Cypress Gardens Adventure Park 11/26/04

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004 9:41 PM
Let's get this out of the way...Cypress Gardens Adventure Park isn't Disney. It isn't Universal. It isn't even Busch Gardens or Sea World. However, that doesn't mean Cypress Gardens isn't fun. I know many people who like to compare "such and such" park to Disney and Disney usually comes out ahead. I like to judge a park on its own merits and not try to compare it with others. I might compare rides and attractions from other parks, or something that I see in other parks but not this one.

I was very excited to see Cypress Gardens re-open. I was sad to see it close. The last time I visited Cypress Gardens was two years ago. It was a nice place -- the gardens were beautiful and I had fun -- but I didn't see a reason to return. Disney, Sea World, Busch Gardens, and Universal were right up the street and had things that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, I think this was the attitude of most people that visited the park. Now Cypress Gardens was opening again "now with fun!" (as a friend of mine said). The park now has rides -- and not the kiddie rides they once had -- and now coasters! They may be kiddie coasters, but they are coasters nonetheless!

I like the new name too -- "Cypress Gardens Adventure Park." SeaWorld added the same thing to their name -- "SeaWorld Adventure Park." It's not a park where you see boring fish. You can have a lot of fun riding coasters and seeing the shows -- it's an adventure! You know what? SeaWorld is a fun place. With the name addition, Cypress Gardens can now be seen as an adventure too and not just a place to see boring plants.

I said "bah, humbug!" to Black Friday and headed from Ft. Myers, FL up US17 to Cypress Gardens around 6 am. It took me about 2 1/2 hours to arrive. There was hardly any traffic! I did pass by a few Wal-Marts and they seemed relatively busy. I met up with my friend Bob from the Florida Coaster Club at the park. The park’s posted opening was around 10 am, but the front gates didn’t open until around 10:10. The new entrance to the park is quite inviting. A calypso band was playing. A few of the Southern Belles were standing around. The park seemed to have a lot more life than it had before.

When the gates opened and Bob stepped through, a TV reporter interviewed him immediately because of his Florida Coaster Club t-shirt and he made the 6 o’clock news. Throughout the day, I was making fun of him for being a Media Whore. I even named him Paul Ruben. I got him to say, “My new #1 coaster is Fiesta Express!”

We were trying to locate the entrance to the rides, but we kept on running into dead ends. One employee pointed the way, but it was a dead end. We finally snuck through a hole in the fence. Later on, the same hole would be covered up with yellow Caution tape. The rides area had a tiny “Rides/Concert” sign up. Bob was walking so fast into the park that we both missed it! Later, the sign would be much bigger.

The park had a lot of flats and they looked so new! I’m used to seeing flats with rust on them. I’ve been hanging around too many carnivals for sure. I suppose in a few seasons they will be broken in with rust and perhaps run a lot better! The flats were a Yo-Yo, a flying kites ride, a flyers, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a Disko, bumper cars, a two-story carousel, and the like. The flyers looked really weird and they didn’t have the whirring gas engine sound of Knoebel’s. The Tilt-a-Whirl had weird-looking seats. They held two people and looked like the cars came off Old Town’s Windstorm! The bumper cars were really fast, but they weren’t as good as Knoebel’s. I haven’t found bumper cars better than the ones at Knoebel’s. The carousel was interesting, but it took a Gwazi-like 5 minutes to load and it only went around for about a minute! I didn’t even get the brass ring…wait, there was no brass ring! Never mind…

Now onto the important stuff…the roller coasters! Let’s face it…the coasters are pretty much kiddie coasters. But they sure were fun! Here’s my assessment of them…


Fiesta Express – What can I say about this mini-mouse? It went in long s-curves. It’s a good ride for little kids and credit-hungry coaster fans. We had to hog up our own seats because they were so tiny. The ride op did give us funny looks as we rode it. We tried hand-slapping, but we were sitting on the wrong side of the coaster and couldn’t reach each other!

Okeechobee Rampage – Here’s a Vekoma roller skater. It had a different kind of seating. Each car had two seats with dividers in the middle. It actually looked like two adults can fit into one seat comfortably! I’ve never experienced that on IOA’s Flying Unicorn! Even though the layout was familiar on Okeechobee Rampage, it was smooth and I had fun riding it.

