Before the days of major theme parks there were still things to do a see in Florida. Some of these places have withstood the onslaught of the big parks. Others have had to make changes, and others still exist only in the memories of those who visited them.
Before the interstate system small roadside stands could be found all over Americas highways and byways. Florida was no exception. With our weather and beaches drawing visitors to the state it made sense for promoters to find a way to get their share.
Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida provided exciting ski shows and an impressive garden. This park has survived by first having portion of the park protected with legislation and now is park of Legoland, Florida. I have visited it several times over the years and have to say with the addition of the Legoland theme elements it just doesn’t feel the same.
Marineland was on the east coast between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. I actually visited this as a child. It declined over the years but through varies means it stayed open and celebrates its 75th Birthday this year.
Silver Springs is famous for its glass bottomed boats. It has a long history including being the filming site for the old Tarzan movies. Escaped monkeys have actually built a colony on the property. It too has suffered some ups and downs but so far is hanging in there because of its unique natural features. I visited the park once as a child and a few times with the children.
If you are into alligators and other critters there are two great alligator theme parks that I have visited over the years. Gatorland home of the famous Gator Jumparoo show has hung in for 63 years. The other great gator place is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. My boys really loved this and still want to go back Both parks not only let you see gators and other zoo animals but both have areas where wild birds hang out and at certain times of the years can provide some wonderful photos opportunities.
Weeki Wachee Springs is another park that has found a way to survive. Some years in better shape than others. I really loved the shows a child and I have fond memories of taking Jacob there when he was little and have a Polaroid of him posing with one of the mermaid from the show minus her fins.
Homosassa Springs is unique because it gives you a great place to view manatees and I really loved taking the kids there. It was saved by being adopted into the State Park System.
I remember the Aquatarium in St. Petersburg. I went as a child and really loved it. The last time I was there when Jacob was little it had been turned into Shark World and was smelly and in huge disrepair.
Some others I remember include Storyland that I saw when I was very little while visiting my grandparents in Pompano. Six Gun Territory which we visited the one and only family vacation we ever took when I was growing up. Splendid China that we visited when the kids were younger.
Finally two great dramatic presentation of also met their end. The Black Hills Passion Play in Lake Wales and the Cross and the Sword in St. Augustine. I remember seeing both of these as a child and the emotional impact of live outdoor theater made an impression on me. I regret that I will not be able to share this experiences with my children.
I am sorry I never got to see Masterpiece Gardens in Lake Wales back in its glory days.
And I remember Busch Gardens when it was free. There a was a storybook display, birds, and free beer for the grown-ups. They then added the monorail for a separate charge and well the rest is history.
Here is a link to Florida’s Lost Tourist Attractions which lists many more parks that have come and gone over the years. Just reading through the list was a like a trip down memory lane.
Why don’t you share some of your favorite roadside memories here and Florida and elsewhere in the US.