cypress gardens
A postcard featuring water skiers as Cypress Gardens was known as the “Water Ski Capitol of the World”.

Cypress Gardens opened on January 2, 1936 as a botanical garden planted by Dick Pope Sr and his wife Julie.

It became known as the “Water Ski Capitol of the World” because it was the site for many of the sport’s landmarks firsts and over 50 world records were broken there. Numerous movies were filmed at the park, including portions of This is Cinerama, the first feature filmed in the wide-screen format, and a string of Esther Williams films and TV specials in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s, the Southern Belles attraction was introduced, in which young women dressed in the crinolines reminiscent of the Antebellum South. In the early 1960s a custom photography boat named Miss Cover Girl was introduced, and the park became a popular site for the filming of television commercials.

The Popes retired in the early 1980s and transferred the park to their son, Dick Pope Jr.

Competition for guests had increased ever since the Walt Disney Resort opened in 1971. In the 1980s, book publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich purchased the park along with Seaworld, Circus World which would be immediately close and open as Boardwalk and Baseball, and the Stars Hall of Fame. Cypress Gardens was later sold to Anheuser-Busch in 1989 and would continue to operate it until April 1, 1995, when a group of the park’s managers, led by Bill Reynolds, bought the property.

Cypress_Gardens~MGM_Set~Esther_Williams_Swimming_Pool
The famed Florida-shaped pool which was featured in 1953 Esther Williams film “Easy to Love”.

The park continued to operate until it closed on April 13, 2003, falling victim to the tourism decline following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Following it’s closing, Friends of Cypress Gardens was founded and led by Burma Davis Posey. They enlisted members throughout the entire United States and in other countries and within three and a half months they were able to raise $13,500,000, saving the park.

On February 22, 2004, Adventure Parks Group purchased the property and renamed it Cypress Gardens Adventure Park.

The initial plan was to open in September 2004 but that was delayed by damages created by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. The park finally opened in November 2004 and the adjacent Splash Island water park in 2005. The park included many roller coasters including the Triple Hurricane which was named after the hurricane season which delayed it’s initial opening and later, the Starliner which operated at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City.

In September 2006, Adventure Parks Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after sustaining over $30 million in damaged due to the 2004 hurricane season. Land South Holdings purchased Cypress Gardens at the bankruptcy auction on October 16, 2007 for $16.9 million, taking over operations of the park.

Cypress Gardens - jumbo (2)
CYpress Gradens was knowns for it’s beautiful gardens and Southern Belles..

On November 10, 2008, it was announced the park would temporarily close and was shut down November 17 that same year. Cypress Gardens and Splash Island reopened on March 28, 2009, however, the rides did not operate or were already removed and the animals were gone.

It was announced on September 23, 2009 that the park would be closing immediately, saying they have explored every option to keep the park running and were unable to find a way to keep it open.

Merlin Entertainments bought Cypress Gardens on January 15, 2010 with the intent to use the site to build the fifth Legoland, which opened on October 15, 2011. A portion of Cypress Gardens was preserved and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 14, 2014.

[tabs]
[tab title=”Videos”]

[/tab]

[tab title=”Archival Photos”]

[/tab]
[/tabs]

12 Comments

  1. Lived here my whole life but never knew the history of the park. Interesting article, good pictures

  2. Interesting. I thought Cypress Gardens had been totally integrated into Legoland. I didn’t realize there were still parts of it that are still abandoned. Love that water slide!

    • It has. These photos are from before Legoland was built. They left the gardens intact though

      • I went to Legoland a couple of years ago (late 2012, I think) and there were still parts that they had left alone. It was the “Nature’s Way” area, if the entrance to the park is still the same. My friends and I accidentally wandered into the area, and there were old boardwalks and animal cages that we say before we realized we weren’t supposed to be there. To be fair, there wasn’t a gate or anything… it was completely open and connected to the manicured gardens. I don’t know if it’s still there though.

  3. I went to cypress gardens as a kid with my parents. Either in the late 60’s or early 70’s. To this day I remember the lovely southern belles which strolled around the gardens in their big hoop skirts. Every dress a different color of the rainbow. I remember wanting to be one of them when I grew up. To this day I still have a fascination with long gowns and hoop skirts. What a feeling of nostalgia……..

  4. I worked with a lot of people at Cypress Gardens in 1990-1995 I loved setting up the Festivals and also doing the plantation gardens renovations in 1992. helped build the Greenhouse for the Butterfly house , Is there any who remembers me I worked on the South Side horticulture. I often used a scoop shovel. was the Employee of the month of March.. I live in New Mexico now Teaching Soil and Water conservation, Horticulture it was fun to be the person to plant all of those Mums. Hi Bill Renolds it has been long if you get this. and Hi to Norm Freel and Gail Sincerley Eric P Edmunds

  5. We saw Tony Orlando and Dawn in concert there. It was my first cncert (that I remember) around 1976ish?
    They used the ski show area and seating. I thought it was cool that they put the stage on the water.

  6. Just a typo in you story about circus world closed and renamed Boardwalk and Baseball which then closed immediately and turned into the spring training field for the Kansas City Royals. I remember when I was a kid back in the 80’s going to Circus world when we couldn’t afford Disney World. When you drive east on I-4 from Tampa you thought you were going to see Mickey and you get off at that exit and you think “crap”, so close but yet soooo far.

  7. I read this and cried. I speant every yearly vacation with a visit to C.G. I recall; the water skiing and southern belles and my grandmother used to love the boat rides watching it all, It hurts that Disney took Florida over and is conytinuing to ruin anything or anyone that evern takes a dollar from them. It’s the true old time parks that made central florida what it is.