Triple Hurricane – Here’s Cypress Gardens’ serious coaster, a kiddie woddie! It reminded me of Waldameer Park’s Comet. The seats were pretty small. Two adults couldn’t sit next to each other comfortably. I had to hog up my own seat and cross my legs to fit! It was a smooth, fun ride. There wasn’t much airtime, though. I heard that the back gives a lot of airtime, but the line got pretty long as the day progressed and we didn’t get a chance to test it out.

Swamp Thing wasn’t running that day. A lot of workers were banging and binging on it.


We also watched the ski show. The ski show was a graduation of all the ski students. At the end, each one got an orange (but not raspberry) beret. So it appears graduation day will be every day! The show had a cheesy script, but the Cypress Gardens ski show is one of the best I’ve seen and I’ve seen some bad ones (the one at SeaWorld San Antonio comes to mind).

We took a walk around the gardens, which were practically deserted when we walked around it in the afternoon. They looked really nice, but we wondered how the park survived if all they had was the gardens. The Nature’s Way section used to house the animals, but it was closed off. We took a ride on the Florida Sky Adventure, which used to be Island of the Sky when the park was opened previously. It gave a good view of the park. It also gave a good view of the monumental work that had to be done to get Nature’s Way up to speed. The ride previously had narration telling you what you were seeing, but that was missing unless you spoke to a ride op.

The crowds were small when the park opened. As it got closer to concert time, the park became really crowded! We went to the rides area first and did most of the rides in about 2 ½ hours. All of the rides then were a walk-on. Later, the Triple Hurricane had about a 20-30 minute wait and the other rides had about a 5-15 minute wait. The Triple Hurricane had a long line because the lap bars didn’t come up automatically. The ride op had to use a tool to manually release the lap bars one at a time.

The longest lines we waited all day were for food (a 15 minute wait) and to get our annual passes processed (a 15 minute wait). My annual pass took longer to process (about 15 minutes more) because their computers had problems scanning my one-day ticket and doing the upgrade.

The park looked great, but there were signs that more work had to be done and signs of growing pains. I had mentioned before the employee pointing us the wrong way to the rides and the manual releasing of the lap bars. We noticed half-completed roofs and other things that needed finishing up. The most notable was in the men’s room. The stalls to the doors were just a piece of unevenly cut plywood! I know it was a soft opening and I’m pretty sure these things will be fixed up in a few months.

The ride area looked pretty nice. The walkways were very wide and the grassy areas were beautiful. It looks like the ride area was the old parking lot, but unlike Scream at Six Flags Magic Mountain, you would have never known a parking lot used to be there. Cypress Gardens’ original parking lot never looked like an asphalt parking lot anyway – it was basically a grassy area with a bunch of trees. The ride area could use more shade, benches, and trash cans. There were a few shaded areas and the food area had shade, but the sun was beating down on most areas. The high that day was in the 70s, so shade wasn’t as crucial, but in the middle of summer, you want lots of shade! Benches are good to put around the park so people can rest or have a place to wait for their party to come off the ride. Although trash didn’t pile up all over the place, there weren’t too many trashcans. We can do the extreme with trashcans and be like Cedar Point. If you look in any direction at Cedar Point, you will see at least a dozen trashcans!

The guests had a mix of younger people and older people. If I recall correctly, the main demographics of Cypress Gardens were older people. I saw a lot of younger people in the ride area. Most of the older guests hung around the ski show and the original Cypress Gardens area. The employees seemed to be a mix of younger and older people too. I did see a lot of older gentleman working. It kind of reminded me of the type of employees working at Adventureland in Iowa. I don’t think I met a rude employee throughout Cypress Gardens. They were all giving 110%.

Cypress Gardens also offers a 2nd day free. I don’t think it’s a 2-day park now. When more attractions open and the water park opens in the Spring, then I think it will be a two day adventure.

I read in the local paper that Friday’s crowd was estimated to be 10,000. They had sold about 25,000 annual passes too. When I left around 5 pm, there was a steady stream of people still coming in. The road to Cypress Gardens was backed up. The main parking lot was full and they were shuffling people to the dirt lot across the street. Even the crowd during the day was sizable, even during the early afternoon. If the park can keep the level of crowds I saw on their first soft opening day, I think the Cypress Gardens has a chance of surviving.

