treat today was not having to endure making packed lunches.  OK, my treat was getting to spend ALL day with all four of my handsome wee men.

Back in the UK, my birthday coincides with a festivity known as Bonfire Night (some people still refer to it as Guy Fawkes Night but that’s not very PC).  Basically the country commemorates a conspiracy to blow up Parliament and the King by setting fire to a bonfire and setting off fireworks.  Most people, of course, don’t especially remember or care that it commemorates a historic event or consider the politics and ethics of doing so.  It’s all about the bonfire and fireworks because those are exciting.  There’s a little bit of arsonist in all of us it seems.

My own family’s tradition when I was growing up was to head to my Grandad’s house once darkness had fallen and set off fireworks in the back garden.  There were rockets and catherine wheels and sparklers galore and then there was always something cosy to munch indoors afterwards, like stovies – a rib-sticking casserole of potatoes, onion and stewing steak.  Happy times.  

In more recent times, in the town we just moved from, on the West coast of Scotland, there is an annual Lantern Parade which troops through the streets and down to the loch side where a large bonfire is then set ablaze and an incredible firework display is set off, lighting up the night sky and booming in loud chest-thumping echoes down the loch.  It was spectacular.  It was also a real community event, with individuals and groups building lanterns on a specified theme and the entire community from hither and yon turning out to spectate.  Definitely going to miss it.

My point is that I always got fireworks on or around my birthday and, well, I liked to think they were for my birthday as much as they were to commemorate an attempted act of terrorism.  Today, no fireworks.  No prospect of a bonfire.  Not even a single teeny weeny sparkler.  So it’s very different for me to be having my birthday in the US.  I think I need to be like the Queen and have an actual and an official birthday and make my official birthday 4 July so I can get fireworks again.  Could be a plan.

But for today I am happy and content.  I got to wander around some woods with my four wee Picts and we had a blast.  They are the best fireworks ever anyway.