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5 Ambitious Theme Parks That Took On Disney and FAILED

1. Circus World

Circus World

Image via Jim Hill Media

Located just north of Haines City, Circus World was originally intended to be the winter header quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1974, an enormous, 27,000 square foot building that was designed to look a circus tent opened. Inside, guests could find an IMAX movie theater, and other attractions soon joined this: a carousel, a wooden roller coaster, a ferris wheel.

Circus World was intended to be a serious rival to Walt Disney World. At the time, the Barnum & Bailey Circus was opened by toy manufacturer Mattel - a firm that (theoretically) had more than enough money to fund the $60 million theme park project, which was announced in September 1972. Disney was worried enough to mention the park in its own announcement of a major expansion, saying that it would offer more than "SeaWorld and Circus World combined".

Circus World (2)

Image: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Circus World (3)

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Some of the plans for Circus World were extraordinary. At one stage, its backers promised that it would include a spectacular signature hotel, standing at 19 stories tall and shaped like an ELEPHANT. However, it turned out that Mattel wasn't willing to pony up $60 million after all, so many of the most exciting elements were dropped.

There were still some impressive attractions on offer, though, including the Roaring Tiger roller coaster - reputedly a favorite of Michael Jackson.

Circus World (4)

Image: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Circus World (5)

Image: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Despite competition from Walt Disney World, the park's line-up continued to expand during the early 1980s. It began to struggle, though, and was sold to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1986. It was shuttered and reemerged as Boardwalk and Baseball, one of 10 lost Florida theme parks that you can read about in our recent article.

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There are 9 comments.

I remember Circus World had painted concrete walkways that when freshly washed and wet in the morning were the slipperiest law suit waiting to happen ever.

I remember in 1982 Circus World let Disney employees in for free. Good marketing idea. Wooden coaster was a lot of fun and usually no wait. Also loved the chilli covered open faced burgers.

my first elephant ride was at Circus World 1977!

The place that was once Freedomland is now home to Co-Op City and Pelham Bay Park

The Heritage Square village that was left from Magic Mountain closed at the end of 2015.

I went to Freedomland with my family when I was a 10 year old kid. I remember they recruited kids to pump water from old time fire engines to put out the Great Chicago Fire.

I went to Circus World in 1980. Two things I remember vividly, the Roaring Tiger Rollercoaster, IT WAS AWSOME. My boyfriend and I ( now husband ) got to ride in the front seat multiple times and didn't even need to get off the ride. And the second, I got to walk the high wire. It was AMAZING, 30 feet off the ground walking a thin wire, the Circus Master announced you, where you were from like if you were a real performer. Of course you were all harnessed up but WOW. what an opportunity.

I've been to Heritage Square before - the last time I went was probably in the summer of 2014, and I have good memories of that place. I loved the Tilt-A-Whirl and the alpine slides. Unfortunately, the alpine slides closed after the 2015 season, and I'm a little bit bummed that I'm never going to get to ride them again, but there's nothing I can do about it anyway, you know? My family loved that place and I really hope I'll be able to go back sometime.

I've been to Circus World and Pirates World. We lived not too far from Pirates World. I was VERY young then. I only remember the crows nest. We went to Circus World one year while staying at the Contemporary resort at WDW. It was also the same visit we went to the new Wet & Wild. Good memories.


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