I am a little concerned for the park’s future, since the big theme park boys of Universal and Disney are down the block. Cypress Gardens was a 45-minute drive from Orlando. 15 more minutes and you’d be at Busch Gardens. Sometimes I wonder if guests at Orlando are willing to drive down to Cypress Gardens to ride a bunch of off-the-shelf flats? Wild Adventures seems to have to same level of crowds and they have succeeded. Then again, the nearest major parks to Wild Adventures are Six Flags Over Georgia and the Orlando parks. These parks are at least a 4-hour drive. Cypress Gardens has a more cutthroat market. I think the park needs to become part of the Orlando Flexticket. You can have an option to add Cypress Gardens. They also need to find a way to get people from Orlando to Winter Haven. Perhaps they need to do a shuttle service like Busch Gardens Tampa does. Perhaps Cypress Gardens needs to find their own demographics.

Overall, I was quite impressed with Cypress Gardens. Even though a lot of work needs to be done, they did a great job in fixing up the park. I know I’ll be back a few times next year, mainly because there’s a new coaster opening in Spring 2005. Even though the old Cypress Gardens was nice, I never had an inclination to buy an annual pass or return (and I’ve lived in Florida for over 30 years!). Now that the park has “fun,” I will come back.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004 11:55 PM
Great report! I too have wondered about the viability of the park, but as long as Central Florida tourism is healthy, I think there's room for the park. Heck, if I was a local I'd want alternatives to the big themers, especially in the summer.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2004 11:13 AM
And this seems like a good alternative to parents with small children that want to go to a park, but IoA's rides are too big, and Disney is just too dang expensive to go to all the time. Get a season pass here, and head out for an evening with the family.

I hope it works for them, I can't wait to try it out in October!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2004 12:08 PM
Great trip report! I look forward to visiting the park next fall ;)
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Wednesday, December 1, 2004 1:36 PM
Barry, excellent report. I was there on Saturday and there were far fewer people in the park that day. I guess Kent won't be able to talk Kenny into daily concerts come 2005!

But unlike you I am not concerned about the viability of the park. Driving down US27 from Kissimmee it was sad to drive a few miles down to the flat rubble that will become the Posner Center. Years earlier it was Boardwalk & Baseball (and Circus World before that). It was much closer to Disney, with a solid location near I-4, and it failed. It had the coasters. It had the shows. That's why I don't think Cypress Gardens will make or break based on the Disney crowd.

Cypress Gardens has always drawn an older crowd who enjoy botanical gardens, throwback belles in hoopskirts and ice skating and water skiing shows. Whether they are area retirees or Northern snowbirds that has always been the Winter Haven crowd. Bok Tower. Cypress Gardens. Then on to Weeki Wachee, Homasossa Springs, Silver Springs and whatever other roadside attractions exist.

That's why I think the key is keeping enough of the old stuff in the park to keep the older set happy -- and the park has certainly done that -- yet also create an environment where kids and grandchildren who come visit their relatives in Florida won't mind tagging along because they're going to get some rides and animal shows in.

I think it's interesting that the operating calendar has the park open until 11pm on weekends in October because it's obvious that they will be doing something for Halloween. Since I don't see the park as a major teen magnet I think that will be the ultimate test into the park's potential to reach out to the younger audience.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2004 5:50 PM
There seem to be several possabilities for Cypress Gardens to attract families as repeat visitors with season passes by following Dollywood's lead and offering "festivals" throughout the year. They can utilize the garden setting and their 'adventure park' name for Halloween, Christmas lights, spring flowers, harvest fairs, music festivals, etc. It seems like a logical marketing step to me, so does anyone know if it is in their plans?
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Wednesday, December 8, 2004 12:06 PM
My grandfather gave me a bunch of postcards from his trip to Florida just after the war. I've always wanted to go to Cypress and the others (especiallt the Bok tower). Perhaps someday I will.

Nice Prince reference Barry. Nice report! :)

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Thursday, December 9, 2004 8:59 AM
If -- okay, let's say when -- you do make that trip I suggest hitting Bok Tower when the weather is cool because all I remember from being there as a kid during the summer was mosquito bites. However, it is beautiful and serene, and hauntingly majestic when the bells start to chime.

As a bonus you can see Bok Tower from inside Cypress Gardens -- it's clearly visible from the Sky Adventure (the old Island in the Sky) attraction.

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