The Fog of Wa(te)r
By Paul Oswell
I’ll admit I may have some regrets. I will say this in my defence, though – in a combat situation, decisions have to be made in a split second. They’re not always right, but I made them in good faith.
Looking back, that few minutes did not include many of my proudest moments. I guess we’ll get to that.
Welcome to Legoland Florida. Of the six lands of Lego (the others being Windsor - UK, Gunzburg – Germany, Carlsbad – California, Johor – Malaysia and the original in Billund - Denmark) this is the largest.
It is 145 acres of brick-heavy escapism, built around the old Cypress Gardens, a botanical park that Lego have impressively preserved. There are more than 50 rides, an entire water park (Splash Island) and thousands of construction-minded kids enjoying the heck out of the place at any one time.
I’m here to be introduced to Chima – pronounced CHEE-ma and not, much to my initial embarrassment, CHAI-ma. This is a brand new zone, or ‘world’ in the park, based around a series of legends featuring various anthropomorphised jungle beasts.
The creation of Chima was a risk for Lego. Its toy ranges had previously been based on existing franchises from the film and TV world, and children buying the toys would already be familiar with the characters, from Star Wars to Harry Potter.
Chima was invented by Lego themselves. As I understand it, there are several tribes within the Chima world, all very keen to gain control over a nebulous natural resource called chi (get it now?), and the stories of the various struggles are collected into a tome known as ‘The Legends Of Chima’.
In any case, the toys and concept sold like hot cups of chi, and the brand became so successful that incorporating it into the park became something that even Ewald of the Eagle tribe wouldn’t need to ponder too long (he’s notoriously indecisive – a little Chima joke for the fans, there).
Entering The World of Chima, it’s evident how loved this story is, with children beside themselves to be near models of their heroes and dashing into the various nooks. Chima is a mainly water-themed world, theme park talk for "your kids will get soaked, and so will you, so watch that expensive digital camera".
There’s Cragger’s Swamp, which is a play area with bubbles and water spouts in among the obstacles and climbing frames. It’s possible to get a low-key splashing, but you’d have to be particularly slow moving or actively want that. The kids all actively want this, obviously.
The Speedorz Arena is where product meets customer, a kind of small arena where children can play with the self-propelling toys to their speed-loving hearts’ delight. I try to take on a couple of the toy-sized stunts myself, failing miserably. I ask the attendant what age the toys are aimed at and she tells me “six upwards”, which does nothing for my self esteem.
I think it’s this humiliation which fuelled my Heart of Darkness-style journey into the main attraction in World Of Chima, The Quest for Chi. This is an animated, mutli-player drench-factory with dozens of water cannons and apparently the chance to forget yourself and act like a frenzied mercenary for a few minutes.
You step onto your vessel with four or five other people, and man the water cannons. As you travel around the circuit, you have the chance to blast anyone that comes into range (and the range is about eight feet), including people watching the ride from the sidelines (where there are also water cannons).
People change when they step onto those boats. As soon as you move, you develop a trigger finger that’s itchier than a seaweed-intolerant mermaid, and anyone is fair game. By anyone, I perhaps mean people not looking as they don’t realise they are circling a battleground, pram-restrained toddlers that have ridiculously been left undefended by their parents and passengers on other boats that may have been confined to wheelchairs.
Like I said. The fog of war. Things happen. I was hit upside the noggin enough times by frankly sneaky eight-year-olds, which justified all retaliation in my mind. Just to be clear, the water cannons aren’t like the ones east European police forces use to break up riots, they just administer a gentle soaking which some parents may or may not take a dim view of. I say if you step into the arena, prepare for anything.
By the end it’s unclear whether my, or indeed anyone’s, quest for chi has been successful, but everyone is exiting with beaming smiles and new scores to settle in the inevitable round two.
The World of Chima is undoubtedly a popular and well-executed addition to what is already an attractive theme park. Hardcore thrill seekers will go elsewhere, but for a family attraction, the range of rides and activities at Legoland Florida is hard to beat.
I particularly liked the peace and tranquility of the old gardens, which surround an evocative old Banyan Tree, and the neighbouring water park is a wonderland that my ten-year-old self would have found unimaginably magical.
I leave, though, with Chima on my mind. Even now, I wake up in the middle of the night, sitting stark upright, thinking of the soakings I could have, and perhaps should not have, doled out. Maybe I need to examine my chi levels.
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Paul Oswell was a guest of Legoland Florida