Winter Haven, Florida, USA
January 2, 1936 (as Cypress Gardens)
Legoland Florida, which opened in 2011 built on the site of and utilizing parts of an old park, started off its life over 70 years ago as an area of beautiful botanical gardens, which would be turned into an amusement park known as Cypress Gardens. Back in 1936, Richard “Dick” Pope Sr. and his wife Julie opened up Cypress Gardens as a botanical garden on the shore of Lake Eloise near Winter Haven, Florida. The parks second most well-known element, its famous water ski shows, started back in 1943 when the park held its first water ski show to entertain U.S. servicemen, and the park became known as the “water-ski capital of the world.” Over the next few years, the show was integrated permanently into the park and was presented on a daily basis.
In 1947 and 1953 respectively, the beautiful botanical park became the location of two feature-length movies—“On an Island With You” and “Easy to Love.” During this time, the park was also the featured location for a number of television shows and commercial shoots. In 1962, Dick Pope Sr. turned the park over to his son, Dick Pope Jr., and committed himself to promoting tourism in Florida. He had a major success with this in 1965 when he rescued the Florida Pavilion at the 1965 World’s Fair in New York and made the pavilion the most popular one there by featuring the Florida Ski Show.
The park, which up to this point consisted of huge gardens and the famous water ski show, faced a serious crisis in 1971, when Walt Disney World opened up nearby in Orlando. The parks massive scale and elaborately themed and storied rides pulled a lot of draw away from the gardens, forcing the park to evolve. In 1974, the park acquired additional property and expanded southward, adding several rides, a small zoo, and the Crossroads. The park remained essentially the same for the next 10 years, with only the Island in the Sky ride, sponsored by Kodak, being installed in 1983.
© Cypress GardensThen, in 1985, the park left the Pope’s family ownership, being purchased by Harcourt Brace Javonovich publishing company, along with the likes of Sea World, Circus World (later Boardwalk & Baseball), and the Stars Hall of Fame. Just four years later, the park exchanged hands again when Busch Entertainment, owners of the Busch Gardens park in Tampa, bought the park from HBJ. Again the park operated, relatively unchanged, for the next few years before Busch Entertainment sold the park to a private management team led by William Reynolds.
The park operated under Reynolds for the next few years, seeing some renewed success when the park added the Wacky Water Park to Cypress Garden’s lineup of attractions. That success, however, would be short-lived. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the park suffered a massive, prolonged decline in tourism, forcing the park to shut down on April 13, 2003, with its future entirely uncertain. A grassroots effort to save the park and reopen it, known as the Friends of Cypress Gardens, was formed and within just three and a half months, raised $13.5 million to save the park.
Less than a year after its uncertain closure, on February 22, 2004, Adventure Parks Group owner Kent Buescher purchased the property and renamed it Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. Kent Buescher, who was the owner of the Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Georgia, saw great potential in Cypress Gardens, and working with the local government, was able to successfully purchase the park. He planned to build up Cypress Gardens by using the same formula that had made Wild Adventures a success: “provide a great variety of affordable family fun that all ages can enjoy.” Despite hard work over the summer, the month of September would prove to be the parks curse, with the park being hit by and severely damaged by three Hurricanes—Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. Though not defeated, the parks grand re-opening would have to be delayed while cleanup occurred.
© Cypress GardensAgainst all odds, the park was reborn in November 2004, opening to guests with a variety of rides, the re-themed Splash Island water park, live entertainment, historical gardens, animals, the world-famous water ski show, and an old-fashioned village for food and shopping. Among its new list of family-friendly rides were: Delta Kite Flyers, Zamperla Kite Flyer spinning ride; Disk’O, Zamperla spinning disk ride; Pharaoh’s Fury, a Chance swining ship; Power Surge, a Zamperla spinning/flipping ride; Thunderbolt, ARM tower ride; and the Yo-Yo, a Chance spinning swings ride. The park also now boasted a total of four roller coasters, including the Fiesta Express kiddie coaster, Okeechobee Rampage junior coaster, Swamp Thing family suspended coaster, and the park’s headline attraction, the Martin & Vleminckx Group junior wooden coaster called Triple Hurricane, named for the three hurricanes which hit the park earlier that year. The 2005 season saw the addition of another roller coaster, the Galaxy Spin, a Zamperla spinning wild mouse coaster similar to Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As a result, the park saw a record attendance of 1.4 million guests, and the trend continued into 2006.
Despite its new-found success, Adventure Parks Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2006, largely as a result of the over $30 million in damages the park suffered from the September 2004 hurricane season. The park continued operating through the bankruptcy period, and even managed to save a wooden coaster from brink of disaster. The classic Starliner wooden coaster had been SBNO at the defunct Miracle Strip Amusement Park in nearby Panama City, Florida since 2004, but an outcry to save the historical ride motivated Cypress Gardens to save it and relocate it to their park.
