Rebuilding America: LEGOLAND Florida
A continent away, the locations portrayed in the Miniland USA of LEGOLAND Florida skew more local. While the New York and
Washington DC replicas follow the modus operandi of using well- known locations to highlight the versatility of the LEGO bricks and the talent of their designers, other locations and landmarks depicted are of sites much closer to the attraction itself. The “Florida” of Miniland
encompasses the entire state from Mallory Square in Key West to Bok Tower in Central Florida and antebellum mansions in the Panhandle ... Kennedy Space Center and an interactive Daytona International Speedway®.14
The Kennedy Space Center as depicted is a peculiar scene, with a Space Shuttle from the now discontinued NASA program sitting on a launch pad, awaiting a blast-off that will never come. The addition of the antebellum mansions and life-sized replicas of the hoopskirted “Southern Belles” who once greeted guests to Cypress Gardens (the defunct theme park that has been repurposed as LEGOLAND Florida) make it somewhat difficult to locate the LEGO version of “Florida” in real time.
As in the California version of Miniland and in addition to the Florida section, Washington DC, New York City, and Las Vegas are all figured as locations essential to the American itinerary so depicted.15 According to Marcy Harrison, the personal assistant to LEGOLAND Florida General Manager Adrian Jones, the criteria for the areas included in this version of Miniland were: “areas that have proved popular in other attractions,” areas that gave “the opportunity to recreate models we have made before but [which we could] ‘enhance’ with more lights and effects,” and areas that would “follow existing plans [which] is also cost-effective.”16 So, in addition to the budget efficacy of recreating models popular elsewhere, we see the evolution of the American tourist itinerary as New England and New Orleans fall out of favor. Whether this is due to the somewhat lackluster presentation of “New England” as a section in the California version or the region’s inescapable synonymy with early American history (itself a theme we see falling out of favor in tourist preferences), the area is gone from the scene. Likewise, New Orleans’s deletion from this mapping could be for any number of reasons—the lingering aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill being the most immediate associations with the location in the current popular imagination, for example.
While the Washington DC area of Miniland Florida contains mostly the same models (right down to the marching band performing in front of the Capitol) and the casinos on the Vegas Strip remain largely unchanged, the New York City section reveals some striking departures from its Carlsbad counterpart. Most notable is the complete omission of the Freedom Tower, 9/11 Memorial and, indeed, much of Lower Manhattan below Wall Street. In its place, the island just terminates into a very narrow harbor, almost immediately abutting Liberty Island, with the Statue of Liberty a stone’s throw from the Manhattan skyscrapers. Where LEGOLAND California anticipated the replacement of the Twin Towers with a building that ended up not being built, the designers of LEGOLAND Florida’s Manhattan deftly avoided the matter by simply leaving the entire site out. Other notable differences in the Florida version of New York include a Rockefeller Center with fountains instead of ice skating (in a nod to the Florida climate), and a Times Square whose logos have changed to Pepsi and Ford (instead of Coke and Volvo) in honor of the exclusive sponsorship deals brokered with these companies at the East Coast site.17
Information as to which sections had proved popular before was based on “mostly guest feedback.” But model builders were given “creative license ... particularly for unique zones like Pirates and Florida.”18 The addition of the Florida section was seen as essential since “at every LEGOLAND attraction we take on the ‘Face of the Place’ [giving] the Park/Discovery Centre a unique identity and [making] it relevant to the local community.”19 The repurposing of the Cypress Gardens site added an extra level of local pride as LEGOLAND took pains to preserve the infrastructure of the park and maintain beloved entertainment features like the water-skiing shows, along with two roller coasters and, among the native botanical elements, a banyan tree planted in 1939.20 As with the Carlsbad location, LEGO sought to make tourists of the locals themselves, both in choosing a location demographically suited to supporting the park long term and in the design of the “American” themed Miniland section in which visitors experience the postmodern dislocation of leisure tourism in a miniature replica cross-country trip.