A wife and two sons later I had no need to take them out there -- yet when I heard it was closing I felt as if I had let tradition down. Naturally I got really excited when I heard that the owner of Wild Adventures was taking over the park. It would mean redemption -- and rides to keep me and my young boys awake.
As fate would have it we were in Disney World for Thanksgiving weekend. I wasn't sure if I was going to go or not, but I did know it wouldn't be on Friday. Grand Opening (well, preview of the GO)? Kenny Rogers concert? I didn't want to mar my first taste crammed like sardines in tens of thousands of park guests. The park had supposedly sold 25,000 annual passes in the weeks leading to the weekend. No thanks. I'll pass.
Then I read that there were 6,000 to 7,000 guests in the first three hours and I reworked my Mickey Mouse itinerary. Kent's new park could use some support so off I went on Saturday.
Getting to the park is a breeze. We have a condo in Kissimmee just West of Disney so taking 192 to where it ends at US27 -- down 26 miles to turn right at 540 (which, oddly enough, wasn't marked as the Cypress Gardens entrance, despite mile markers leading to that point).
The park opened at 10am and that's just when we were pulling up into the parking lot. There were no more than two dozen cars in the parking lot.
Daily admission was marked down by $5 to $29.95 but I figured I wasn't going to let Cypress Gardens down this time. I went full hog and bought four of the annual passports (just $35 more each). They're good at Wild Adventures too -- through the end of 2005.
Pass processing was a snap as the place was pretty desserted. The park was clearly overstaffed. With the exception of the ski show it seems as if there was far more staff all over the park than the original -- and I don't mean just the ride ops.
The park is VERY incomplete. You see it everywhere. While most of the rides are open (I would say about a half-dozen of the three dozen rides are still not up) the rest of the park is way behind. Restrooms have makeshift stalls -- some without doors. Dining is an even bigger problem as portable grills were set up in a few places to get burgers done in lieu of the regular eateries that with few exceptions just aren't ready. For instance, the Adventure Grill -- the one food area in the ride area -- had tantalizing signs offering hot fries and burgers yet a hand-scrawled sign read "no fries -- no fryer, no grill -- no burgers" so they were serving hot dogs with bags of chips (and soft pretzels). The animal areas, including the 3 animal shows, weren't open. Taking the aerial view from the rotating arm observatory attraction provided a sobering view. It seems as if it will be a miracle if that side of the park is ready by the December 9 official Grand Opening.
You enter the park through Jubilee Junction. Right away my wife and I got the same vibe -- Dollywood. It's a homey feel, with live country and bluegrass music. Many of the shops were closed, including one that I knew my youngest son would love -- Planes, Trains and Automobiles (which will include a model train exhibit). The stores that were open looked great. The Kringle's Christmas store doesn't just have the requisite ornaments and decorations but also an impressive walkthrough exhibit of full-size Santa mannequins through the ages.
The rides? Yes, it's why we're all excited about the park's re-opening. Past the open-air grassy amphitheater (which was spotless -- despite the Kenny Rogers concert the night before) and some construction areas, Okeechobee Rampage is the first ride you come across. It's your basic junior skater. It's certainly a quality family coaster though you have to temper your expectations if you are looking for massive thrills. The Yo-Yo swings follow then the Storm Surge raft ride. It's a "dry" raft ride that seats up to six in inflatable rafts that go up a conveyor belt before doing a whole lot of spinning on the way down the slide. There will be a guyser and some water canons installed to give it more of a watery punch. For now just about everyone got off dry.
The Triple Hurricane -- no doubt named after the three hurricanes that it withstood over the summer -- is next (a train station is there -- but not in operation just yet). Triple Hurricane is a surprisingly lengthy woodie, yet because of its small size it never really packs the speed to give you any kind of airtime on the bunny hills back to the station. It's a nice family ride (just a 36 inch height requirement) though the next coaster will hopefully pack more of a wallop.
Nearly a dozen kiddie rides line one side of Triple Hurricane. They have quite a few kiddie rides, including a few like the frog hopper and rockin' tug and a kid-sized Pharoah's Fury that not only accent their bigger brothers across the lake (Thunderbolt freefall ride which wasn't running, Pharoah's Fury swining boat and the Disk'O -- which was probably the most popular of the flats at the park). They line a small lake and it's visually top-notch. At the far end is the Swampthing coaster which was being worked on, yet should be open in the next week or two.
Bumper cars, double-decker carousel, nice-looking flying scooters, tilt-a-whirl, Inverter, etc. Quite a good collection of flats and for folks who are Disneyed out with E-ticket rides and the long lines they beckon should come to appreciate the fair midway layout here with a great variety of attractions.
