STOP PRESS: January 21, 2010 - Merlin Entertainment Group bought Cypress Gardens and Splash Island Water Park and have turned it into Legoland Florida.
Cypress Gardens and Splash Island Water Park in Winter Haven was one of Florida oldest theme parks having first opened in 1936 and in 2006 they celebrated their 70th anniversary. It was always famous for its Southern Belles and water ski show.
The original botanical gardens were laid out on the shores of Lake Eloise by the Pope family back in the 1930s.
Cypress Gardens re-opened at the end of March 2009 after closing in November 2008 for a four month refurbishment plan. The Nature's Way zoo area and Adventure Grove thrill rides were removed but it then shut again unexpectedly on September 23, 2009
The 150-acre park was ranked number 41 in the top 50 North American Amusement Parks with close on 1.4 million guests in 2007.
Today Cypress Gardens is split into two parks (with their own gates and admission tickets):
- Splash Island Water Park - slides and tubes plus the lazy Paradise River
- Cypress Gardens with the original Botanical Gardens filled with thousands of flowers and trees, the Plantation Gardens and Wings of Wonder butterfly house plus ski shows, concerts and the Sunshine Sky Adventure where you can get a wonderful birds-eye view of the whole park
Recent History and Financial Difficulties
Cypress Gardens has had a chequered history over the last few years and on September 11, 2006 Adventure Parks Group (APG) who were then running both Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valosta, Georgia and Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Florida voluntarily filed for reorganisation under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The current owners closed the park again with a view to returning it to it's roots concentrating on the botanical gardens, ski shows and the recently developed water park.
Cypress Gardens had previously closed in 2003 and was purchased by APG late in 2004 but before it could re-open, the park was hit by hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne causing over $25 million of damage.
The damage caused by the storms delayed the opening and APG had been unable to reach agreement regarding a claim settlement with their insurers.
APG secured $15 million of additional funding which allowed both parks to continue operating as normal whilst APG try to resolve their financial difficulties. In the end both parks were sold, and Land South Holdings LLC now own Cypress Gardens.
Though APG were able to continue developing and restoring parts of Cypress Gardens to its former glory, it does seem to have lost some of its earlier (some might say old-fashioned) charm.
Having said that, it still makes an enjoyable visit, particularly if you like beautiful gardens or have small children who will particularly like the zoo and water park.
Late in 2004, Cypress Gardens bought the classic "Starliner" wooden coaster (built in 1963) from Panama City Beach's Miracle Strip Amusement Park when it closed. It was up and running at Cypress Gardens in mid 2007, making it the sixth roller coaster at the park and the second wooden coaster, alongside the "Triple Hurricane".
Starliner was designed by the legendary John Allen and features negative g-forces with hills, bunny hops and turns during the 2,640 foot long circuit.
Cypress Gardens had also started to develop a new children's area called "Bugsville". The first phase was opened in 2007 with 13 different rides.
The Nature's Way where you could see local wildlife including alligators has gone and Adventure Grove containing nearly 40 rides including roller coasters, steam train, an old fashioned carousel and children's rides is being removed and the rides sold off.