TR: Cypress Gardens Oct. 13, 2005 (it's another long one)
TR: Cypress Gardens
Date: October 13, 2005
The people: me, my wife Margaret, and my kids Amber and Joseph
Weather: overcast and a bit misty, while warm (not hot and muggy like we expected)
Crowds: very light to non-existant
I’ve included a few photo links in the TR, but if you really want to see the pictures, you’ll have to check them out on Smugmug. Just follow any of the links. I’m working on getting captions put on all of the pictures, so give me some time on that one. :)
Outside of Disney, Cypress Gardens is the last park of note that we hadn’t visited in Florida yet. And with it being about a 40 minute drive away from us, we were overdue for a visit. So with a day off from school/ work for Yom Kippur, we took advantage and headed out for a family day together before my solo trip to SFAW (TR for that is already posted)
We arrived at the park about an hour after opening and immediately noticed the lack of cars in the parking lot. Great for us, I thought, but not necessarily for the park. We could also see the flying island popping up over the trees on it’s way up.
You enter through a large “umbrella dome” with flowers hanging on the roof and the ticket booths underneath before heading to the actual gates into the park. And immediately the park strikes you as, for lack of a better way to put it, simple but beautiful, well done, and with care. Unlike most of the other parks- especially in the tourist haven that is Florida, Cypress Gardens doesn’t assault your senses with the overwhelming park atmosphere. Instead it hearkens back to a time when the park was a relaxed escape, and has much more of the traditional park and family feel to it.
We walked through the gates and into the Crasftsman’s Village. Not all of the shops were open, since it was expected to be a slow weekday. But almost all were, The employees were friendly and happy to be of assistance, and the shops were nice. We would spend more time here later, but for now we headed around to the rides area, just in case lines would get long later on with their evening Halloween event, Phobia.
Walking around the Star Haven amphiteater, where they have their concerts, our first stop was the Okeechobee Rampage, a fairly standard Vekoma Rollerskater. The cars on this were more open than I’m used to seeing on these, so that was a nice change. They also give you two trips around on it. Since there was no one in line, we were also allowed to stay on if we wanted. This was also one of the very few places that I would have had any complaint, and that was with the ride op. She was obviously not very interested in her job, but shocked me when she completely turned her back to the ride while it was operating. When we cruised through the station, she didn’t even look at the train or the people on it. She was, however, the rare exception as most of the ops were very good, and several were great.
After that we started riding on the rides we came to in order pretty much. Their Yo-Yo is cranked up faster than any other yo-yo I’ve ever been on, and rivals Bonfante’s mushroom swing for the fastest swing ride I’ve ever been on, turning a mildly boring ride into one that is a lot of fun. Next up was a couple of rounds on the Storm Surge, the “world’s tallest spinning rapids ride.” This was my first time on one of these. Our first ride with all 4 of us was a nice, gentle, fun ride with only a couple of small splashes and the mist at the end. The kids and I then took a second ride, and the weight shift made a huge difference in the ride, as we were spinning fast and hard most of the way down. We came back to this later and with all 4 of us sitting in different spots than before, we were spinning as fast as any tilt-a-whirl I’ve been on. It’s a pretty amazing ride, and a lot of fun, even with a slow capacity.
We took a nice round on the train, which showed off the new portions of the park quite nicely, and gave us a good look at most of the rides. After doing the round trip, we took our next stop was the Triple Hurricane, their Martin and Vieminckx junior wood coaster with a single PTC train with buzz bars. After riding this, I decided that this was a “dumb grin ride in a silly grin park”- because you couldn’t help but have at least a dumb grin on your face, if not laughing, from it being simple fun in a park that you couldn’t help but smile in as you walked around. It’s got some small light pops of air, and some fun laterals in the turn around that you can use to purposely squish the person next to you on, but it’s nothing extreme. We took 4 rounds on it, and saw people of all age riding- little kids along with grandparents. It was a kick and a half watching a guy in his 70’s looking like a little kid with a huge grin on his face as he rode. And it really sets the tone for what the park is, as well as what it’s becoming.
Other rides that we caught were the Vekoma hang and bang known as Swamp Thing (and from which you can get a glimpse of the clearing and the parts stacked up for the Starliner); the Fiesta Express- the Zamperla mini kiddie mouse; the Galaxy Express- a Zamperla spinning mouse, which was fun but had a couple of good bumps on it (Amber didn’t like it at all because of the bumps); a 4 lane super slide; the bumper cars which were moderately fast and had no rules restrictions on them (great head ons!); some flying skooters- though they were much to big and heavy to really fly effectively; a very nice giant wheel overlooking a small garden and pond; a Power Surge (Amber’s favorite ride); the Disk’O, which was fun but I didn’t get the hype; a Rockin’ Tug; a drop ride by ARM which went up slowly then immediately dropped with no pause; a Chance Inverter; a Chance double deck carousel; the Mega Bounce by Arm, which was fun, but also good for a chiropractor (Margaret and Amber loved it, Joseph and I were ok); a pirate ship; a tilt a whirl without the domes on it that spun fast; and a slew of kiddie rides and some other rides I’m forgetting.
All of the rides were run well. They were rotating ride ops between rides since the crowds were so light. They were neat, clean, with nice wood fences around them. This part reminded me a lot of how Wild Adventures is set up, and overall we were very pleased with how this work. It’s obvious in a couple of spots that there is still work being done (e.g. the Starliner site), but they’ve done well in getting this set up and going.
