Vintage Florida Tourist Attractions that Have Come and Gone

L. Cane

Florida has catered to tourism almost as soon as it became a state. According to the Florida Historical Quarterly, modern Florida tourism began in the 1930s with the World's Fair. From this point on, Florida began to depend upon tourism as a money-making industry.

Harnessing the Volume of Tourists Coming to Florida: Even before the World's Fair, people came to see Florida's natural attributes - its beaches, its lakes, its preserves, and its springs. As a result, enterprising individuals saw an opportunity to try to harness the tourists already visiting Florida for its beauty and weather - and later for Walt Disney World - with their own profitable attractions.

Below is a sampling of some of the vintage Florida tourist attractions that are either no longer in business today or have morphed into something else.

Silver Springs: The Springs, near Ocala, are one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions and were founded in 1852. The glass-bottomed boat ride was introduced in 1878. The attraction eventually thrived so much that hotels were built around it. Six Tarzan movies were filmed at Silver Springs in the 30s and 40s. September 15, 2013, was the last day of operation for Silver Springs as a private entity. The attraction became a state park in October of 2013. The state park still features the glass-bottomed boats.

The Atomic Tunnel: This attraction, near Daytona Beach, was open during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. The structure was a long concrete building with 824 "port holes," making it an excellent environment for the exotic orchids that were showcased there, along with tropical birds. This attraction's popularity began to wane as the 1960s approached, and the owner attempted to change the name to "Tunnel of Fantasy," which didn't stop the attraction from closing in the late 1950s.

Cypress Gardens and Legoland: Cypress Gardens was built in Winter Haven in 1936 to showcase over 8,000 varieties of plants. Over time, the park would become known for its water ski show and its southern belles, who would wander around the park in colorful dresses and would take photos with visitors.

In 1985, the family of the original owners sold the attraction to publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. That company sold it to Busch Entertainment Corporation in 1989. The park was sold again to locals who added a butterfly conservatory, an ice skating show, and a new ride called "Island in the Sky." By 1999, visitorship was so low that the attraction closed.

An updated version of Cypress Gardens opened in 2004, and a water park, "Splash Island" was added. Ultimately, Cypress Gardens would be revamped and replaced by Legoland in 2011.

Circus World and Boardwalk and Baseball: Circus World opened in Polk County in 1974. The attraction initially only had a large building meant to look like a circus tent, but the owners would later add an IMAX theater, a carousel, a wooden roller coaster, and a Ferris wheel. Unfortunately, the park closed its doors just a bit over ten years later, on May 10, 1986.

On Valentine's Day, 1987, the park re-opened as "Boardwalk and Baseball." The attraction was re-imagined as an old boardwalk. Because of the "baseball theme" the park had baseball exhibits from Cooperstown, and also a baseball stadium where the Kansas City Royals would eventually have spring training. Unfortunately, the park struggled to find its footing and it closed on January 17, 1990. It would eventually be demolished and sold to developers.

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