Cypress Gardens, Florida’s first theme park, has once again found itself out in the weeds.
An iconic home of water ski shows and Southern Belles in uncomfortably warm dresses, the park operated steadily for almost 70 years. Then it closed in 2003, reopened with roller coasters in 2004, was ravaged by three hurricanes and closed again, reopened with a water park and zoo in 2005, closed in 2008, reopened without the roller coasters or zoo in 2009, and now has closed for a fourth time.
Evidently, efforts to find a new winning formula have been unsuccessful.
It always seemed to us as if Cypress Gardens failed by trying to be too much. The water skis and Southern Belles weren’t enough for its new breed of MBA managers. Their latest “we’re closed” press release spoke of their attempts at “numerous management frameworks,” rather than trying to create new routines for the water ski show. They wanted to slug it out with Disney and Universal Studios, which was admirable but insane.
As an article in the Lynchburg News and Advance points out, the Cypress Gardens property is “zoned for entertainment.” There’s a chance it will rise again from this latest belly-flop (maybe a desperate state park rescue, a la Weeki Wachee?). If so, we hope they get back to the basics. Bring in a water-skiing dog. Pit the Southern Belles against some dim-witted Yankees in a Civil War battle. Work with what you do best, Cypress Gardens. The people will come.
My first visit to Cypress Gardens was in 1951, then several more times up to 2004. The gardens were and are beautiful, but are disgraced by the honky-tonk attractions that were added. The water show was and is enjoyable. It’s a shame that people can spend their hard-earned money to ride roller coasters in and around Orlando but can’t drive a few miles to see some of Florida’s heritage and beauty.
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