Home » Florida’s Lost Theme Parks: 10 Wonderlands That Are No More

Florida’s Lost Theme Parks: 10 Wonderlands That Are No More

Orlando, Florida is the undisputed theme park capital of the world. But over the last few decades, a host of theme parks have opened their gates in the Sunshine State, only to close them again shortly afterwards.

The opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 transformed the Florida tourism market. Since then, a number of other theme park operators have sought to capitalise on the success of Disney’s resort. Some have been very successful, including Universal and SeaWorld. Others, though, have fallen by the wayside. It’s also true that there were theme parks (or similar attractions) in Florida beforeDisney called the state home. Many of these were forced out of business by the presence of the their larger neighbor. Let’s take a look back at 10 Florida theme parks that have been shuttered since the 1960s.

10. The Aquatarium


Image: 1950sUnlimited, Flickr

The exotic-sounding Aquatarium was a SeaWorld-style hybrid marine life park-theme park located in St. Pete Beach. It debuted in 1964, offering a range of shows starring porpoises, sea lions and pilot wales – all held under a 160-foot, golden geodesic dome. The pool used for the shows was the world’s largest circular tank – 100 feet in diameter and some 25 feet deep. “Floppy” the dolphin was the star attraction. After the debut of Walt Disney World, visitor numbers dropped substantially. A 1976 rename to “Shark World” failed to halt the decline, and the park closed at the end of the 1977 season.

9. Circus World

Image: Florida Memory, Flickr (license)


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 roler coaster, a ferris wheel. 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.

8. Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Image: Briarfallen, Wikipedia

Widely regarded as Florida’s first theme park, Cypress Gardens was founded as a botanical garden in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope and grew into a major attraction. It became famous for its ski shows, pretty gardens and Southern Belles. Over the years, more than 50 water skiing-related world records were broken at the park. Following a 2007 bankruptcy sale, the park was taken over by a new firm. The company’s plans included opening a new museum dedicated to its history and expanding the water park. However, the planned expansion was never completed and the park struggled in the face of heavy competition from Florida’s other attractions. In 2010, Merlin Entertainments Group purchased the Cypress Gardens site and installed LEGOLAND Floridaon it. The gardens remain as part of the new park, and elements of the Splash Island water park also live on.

7. Dinosaur Adventure Land

Dinosaur Adventure Land

Image: Ebyabe, Wikipedia

The bizarre Dinosaur Adventure Land was installed by Kent Hovind, a prominent creationist, on land behind his home in Pensacola in 2001. It depicted humans and dinosaurs co-existing in the recent past (4,000 – 6,000 years), with Hovind believing that this did indeed occur. The attraction line-up was sparse, consisting of a few exhibits, some fiberglass dinosaurs and a climbing wall. Hovind failed to secure a building permit for the park, and when he ran into problems with the tax authorities in 2009 it was seized. Since then, it has been “closed until further notice”.

6. Marco Polo Park

Image: Marco Polo Park

Marco Polo Park was located between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. It was themed around explorer Marco Polo’s travels through Europe and the Far East, and opened in 1970 – just ahead of Walt Disney World. Though it featured some fairly impressive recreations of exotic locations, the park was never profitable. It closed in October 1974, and was largely destroyed by two arson attacks in 1975. Though it reeopened later that year as Passport to Fun World, it closed for good the following year.

5. Miracle Strip Amusement Park

Miracle Strip Amusement Park

Image: Kim Hill, Flickr

Siutated opposite Panama City Beach, Miracle Strip was famous as the home of the out-and-back wooden coaster the Starliner. It opened in 1963 and was a popular attraction for four decades. However, in 2003 the land was sold for the development of condos, and the park closed the following year. The Starliner was moved to Cypress Gardens, but dismantled when that park closed to become LEGOLAND Florida. However it is due to be installed at a new, smaller version of the Miracle Strip park in 2014, dubbed Miracle Strip at Pier Park.

4. Pirates World

Image: Led Zepplin


The 100-acre Pirates World opened in 1967 in Dania, and was developed by the Recreation Corporation of America (a firm that had held discussions with Walt Disney about developing an east coast theme park, but pulled out due to the cost). Its attractions included The Crows Nest, an observation tower that had originally been the Belgian Aerial Tower at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. Another highlight was the Pirate Ship, which cruised along a “river”, coming under fire from enemy pirates. Due to the RCA connection, several major bands (including Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) were attracted to perform concerts at Pirates World. However, the debut of Walt Disney World forced it into bankruptcy by 1973. It was eventually developed into housing.

3. Six Flags Atlantis

Image: Six Flags

Six Flags owns parks up and down the US, and its once operated a water park in Hollywood, Florida. The project was originally known as Atlantis the Water Kingdom, but construction came to a halt when funding dried up. Six Flags stepped in, and Six Flags Atlantis opened in 1982. By 1989, the firm had had enough. The park was sold on, and returned to its original name. However, it was badly damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and never reopened.

2. Splendid China

Image: Mark Goebel, Flickr (license)


Reported to have cost $100 million to build, Splendid China was designed as a sister park to Splendid China in Shenzhen, China. It opened in 1993, and allowed guests to explore more than 60 replica landmarks, each recreated at one-tenth scale. Nearly seven million 1-inch-long bricks were used to create its Great Wall of China scene. The park operated for a decade before eventually shutting down. After being pillaged by vandals and thieves, it was torn down in 2013.

1. Boardwalk and Baseball

Image: Joel, Flickr (license)


After the closure of Circus World, a second theme park was built on the same site near Haines City. Boardwalk and Baseball opened on February 1, 1987, and reused many of its predecessor’s rides and attractions. The most significant addition was the Baseball City Stadium, which was accompanied by a host of baseball-related exhibits. The Kansas City Royals made the stadium their spring training home. ESPN even taped a game show, Boardwalk and Baseball’s Super Bowl of Sports Trivia, on the site. Unfortunately, the line up of midway-style rides at the park was no match for Walt Disney World. Within 18 months of opening, it had hit serious financial problems. By 1990, it was forced to close altogether. It was sold to the Busch Entertainment Corporation (which owned SeaWorld Orlando and Cypress Gardens), and subsequently largely demolished. It is now the site of a retail complex.