Back when our grandparents used to visit the Sunshine State, there was always one place that they had to visit. And that was Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. Started back in 1936 by Dick Pope Sr. and his wife Julie, this 170-acre park quickly became world-famous for its lush botanical gardens & elaborate water skiing shows.

But with the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, the center of gravity for Florida tourism suddenly shifted over to Orlando. And with fewer & fewer folks now willing to drive on out to Polk County to sample Cypress Gardens’ admittedly old-fashioned charms, the Sunshine State’s first commercial tourist theme park went through some tough financial straits. Beginning in the 1980s, Cypress Gardens changed hands multiple times, with each new owner not knowing quite what to do with the property.

Finally in January 2010, Merlin Entertainments — the world’s second largest theme park and attraction operator — purchased Cypress Gardens with the intent of turning this beautiful piece of lakeside property into LEGOLAND Florida. Which caused a lot of folks around the United States to fret. Mostly because they believed that their grandparents’ favorite Florida vacation stop was about to disappear under a blizzard of plastic bricks.

Ah, but that’s not quite what Adrian Jones — the longtime Merlin Entertainments employee who was named as General Manager of LEGOLAND Florida back in August of 2010 — had in mind for the property….