Castle Wars at Central Florida Theme Parks

Orlando Sentinel: Cinderella is losing her longtime monopoly on theme-park castles in Central Florida.

Harry Potter broke the spell last year, when Universal Orlando opened a replica of Hogwarts Castle (left) as the centerpiece of its Wizarding World attractions area.

Now, Legoland Florida is constructing a giant building-block castle in Winter Haven that will hold a Medieval Dragon Coaster. Soon even Walt Disney World will get in on the act, when it gives Cinderella Castle a couple of next-door neighbors in its Magic Kingdom theme park. The park's expanded Fantasyland, now under construction, is to include Eric's castle from Disney's "The Little Mermaid" and the Beast's castle from "Beauty and the Beast."

That's a lot of castle competition for a tourist destination that for decades was home to just one very famous, fantastical fortress.

The newest theme-park castle, at Legoland Florida, was inspired by one of the first building-block kits in Lego's construction series, which debuted in 1979. In the 32 years since, Lego has always had some sort of castle-themed blocks on the market for children who want to create a Medieval masterpiece.

"All those elements you see on the castle are direct pulls from Lego products," said Bill Vollbrecht, the park designer for Legoland Florida, which is scheduled to open in October. "In all Lego parks, that's the centerpiece to the park — the 'Castle Hill' area."

Legoland's castle will hold one of the franchise's most popular rides: the Dragon Coaster. It takes guests on a slow tour of the castle's six rooms, in which Lego figures appear as castle guards, the court jester, the wizard Merlin and a giant dragon. Guests then embark on a "pink-knuckle" coaster ride that swirls in and about the castle.

"It's full of Lego models and detail and sounds, and it's one of those things you want to do over and over again," Vollbrecht said.

Universal's castle, Hogwarts, is also home to Wizarding World's signature ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

"Hogwarts Castle is the physical and emotional anchor for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It casts a very real and powerful presence over the entire area," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said. "You can see the awe in our guests' faces when they first discover it."

Universal hasn't disclosed the actual height of its Hogwarts, which is in its Islands of Adventure theme park, saying only that the castle was designed and built in a way to make it appear more than 700 feet tall.

Disney World's two new castles are expected to make their first formal appearance within the next year or two. Both are designed to capitalize on the popularity of Disney's "princess" movies.

The anchor attraction of the Fantasyland expansion, Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid, will include a replica of the castle home of Prince Eric, the human with whom the mermaid Ariel falls in love.

"Cinderella's castle will always, of course, be the shining star and the icon for the Magic Kingdom, but when we looked at 'The Little Mermaid,' we thought, 'Wow, a great icon is Prince Eric's castle, and that would be a great starting point for this journey for us to travel under the sea," Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty said in a recently released video introducing the attraction.

Meanwhile, construction is already under way on the Beast's castle, another Fantasyland element. A replica of the castle will sit atop the "Beauty and the Beast"-inspired Be Our Guest Restaurant, set to open in late 2012.

Also, as part of the same expansion, other Disney princesses will get a castle-like home in Princess Fairytale Hall, which will include a royal court where the characters meet with park guests.

"We want our guests to feel completely immersed in the treasured stories we're telling as part of the Fanstasyland expansion," said Disney spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez. "Castles are an integral part of sharing the stories of Disney princesses, just as colorful circus tents will create a sense of place for the Storybook Circus area of the expansion."


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