LEGOLAND Florida, perhaps the least offensive American theme park in which to discreetly vomit into a trash can after submitting to back-to-back roller coaster rides (perhaps pounding that basketful of Granny’s Apple Fries before boarding the Coastersaurus wasn’t such a good idea after all), celebrated Earth Day 2014 by going solar, making it the first theme park in the U.S. to run entirely on renewable energy for Earth Day.
The non-plastic overlords of the education-minded, 150-acre theme park geared for kids ages two to 12 and their "LEGO Movie"-loving adult wranglers estimate that embracing (read: purchasing) clean energy for a single day offset roughly 24 tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of removing three cars from the road for a year or planting six acres of trees.
It would be lovely to think that this is a sign that LEGOLAND Florida has plans to fully commit to solar energy beyond a well-timed and well-meaning PR opportunity. Is a theme park that gets all or most of of its annual energy needs from renewable sources too much to ask? As it turns out, in partnership with Tampa Electric, a single section of LEGOLAND Florida, the Imagination Zone, will indeed be permanently powered by solar — a 30kW photovoltaic array was recently installed to help the park meet this goal.
Starting this summer, the Imagination Zone will also be home to new interactive displays focusing on solar power and renewable energy including "LEGO mini model communities running on renewable energy."
Located along the shores on Lake Eloise on the site of the old and very much-beloved Cypress Gardens theme park and botanical gardens (back in the day, this was the place to take in a water ski show and pose for a photo with a kindly Southern lady dressed in a massive hoop skirt), LEGOLAND Florida has, in a way, been going green since day one when it opened in 2011 as an outstanding instance of theme park-centric adaptive reuse — the preservation and LEGO-fication of a historic property, if you will.
In addition to carefully preserving Cypress Gardens’ world-famous botanical gardens and iconic Banyan tree (and replacing those sauntering Southern Belles with strikingly lifelike plastic brick replicas), hundreds of mature oak and palm trees across the property were saved and relocated and 18,000 tons of concrete slab was salvaged and repurposed instead of landfilled during the extensive transformation of the park. Even some of Cypress Garden's famed roller coasters were spared from the wrecking ball and incorporated into LEGOLAND.
A favorite haunt of aquatic goddess Esther Williams and, for a while, one of the top vacation destinations in the U.S., Cypress Gardens opened in 1939 as the first theme park in now theme park-crazy Florida. Owned by the Pope family until the 1980s, the park was shuttered for good in 2009 following decades of declining attendance (the opening of Disney World in 1971 was the beginning of the end), temporary closures, several ownership changes, and ill-timed hurricanes. When LEGOLAND was unveiled to the public for the first time two years later, it wasn't so much of a grand opening but a grand rebirth/rebranding. Cypress Gardens was back ... but with a distinctly Danish twist.
LEGOLAND Florida, the largest of the six LEGO theme parks and resorts scattered across the globe including an older North American park outside of San Diego and the original LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark, also boasts comprehensive guest recycling program along with park benches and trash cans made from recycled milk jugs. Like its sister theme parks and Discovery Centers, LEGOLAND Florida is not fully owned and operated by Billund-headquartered LEGO Group but by U.K.-based Merlin Entertainments, the second largest global theme park operator behind Disney Parks and Resorts.
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