From the moment you arrive at the brand new LEGOLAND® Beach Retreat in Winter Haven, Florida, parents are encouraged to relax. The resort has drive-thru check-in so you don’t even have to get out of your car. (We did have to wait a bit for a room even though we arrived after 4 p.m. The excuse was that the cleaning crew was behind schedule.) It is located on a fenced lake a half-mile from the park, with shuttle service to and from LEGOLAND®. Once checked in, we could drive in and out of the resort as we pleased, but there was no need. We stayed 3 nights at the resort and never moved our car. Beach Retreat guests do get free preferred parking at LEGOLAND.
LEGOLAND Beach Retreat is well suited for special occasions. The employee who checked us in asked if we wanted a cake delivered to our bungalow. We declined, but it’s a great idea for families celebrating a birthday at the resort. In fact, the door of a unit near us was decorated to welcome a birthday child. I heard the family arrive and they were thrilled.
In our case, there was no special occasion, just a summer vacation in Florida to visit the beautiful Gulf beaches and for a return trip to LEGOLAND. My son is a LEGO® fanatic! We first visited LEGOLAND Florida in 2014, followed by LEGOLAND California in 2015 and the original LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark in 2016. Our Denmark trip was a tough act to follow, so I was happy to discover the then-under-construction Beach Retreat in December when I started planning our summer vacation. I bought a package that included tickets to the park and free breakfast, and the room rate was actually cheaper than the Holiday Inn where we stayed the last time we visited LEGOLAND Florida. And staying at the Beach Retreat meant early access to the park. Not every ride opens early, but we were able to enjoy some of our favorites without any lines, including the brand new Ninjago, which we remembered from Denmark.
The Oasis Pool
At the center of the Beach Retreat is the Oasis Pool, ringed by swaying palmettos. Besides floating LEGO bricks, there is a large sandy play area and jungle-gym structure, with shade. The pool has plenty of towels, lounge chairs, umbrellas, and lifeguards and is only 4 feet at its deepest point. It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., though it gets crowded after check-in at 4 p.m. The morning we left, we used it between breakfast and checkout time and it wasn’t crowded at all. In the evening, games are offered by the pool. Bricks Beach Bar and Sandy’s Castle restaurant are adjacent, so you can go to a window to order drinks or food to enjoy poolside. Of course you can eat in the air-conditioned restaurant as well. Service was slow, but the resort is new, so I hope the staff finds their rhythm soon. And speaking of rhythm, the volume of the music in the restaurant and pool area may be too much for kids with sensory issues. My son didn’t complain, but my husband and I got to know the soundtrack rotation very well. Fortunately there are no audio speakers among the bungalows.
Breakfast and Bungalows
Sandy’s Castle restaurant is where the breakfast buffet is served (free with our room & ticket package). The buffet opens at 7:30 a.m. and includes plenty of options, both savory and sweet, for everyone. We liked going early as it became crowded later. In the same building is a LEGO brick play area and a little convenience store.
The resort has a brightly colored neighborhood feel – manicured lawns are intersected by paths with circles of LEGO-parrot-adorned bungalows called “coves.” You might have a long walk from the parking lot to your cove. I mentioned this at check-in and was told that staff in golf carts could help with luggage. I didn’t see any carts go by as we moved our large suitcases toward our bungalow, so if you need assistance, ask for it directly when you check-in.
At the center of each cove is a small playset. The playsets are so small that I didn’t see them used much. A couple of swings would have been more appealing to my son.
Each bungalow has two units. The units include a main sleeping area for the parents and a curtained sleeping area for up to 3 kids (2 bunk beds plus trundle bed). A box of Duplos was waiting in the kid space, and the walls were decorated with fun LEGO creations. The bathroom had thoughtful touches like two toilet seats – one for adults and one for kids – and high and low towel hooks. Plus, both the height and pressure of the showerhead were adjustable, to help wash squirmy kids. There was even a retractable clothesline in the shower for hanging up wet swimsuits.
We made use of the mini refrigerator for the complimentary bottled water and apple juice that were stocked in our room each day. There was also a Keurig machine with good brands of coffee (Peet’s), tea (Bigelow), and cocoa (Swiss Miss). Of course there was a large flat screen TV (that we never watched) and a safe for valuables. Free WiFi is provided, but with a catch – they ask you to sign in via one of your social media accounts or fill out a form in order to access.
We were there to enjoy LEGOLAND, and we did. The park is designed for ages 2 to 12, so it is less crowded than other amusement parks. Plus, it has unique features like Miniland and Cypress Gardens. As much as my son loves the rides, his favorite part of any LEGOLAND park is Miniland. Admiring the amazing LEGO versions of landmarks like the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Iwo Jima, and others never gets old. And Cypress Gardens offers a lovely botanical bonus without even leaving the park.
Since we were in Florida in July, when we needed a break from the heat we took the shuttle back to the Beach Retreat and cooled off in the Oasis Pool and visited the LEGOLAND Water Park (open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on our second day. The water park’s lazy river and wave pool have their own floating LEGO bricks, and in the morning it was uncrowded. By the afternoon, the water park was packed, so we were glad we got an early start. Florida is also subject to thunderstorms during summer afternoons, which may cause the rides to close. This never bothered my son; he was happy to go to Miniland if there were weather shutdowns.
On our last evening, my husband and son went back to the park after dinner and I chose instead to sit on our bungalow’s front shaded patio. Each unit has one, with a table and chairs. I greeted other families walking by and watched the glow of house lights across the lake as the sun set. It didn’t feel like the beach, but at the end of the day, maybe it was like a retreat. Or simply a treat, not just for kids, but also for parents.
Photos courtesy of Maureen Gregory.