From England and Indiana, LEGO Lovers Worldwide Follow a Colored-Brick Road

By: Susan Clary

Ashton Abercrombie, 10, was urged to play with Legos when he had trouble with dexterity. It helped build muscles in his fingers so he could manage small things. He and his parents, Kyla and Larry, will be at LEGOLAND on opening day.

Niki and Jeremy Edwards have the drill down. They will secretly pack the car the night before and tell their three children, ages 4, 7 and 10, that they are going on a trip to Walmart.

Then they will leave their home in suburban Indianapolis, drive past the big box store and head south 16 hours until they reach LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven. She can't wait to surprise her kids.

"They are moping around because we told them we didn't plan to go," said Niki Edwards, 33, who stays home and takes care of Lucas, Joey and Annabelle, while her husband Jeremy, 33, works as a business project manager.

The Edwards family is one of many expected to make the trek from homes all over the world with excited children in tow for the 2011 opening of LEGOLAND Florida, a 150-acre family theme park based on the interlocking plastic toys.

"We've been going to LEGOLAND Windsor for years," said Melanie Perry, 36, who lives in Craydon, about 10 miles south of London. "We're excited to be going to Florida. They dismantled and shipped some of our rides to your park."

Perry and her husband Jason, 32, a company director, will surprise their two kids, William, 10, and Victoria, 8, with a holiday trip.

"My husband and I both played with Legos and we like the flexibility that allows them to play for a half-hour or hours on end," Perry said. "With most of the other games, once you have done it once, it's all the same."

Niki Edwards had sisters and didn't own a LEGO set until her son Lucas, who has autism, was 4. He found a LEGO toy in his McDonald's Happy Meal. They have many sets now, subscribe to LEGO Club Magazine and have been to LEGO Discovery Center in Chicago. It is a soothing and peaceful way for her son to spend time and use his creativity.

"My house looks like a LEGO store exploded," Edwards laughs. "I can sit down and start building and there is no one to stand over my shoulder telling me I am doing it wrong."

Edwards isn't the only adult who admits to falling in love with the colorful plastic bricks. 

Carrie Lanz, 34, of Northwood, Ohio, near Toledo, received a trip to LEGOLAND Florida as an early-October birthday gift from her husband John, 45. He is away most of the year on the Great Lakes as a ship worker carrying ore, coal and stone.

"He was going to book it all and give me a card so I could open it right before we left for Florida," Carrie Lanz said. "Instead, I handled it and we are going to drive down in time to arrive at 2 or 3 a.m. to stand in line on opening day."

John Lanz didn't have LEGOs as a child, but Carrie Lanz remembers collecting them and praying for a trip to LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark, which opened in 1968. She thought she would make it to LEGOLAND California when it opened in Carlsbad in 1999, but to no avail.

She will finally visit her first LEGOLAND on Oct. 15. Step down into her basement and you will find dozens of dusty boxes full of sets of colored bricks. LEGOs interlock and those made when the toy was patented in 1958 are compatible with pieces today.

There are more than 230 sets and billions of combinations. Most importantly, LEGOs are links to happy memories with family and friends.

"I've never gotten rid of any of them," Carrie Lanz said. "When I met him, he said he liked LEGOs, but his mom would never let him have them. She would step on the pieces during the night. So, when he saw mine we decided to grow a collection."

Kyla Abercrombie, 38, remembers playing with her first basic set of the smooth interlocking bricks as a child growing up on Mobile, Ala. She has one set of wheels and a base to build upon. Now the sets are complex with people, animals and accessories.

Her son Ashton, 10, was first urged to play with LEGOs when he had trouble with dexterity – holding a pencil, for instance. It helped build muscles in his fingers so he could manage small things.

Abercrombie and her husband Larry, 43, who works for an airline, plan to drive to Florida with Ashton for opening day. Ashton is saving up his nickels and dimes to shop in the LEGOLAND store.

"I understand why they are popular among kids, adults and even seniors," Abercrombie said. "Every one of us likes to use our imaginations. That's why it's so popular."

LEGOLAND Florida, which is owned by Merlin Entertainments, is the largest of the parks. The others are LEGOLAND California, LEGOLAND Billund, LEGOLAND Windsor and LEGOLAND Deutschland. A sixth park opened in Malaysia in 2012.

LEGOLAND Florida features more than 50 family rides, shows and interactive attractions, restaurants, shopping and botanical gardens, once known as Cypress Gardens. Highlights include a water ski show, complete with LEGO characters, and two roller coasters.

"There is something powerful about the LEGO brand," said Jackie Wallace, who grew up playing with LEGOs and is now spokeswoman for LEGOLAND Florida. "It speaks to us on a emotional level so to see it in a theme park and be able to share it with our children, is very special."

Susan Clary is a former award-winning reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel and CFN News13. She works as a freelance writer and editor in Winter Park and runs Compassionate Canines, a non-profit dog rescue.

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