The ski show? Remember that pyramid, with a dozen skiers or so? Not now. Not yet. No more than 3 skiers ever went out at any time and while the show was good and you had the familiar scene of boaters anchored in Lake Eloise to catch the show gratis, it was NOT the classic show. There was also a night time laser show that hasn't opened yet on the water. Assuming that the ski show will bulk up its staff to its former glory, great. If not, this would be the only part where the new park falls short.
Even things like a human fountain where a silver-covered actress (someone working there told us she was a former Lakers dancer -- not that you could make a connection as this is a more stoic and artistic performance) strikes poses as water flows out of her fingertips -- all this along the lush topiary of animal scrulptures in the beautiful gardens -- the park deserves your support.
While a lot remains to open, anyone can color in the blank spaces and see something cool brewing. The soft turnout has be troubled but I think word of mouth and an effort to ramp up group sales and get field trips out will begin spreading the word that Cypress Gardens is back and aiming to be something more than what it once was.
But, yes, logistically they are a long ways away. There is a footpath from deep in the ride area to the botanical gardens and ski area yet that was cordoned off as they are still working on that (which meant you had to go back to the Jubilee Junction entrance area of the park if you wanted to go from the rides to the shows and gardens.
One thing I didn't emphasize enough is how friendly everyone was. While my eldest son and I went over to start processing our passes my wife took the young 'un to get some popcorn and came back as if they had just been talking to some long-lost relatives. There is a lot of pride here. The employees and ride ops tend to be at both ends of the age spectrum -- either young kids or area retirees -- yet they all share a cool zeal for the park, as if they realize that they have been given a second chance to make this park work.
They had operating calendar posters for 2005 being handed out and I was a bit surprised to see daily operation all year-round. Except for three days (Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day) the park will be open. It felt barren on a holiday Saturday and I'm hoping they don't set themselves up for too big of a fall when it's a weekday in September and the thin crowd won't exactly be hitting the thrill rides.
I didn't cover the third coaster. It's the Fiesta Express, the kiddie-junior mouse coaster that I believe is also up at Wild Adventures. One of the funnier sights was watching some folks with coaster club shirts (yes, it was cool to see the enthusiasts show up and support a park that lacks a great coaster) hooting and hollering on the Fiesta Express. Yes, that could be annoying behavior in any other park but since the park was so empty it was almost -- almost -- endearing.
To being an "us" for once - instead of a "them".
I'm sure Gator is drooling at all the kiddie coasters...;)
Although I have to say, the new ride section looks pretty basic, and doesn't appear that it will be anything more upon the official opening. No theming, very basic coaster stations, no ques (let alone any shaded cues), no trees, and I seriously hope they plan on doing something more to those flying scooters, very odd looking. Maybe this is just a temporary ride section that will be spruced up and better themed in the future?
I'm only going by these pics, but CG probably needs to do something similiar to Bonfante Gardens. BG also has many basic flat rides and only a handful of bigger rides, but each and every one is uniquely themed, has a beautifully landscaped shaded que, and surrounded by trees everywhere.
With some of the best themed parks in existance only 1hr away from CG, I don't know how well or how long this carnival like theme will work for them. It certainly didn't work for Circus World, no matter how many big coasters they threw at it. I'm hoping nostalgia will hold the park up for a few seasons, but theming the ride section in the future to gardens like BG did might work alot better for CG in the long run.
*** Edited 11/30/2004 2:56:58 PM UTC by Mamoosh***
The comment in that TPR report that said there are no covered areas in the ride section of the park is a bit off the mark. The Adventure Grill is completely covered and you also have some tree-shady tables set up right in front of the restrooms by Triple Hurricane.
The Ride area is just one aspect of the park as the ice skating show is indoors, the ski show's dual stages are covered, the butterfly garden is in an enclosed glasshouse and while the animal area was still cordoned off it looked very lushly landscaped and shady.
I don't see melanoma going into the fine print here. I don't see any kind of themed attractions ever going in here because what would the point be? When you are 35 miles from Disney World and 45 miles from Universal Orlando that's one arms race that you will lose if you go that route. The ride area is pretty basic but the central lake area provides quite a bit of eye candy if that's what you're looking for
One thing that may be a problem is that folks were just walking all over the place. It felt a little like RCT when you have folks walking off in circles in the grassy areas off the paved paths. Normally that wouldn't be a problem but they will have a train going around there. Even the paved crossing areas didn't have any draw gates to come down so whoever is manning the train is going to have keep an eye on wandering guests through the entire circuit.
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