JOE TOURIST - Cypress Gardens Adventure Park

While the park may be far from entirely refurbished, owner Kent Buescher's current efforts hold great promise for what may be a gentler amusement park experience.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: February 1, 2005 at 8:42 PM

JOE TOURIST - Cypress Gardens Adventure Park
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

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 old Cypress Gardens welcome sign is now surrounded by the new attractions in Adventure Grove.

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.

The Banyan tree in the Botanical Gardens.

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.

Readers' Opinions

From Jason Jackson on February 2, 2005 at 6:44 AM
It is good to see that someone cares about tradition and adapting a historic park for a new crowd!
From Jason Moore on February 2, 2005 at 10:48 AM
I've heard reports recently that their biggest problem so far is being more successful than they thought. Supposedly they already need more staff and a larger parking lot. I haven't had a chance to make it over there yet, but I'm hoping to soon. I hope people are happy with it and continue to go so that this early success continues.
From Robert Niles on February 2, 2005 at 12:44 PM
This reminds me how badly many parks treat landscaping.

Effective use of trees, grass, shrubs, flowers, etc. goes a long way toward creating a pleasant environment. And the selection of appropriate flora also establishes a powerful theme for a park.

How much more pleasant (and less broiling) would a park like Six Flags Magic Mountain be with more effective use of landscaping through, instead of building coasters atop parking lots? And SFMM is one of the better landscaped amusement parks out there, given its design by SeaWorld.


From Carrie Hood on March 14, 2005 at 10:31 PM
I for one am very happy to see the begining of a huge sucess for Cypress Gardens, more so because of the fact it's kept it's charm while adding attractions. Mainly because I did my own share of complaining in regards to the park, voicing concerns surrounding a bigger company taking over and updating the park and the impact to the area. We all wanted updates but so many are in a state of relief that the gardens are still a primairy draw not just flashy coasters and shows. Don't get me wrong, I love coasters and shows are a great touch. The worry was that the focus would become lost and eventully forgotten in favor of "new" attractions which could possibly see the end of the gardens. Which now, after seeing and reading much about the changes I feel are no longer a cause for concern.
It is done well and has in no way cheapened the overall atmosphere (another big worry). Personally, I'm very happy they're dong well and hope they continue to have sucess. Although the one concern that I can still see is the fact there is no room for expansion.
From Hannah Maclean on August 15, 2005 at 6:39 PM
I visited Cypress Gardens and was very pleasantly suprised. It was a great break from the Jam-packed surrounding theme parks. No que was longer than 2 minutes, personal favourites being the Spinning Raft Ride and Discoo. Its a great family park.

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