Most of us in Florida enjoy the occasional trip to Disney World, but being the home to the “Happiest Place on Earth” did come with a price. Before the world’s most famous mouse made our state his second home, Florida was full of fun, interesting and weird roadside attractions designed to grab the attention of tourists from all over the country.
Unfortunately, as mega theme parks and developers swept across Florida, fewer and fewer families felt like going out of their way to visit these mom-and-pop attractions. You may remember these attractions from your childhood, or this may be the first time you've ever heard of them. Either way, we hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into Florida's fascinating past.
1. Miracle Strip Amusement Park, Panama City
The original Miracle Strip thrilled visitors in Panama City from 1963 to 2004, when it broke many hearts by closing its doors. The park reopened in 2009 with a few of the old rides, but it just wasn't the same. Features of the Miracle Strip were the Starliner Roller Coaster, Abominable Snowman, Dante's Inferno, The Haunted Castle, and The Dungeon.
2. Mystery Fun House, Orlando
Mystery Fun House was beloved for its scary, silly and just plain weird exhibits from 1976 to 2001. Its chambers evolved over the years. At one point or another it included each of the following: a crooked room, a mirror maze, a rolling barrel, tunnels, creepy jail-themed areas, a moving bridge, a movie theater, a hologram machine, a magic shop, laser tag, mini golf and a pizza parlor. Recently there have been rumors that the current owners of the site plan to rebuild the Mystery Fun House, but only time will tell.
3. Pirates World, Dania
Pirates World was open from 1967 to 1975. The park featured several rides, many of which were bought from other parks and redesigned with pirate themes. It was also the site of many rock concerts in the '60s and '70s, hosting everyone from Black Sabbath to The Beach Boys.
4. Masterpiece Gardens/The Great Masterpiece, Lake Wales
During World War II, a huge mosaic recreating The Last Supper was sent to the US to keep it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. It eventually ended up in Lake Wales in 1950 and became a tourist attraction, gradually adding rides and animal shows. In 1981, the park in Central Florida couldn't compete with the ever-growing popularity of Disney World, and it closed. The mosaic was eventually sold to a college in South Carolina.
5. Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven
Cypress Gardens was Florida's first theme park, opening in 1936. It evolved over several decades before finally closing in 2009. Cypress Gardens was famous for its beautiful grounds, dotted with women dressed as Southern belles, various rides, and incredibly skilled teams of water ski experts. The area where the park once stood is now commemorated in several places in Legoland.
6. Floridaland, Osprey
Perhaps confusingly, Floridaland was actually a Western-themed park. It also inexplicably held a dolphin show (because what Wild West show is complete without dolphins?) and a petting zoo. It was definitely a budget theme park even by the standards of the time, but it looks pretty fun, at least for its weirdness. It was open from 1964 to 1971.
7. Circus World, Haines City
Circus World ran from 1974 until 1987, when it became the also ill-fated Boardwalk and Baseball. Over time, it grew from the winter home for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to include a Ferris wheel, carousel, roller coasters, daily circus performances and other shows. Visitors even had the chance to try the trapeze and tightrope walking.
8. Six Gun Territory, Silver Springs/Ocala
Six Gun Territory was also a park made to look like a Western Town, but better funded and more cohesive than Floridaland. It was open from 1963 to 1984. Visitors would take a train ride to get into the town, where they could see gunfights, saloon shows, various rides, and more. See below for a short video of this beloved park, as well as footage of the water ski performers at Cypress Gardens.
Do you remember any of these lost attractions? Do you have any others you’d like to share with us? There are plenty more, and we’d love to keep Florida memories alive by featuring more lost attractions. Please share your thoughts and memories with us below!
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