Lack of family-friendly hotels force most families at Legoland Florida to stay out of town

Officials work to develop around two year old park

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - As many as 1.8 million people walk through the gates of Legoland Florida every year, but the majority seem to ignore the city it's in.

Officials say the problem isn't getting the people to come to the two year old theme park, it's getting them to stay in Winter Haven.

"They're not staying in the area. They're staying down 27, or they're staying in Orlando. They're just here for the day and they're gone," said Nancy Schack, Owner of Schack's BBQ just down the road from Legoland.

Schack's gets a few guests from the park, but not what they expected.

It's estimated as much 80-percent of the guests stay out of town.

"We'd rather have them staying here, eating here, shopping here -- doing all the things that visitors truly enjoy," said Mark Jackson, Director of Tourism and Sports Marketing for Central Florida.

So what's stopping them?

If you look around directly outside the gates, real estate signs are screaming at developers.

According to the experts, the area desperately needs family-friendly hotels.

"We have unmet demand," Jackson said.

"We need more supply."

Jackson said it will take time, but expects to see growth within five to ten years.

Right now, the Lake Roy Beach Inn is one of the only ones catered to kids, and it's seeing the benefit.

"We've seen every weekend at least 20 to 30 percent of the rooms full with Legoland customers, and we've been very happy with it."

The trick is to change the mindset of visitors, convincing them that Winter Haven is more than just a point on the map.

Legoland Florida has hinted at building a resort, but no official plans have been announced.

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