© Legoland FloridaIn October 2007, Land South Adventures, subsidiary of Land South Holdings LLC, purchased Cypress Gardens in bankruptcy auction for $16.9 million. Buescher, who had been kept on as interim manager, was relieved of his duties in January 2008, replaced by the Baker Leisure Group of Orlando, who took over the park management operations. The park was then temporarily closed in November 2008 for renovations, restructure, and the elimination of the rides and the animal park. The park reopened again on March 28, 2009, with reduced pricing and the option to pay separate admission to visit either Cypress Gardens or Splash Island water park. The “curse of September” would return yet again however, with the owners of the park announcing Cypress Gardens would be closing effective immediately, but that they would help find another buyer for the park. At this point, all the roller coasters were still at the park, but none were operating, along with all the other remaining rides.
Despite the parks roller coaster of ups and downs and its rocky history, the park did find a new buyer in Merlin Entertainment, who purchased Cypress Gardens on January 15, 2010 intending to use the site for the fifth Legoland installation. Less than a week later, that project would officially be confirmed as the future Legoland Florida. The new makeover of the park into Legoland Florida is scheduled for an October 2011 opening, with the renovation and re-theming of several existing rides and the construction of new rides currently taking place. Though the parks initial plans were to incorporate the classic wooden Starliner coaster into its lineup, management later changed its mind, dismantling the coaster for a potential future buyer.
© Legoland FloridaLike its sister parks throughout the world, Legoland Florida will feature a countless number of LEGO landmark recreations, statues, models, and LEGO-themed rides. The park will of course feature its own version of the trademark Miniland USA attraction, and will feature seven specifically themed areas—Washington D.C., New York City, Las Vegas, Kennedy Space Center, Daytona, a representation of Florida, and a Pirate section. Models will range from the taxicabs in Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, to hotels from the Las Vegas Strip, and from LEGO brick Daytona race cars, to the Capitol Building.
The Fun Town section of the park will feature food, shops, a factory tour showing how LEGO bricks are made, and a 700-seat theater showing 4-D movies throughout the day. Pirate’s Cove will provide a live entertainment “swashbuckling” show, while the DUPLO Village provides some tame rides for even the smallest children. It is the other four sections of the park which contain the majority of the rides, and the parks four roller coasters.
© Legoland FloridaLEGO City will be themed after a scaled down town featuring a driving school, fire academy, and flight school. The Driving School will give youngsters a “real-life” driving experience where they will get to drive freely, while obeying traffic laws, on a small-town course. The Fun Town Fire Academy pits families against one another in a race to put out a fire truck, the first to do so, wins! This section of the park will also feature Flight School, the re-themed junior inverted steel coaster formerly known as Swamp Thing. Xtreme, another section of the park, will feature the all-new LEGO TECHNIC Test Track, a LEGO-themed wild mouse adventure with tight twists, quick drops, and hairpin turns, as well as the AQUAZONE Wave Racers.
Stepping into the Land of Adventure, youngsters enter into a sci-fi adventure, encountering dinosaurs, mummy’s, and giant beetles. The coaster formerly known as Triple Hurricane now exists as Coastersaurus, dipping through a prehistoric jungle and life-sized LEGO dinosaurs. Land of Adventure also features the Lost Kingdom Adventure, a dark ride in which guests shoot targets in “all-terrain roadsters” while going through Egypt in search of treasure. Castle Hill takes kids back to medieval times, where knights fought to slay dragons and save princesses trapped in towering spires. Here is where the parks fourth coaster, The Dragon, formerly Okeechobee Rampage, exists, taking riders through “a spirited and humorous view of life behind the scenes within the enchanted LEGOLAND Castle.” This section also features The Royal Joust, in which guests ride LEGO-themed horses through medieval scenes, encountering other rides in mock-jousts.
Though still under construction, or re-construction, Legoland Florida is currently on schedule for an October 2011 opening, and will stand as the largest Legoland park to date.
Present Roller Coasters (4)Edit
|Coastersaurus||Martin & Vleminckx||Wooden||11/26/2004||Operating|
|LEGO TECHNIC Test Track||Mack Rides||Wild Mouse||10/15/2011||Operating|
Past Roller Coasters (3)Edit
|Fiesta Express||Zamperla||Family||11/26/2004||11/16/2008||Gillian's Funland|
|Galaxy Spin||Zamperla||Spinning||8/17/2005||11/16/2008||Fun Spot USA|
|Starliner||Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc.||Wooden||7/14/2007||11/16/2008||Miracle Strip Pier Park|