Written by Joe Lane
Published: February 1, 2005 at 8:42 PM
It’s too early to tell if the recent renovations at Cypress Gardens will successfully revitalize the Winter Haven-based park. It’s a big time business endeavor for the small time theme park. In fact, Cypress Gardens is less of a theme park and more of a historical exhibit; a testament to Florida culture that has faded over the years. Kent Bueschers efforts to breathe life back into the dying landmark, however, show great promise.
The park closed its gates in April 13, 2003 due to financial troubles. The quaint southern gardens simply couldn't compete with the state-of-the-art attractions in Orlando. Owner and entrepreneur Buescher worked with the State of Florida and Polk County to pool together the assets to rebuild and revitalize Cypress Gardens. It's not an old trick for Buescher, who built his very own amusement park from scratch in Valdosta, GA.
It’s now called Cypress Gardens Adventure Park and while the gardens can never hope to compete with industry giants like Universal or Disney, Buescher admits this. Cypress Gardens is NOT a world class, multi-million dollar theme park and that’s probably what will make it so successful in the long run. The park has its own charm and gentle atmosphere: no mad, frenzied crowds or hour long waits. It's an amusement park for families looking for a leisurely change of pace.
The park also has something professional that a park like Disney has lacked in recent years: a sense of tradition. Flowers and topiaries, cypress swamp and southern plantation, water-skiers and southern belles. These are all symbols and icons that defined Cypress Gardens nearly 70 years ago--and even after installing $25 million in rides and attractions, Buescher has done something special for the park by remaining true to its roots. Not only has he brought the dead gardens back to life, he’s helping to make it grow.
Buescher invested nearly $50 million into the gardens, a number that has grown thanks to the onslaught of Charley, Frances and Jeanne. The 2004 hurricane season destroyed a lot of vegetation in the Botanical Gardens, ripped roofs off buildings and washed out paths by Lake Eloise. Coupled with the parks old age, it seemed the gardens would never recapture its beauty. Since the parks official opening in December of last year, however, Buescher and his team appear set to change things for the better.
During a visit early this January, it was pretty clear the restoration effort is in full swing and the overall impression is that there's a great deal of potential. Nearly thirty new attractions, ranging from small, off-the-shelf kiddy rides to three different types of coasters, make up the newest addition to the gardens: an area called Adventure Grove. Although the coasters aren't near as intense as their older, bigger neighbors, they have a friendly mix of thrills and ease. These are rides that the entire family can enjoy, both young and old.
Beyond Adventure Grove, construction continues on restoring the Botanical Gardens, and although the crews have made good progress, it's clear that there's still much to do. While some structures and plants need repairs from the storms, others need repairs simply due to old age. The amazing 66-year-old Banyan tree, however, still stands proud and tall in the gardens and is an absolute must see. This is no great feat of some creative design and construction team--the tree is a staggering reminder of the power of Mother Nature.
There's a whole laundry list of notable items either being reopened or under construction. A midway-themed section will connect Adventure Grove to the Bay Landing area. The water ski shows are running again, as well as the indoor ice-skating show and there are plans in the works for a pirate-themed comedy show and a nighttime laser and fireworks display. A water park, Splash Island, is scheduled for a Summer 2005 opening and will be included with the park's admission. Work is also ongoing in the old Cypress Gardens nature area which will feature live animal displays.