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Fueled by record attendance, Legoland unveils expansion plans

Delighted with its record breaking 1.7 million visitors and 97 percent guest satisfaction scores in 2006, Legoland California unveiled a $3 million expansion plan Thursday that will beef up Pirate Shores and build a miniature Las Vegas Strip.

“We enter [2007] very optimistic about the outlook of the year and very ambitious about the biggest expansion plan ever put together in the park history,” said John Jakobsen, Legoland’s president and general manager, during a morning press conference.

Miniland Las Vegas, a No. 1 poll pick by guests, will draw visitors down an iconic Las Vegas Strip complete with a 20-foot Stratosphere ride, an exploding volcano, a 1,250-brick MGM lion and a Luxor Las Vegas pyramid that beams light into the sky. It is scheduled to open March 29.

Major resorts lining the miniature strip include Excalibur; Luxor Las Vegas; Mirage; New York, New York Hotel and Casino; Treasure Island; Tropicana and Venetian.

The Las Vegas attraction will also feature a miniature wedding chapel, monorails and real-life sounds recorded by a Legoland sound engineer.

“It’s the ultimate showcase of what you can do with Lego bricks,” Jakobsen said.

Legoland model shop manager Pat DeMaria said builders designed the models using photographs, computer aided design and programs like Google Earth to determine scale and small details, such as how many air conditioning units to build on a hotel.

“This challenge, to include as many of the icons in the region as possible, while still maintaining the integrity of Miniland, was one of the most difficult design obstacles that our team faced,” Jakobsen said.

Pirate Shores, which last summer marked the largest expansion in the park's history, will also expand with Captain Cranky’s Challenge, due open by late May.

The newest addition to the water-based pirate play area dares guests to ride back and forth aboard a rotating pirate ship. Legoland said it would also increase the amount of seats and shaded areas there.

Pirate Shores was anticipated to fuel additional revenue for the park, which experienced a lag in attendance until about three years ago. Jakobsen said its addition helped attendance jump 20 percent over the previous year.

“With the park expansion, more and more visitors are coming back to visit the park on a second and third day, or even buying one of our membership passes,” Jakobsen said.

Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, attributes the park’s recent success to keeping its attractions interactive.

“Basically, what’s happened is if you want to compete you have to come up with something new,” he said. “SeaWorld and Legoland have both been pretty aggressive about coming up with something fresh every year.”

He said to keep in mind, however, that Legoland California’s attendance records should reflect well when compared to the rest of its parks because it’s the only one open year-round.

Legoland California became a part of Merlin Entertainments Group in July 2005, when New York-based parent company Blackstone Group bought a 70 percent share of Legoland’s four theme parks for $460 million. Merlin operates 28 attractions in eight European countries under the brand names Sea Life, Dungeon and Earth Explorer. The Lego Group, a Danish company, holds 30 percent.

Last year, park executives indicated they would build additional Legoland theme parks in the Midwest and East Coast, and Jakobsen said the company is discussing plans for a park in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo.

Construction could began as early as this year, he said. It would be modeled after Legoland California and its German park, Legoland Deutschland.

An adjacent 700-room Sheraton Carlsbad resort and time share project being built by Grand Pacific Resorts Inc. is expected to bring additional guests to the park when it is completed in late 2007 or early 2008.

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