Legoland Florida: Miniland USA near completion
Legoland Florida has unveiled the bulk of its Miniland USA, the area of the theme park that will represent American locations through the use of a gazillion Lego building blocks. Miniland, previewed to media members Tuesday, includes Florida scenes and attractions alongside landmarks from Washington D.C., New York, California and Las Vegas.

It's jam-packed with details, down to the soda machine at Florida's "mini mini golf" course, which includes a mini windmill hole. It would take hours to absorb all of it, so here are notes from our first blush.

Click here for a photo gallery of Miniland and other parts of Legoland Florida.

+ The Florida cluster is arranged like, well, Florida. ... Tallahassee toward the top, swinging around to St. Augustine, down to Tampa, Miami and Key West. The Daytona International Speedway and the Kennedy Space Center (including the shuttle and Rocket Garden) occupy an adjacent space. I liked the South Beach area because it comes in colors that I don't normally associate with Lego.

+ Some of the proportions are different than in real life. Lake Wales' Bok Tower would be similar in height to a Tampa skyscraper -- but it's striking.

+ The orange No. 2 car took a spin around track of the Daytona International Speedway, zipping past the grandstand, campers, police cars and Victory Lane ... but it lost its way a bit. "We had a car go off track, which is exactly what happens in a real race," said Joie Chitwood III, speedway president, who was on hand for the unveiling. His 10-year-old son, Joie Chitwood IV -- also known as J4 -- waved the Lego green flag. ("He's just 5 feet off the ground," father said of son. "He thinks this is the coolest thing." ... Dad also got to proclaim "Minilanders, start your engines!")

+ Chitwood said many elements of the Daytona area are spot-on. "Their designers actually came over and took photos and photos and photos of our property both during the Rolex 24 event and the Daytona 500," he said.

+ For the first time, a Miniland will feature pirates. "We've wanted to do this one in a different way in other parks, but we've never had the opportunity," said Adrian Jones, Legoland general manager as he looked over the cluster with Lego swashbucklers, ships and a volcano. "It's quite a big deal for our model builders because it's the first time they've been allowed to create something completely."

+ In most cases, company and brand names are altered on the buildings. For instance, Tampa doesn't really have a building called Horizon ... but that red-slashy z in the logo sure resembles a logo of a certain telecommunications giant that rhymes with "horizon." And what about Sloppy Moe's in the Keys? "We have a little bit of fun with some of the names," Jones said.

+ Miniland overlooks Lake Eloise. In the Cypress Gardens era, "this whole area was really blocked off. The thoroughfares weren't open. The sightlines weren't great across the lake," Jones said. "So putting the Miniland here at the end of the town, is a beautiful location, and the views are breathtaking. In the evening we have lights in these so it looks really special at night."

+ Up in the mini Panhandle, the state capitol wasn't quite itself Tuesday. The two domed buildings on the sides were there, but the main tower had not yet been installed.

+ A sampling of other landmarks: the U.S. Capitol (with marching band), Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, White House (with helicopter) and more for Washington D.C.; San Francisco, built into a hill, of course, along with the Golden Gate Bridge, Victorian houses, the wharf and more; Las Vegas' casinos, wedding chapel, Eiffel Tower replica, Madame Toussaud's and the diamond-shaped sign that reads "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada; assorted New York City skyscapers, plus Grand Central Station and Times Square.

+ Members of the media also were able to try out Lost Kingdom Adventure, a laser-gun dark ride in the Land of Adventure area of the theme park. The story of the Egyptian-themed attraction features large Lego-like explorers. Riders aim at targets, and when they're hit, there's a reaction. For instance, hitting the right spot causes hieroglyphics to walk like Egyptians. We also saw Jungle Trek, which features little vehicles driving past big Lego animals such as lions and giraffes as well as Coastersaurus, the wooden coaster formerly known as Triple Hurricane.

+ TV commercials are running in Tampa and Orlando, said Kim Isemann, director of sales and marketing. "You'll start seeing a lot more," she said. Some billboards are in place along U.S. 27 leading into Winter Haven. Isemann said there was an initial surge in sales of annual passes, but as the opening date draws nearer, interest in single-day tickets has grown among locals.

Her mission for the next month: "Making sure people understand that we're big, we're interactive, we're 150 acres of rides, shows and attractions and just communicating that we're here, we're a theme park and we're getting ready to open," she said.

Legoland Florida opens to the public on Oct. 15.

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