After the rides, we wandered through the arcade, which is one point to cross over from the rides area to the gardens, and is obviously one spot that there is still work being done and the building being revamped. The arcade and games seemed a bit of an awkward fit into it and left us wondering what it used to be. Coming out we could see where they were working on the docks that will host the ferry that will take people from one end of the park on the lake to the other. It will also be a place to hop on a dinner cruise, which looks like it would be a great addition. Taking time to wander the gardens, we were awed and impressed with them. There are some spots where you can see the neglect from the past and what must have helped contribute to the closure and change in ownership. But far more prevalent was the gorgeus gardens, landscaping, scenery… it was breathtaking. We spent a lot of time just wandering the gardens, thoroughly enjoying them. The only park I’ve seen that could compare in beauty would be Bonfante Gardens- and give them more time to finish up some of the restoration here and I’d put it on a par. And yes, that means prettier than Busch Williamsburg. Combined with the lovely, relaxing atmosphere, this is the perfect place to just come walk, relax, meditate, enjoy scenery, people watch, etc.
While walking around, we also caught one of their more unusual shows that they have here- a “living fountain.” It’s a person made up like a statue that stands in the middle of a fountain, and then to musical accompaniment slowly moves around while sprouting fountains from their fingers and head. It sounds strange, and it is, but it’s also really neat to watch.
One other show we caught the end of was their Farmyard Follies or something like that. It was magic/ comedy show, and the few minutes of it we caught looked cute and fun, though the ending was a bit abrupt. http://sirwillow.smugmug.com/gallery/883439/6/40002712
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the ski show that I’ve heard so much about since Amber and my wife didn’t want to see it.
We also strolled through their Nature’s Way area, which has the animal exhibits that they have done- wallabies, lorikeets, a black panther, gators, goats, a small reptile house, and a few others. This is one area that it’s obvious they’ve been putting in a lot of work, as you can still see some areas behind walls and fences that are a wreck from what they were before, and a couple of exhibits that are empty waiting for the work on them to be done.
Somewhere along the way we ate at Aunt Juliee’s Country Kitchen, a typically priced buffet. The restaurant itself was, “quaint” with real wood floors and an antique feel to it. The food was quite good. While there wasn’t a huge variety, what there was tasted good, and they kept it full and hot. Turkey, chicken, roast beef, dumplings, rice, potatoes, mac and cheese, veggies and a few other items made up the buffet, along with several desserts. We really enjoyed eating there and highly recommend it.
We also took a ride on their flying island, the Sunshine Sky Adventure. This is one of only 3 Intamin flying islands, and the only one in the US. The gentlemen operating the ride seemed as if they’ve been there for a while as they knew a lot about the ride and obviously loved it very much. This is a counterweight sky ride- as the massively huge weight on one end of the arm drops, the other end with the platform on it rises up high in the sky. The viewing platform has seating that goes all the way around it, and a railing on the edge, but is otherwise open air. Once you’re up a bit, they let you stand up and move around, take pictures, etc. A pretty unique experience for a viewing tower ride.
Shopping was a lot of fun also. They have a really neat Christmas store, where the store itself isn’t big, but they have a neat display of Santas from around the world, along with a “storybook” for each one describing them.
We also took a walk through their butterfly gardens. Not a lot of butterflies, and it seems to be another area that they’re working on slowly restoring. But it was nice, and it’s exit was unusual in that you walk into a hall with a large insect collection mounted on the walls, including some of the largest walking sticks I’ve ever seen. There is also an old plantation house which apparently used to be open, but I don’t know as what. It’s currently closed also.
Their Phobia event was also one of the few “family friendly” ones I’ve seen. It’s their first year, and not very big (only 3 mazes and a few shows) but most are done with the family in mind. We didn’t go in the mazes, but they had shows done specifically for the kids, along with free craft projects all over the Craftsman’s Village area for them. It was really nice to have an event that we could be free to take the kids to and not worry about them getting scared, freaked, or grossed out. It’s fine for those that like it, but it was nice to have an alternative that to often gets overlooked.
To say that we fell in love with the park, even with some of it’s ongoing work, would be an understatement. Those of you who have met my wife know that she’s understated when it comes to park. She enjoys them, but doesn’t love them or get excited about them. Her comments during a park visit are along the lines of, “That’s nice,” “Can you slow down a bit,” and, “Can you put the camera away now?” Here it was, “This is beautiful!” “I love it here!” “Take a picture of that.” And, “We’re changing our tickets to season passes, right?” We hadn’t planned on it, but based on how much we enjoyed it, we did upgrade- even if it’s only good for two months. :)
There is certainly room for improvement, and it looks like they’re working on several areas at once- continuing restorations of old gardens and features, adding improvements, and more attractions. They’ve just finished a small waterpark, though it was closed for Phobia, they’re adding the dinner cruises and Starliner should be coming next year. And there are several spots where you can see them continuing to work and bring things back. But it certainly maintains the traditional, family feel that so many parks lack now. While there might not be a lot of shade in the rides area of the park, there are trees planted and you can see other signs that they’re going to be adding more to it.
I’m sure that there are things that I missed, but you can find some of them in the 200+ pictures I took of the park and what we saw there. So would I recommend the park? Absolutely. About the only way I can see someone not liking the park is if the only thing they’re interested in is major roller coasters. Otherwise this has something for everyone- and much of it can be done together. Margaret was unabashed in saying that this was not only her favorite park, but is the one park that she’s looking forward to coming to visit without any of us tagging along. We’re really looking forward to many more visits there.
Thanks for reading this long TR about a park that, at least for me, hasn’t received enough attention yet. Looking forward to your comments.
Thanks for the great TR!
Looking forward to getting their in '06.
> Thanks for the great TR!
> Looking forward to getting their in '06.
I really enjoyed Cypress Gardens in 1991
Great to see The Island in the Sky still operating..