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Defunct theme parks around Central Florida

We’re reminiscing on some literal blasts from the past — from live shows to roller coasters and other attractions.

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Before there was Legoland and Peppa Pig Theme Park, there was Cypress Gardens.

Photo via Florida Memory

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When you think of Florida, one of the first things that likely comes to mind is the state’s many theme parks.

While Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld are a few of the biggest names that call Central Florida home nowadays, there used to be several others among their ranks as well — all of which were within one hour of Lakeland.

Water Mania, Kissimmee | 1987-2005

Hundreds of people in a large pool circa 1980s

Forget Aquatica — back in the late 1980s, Water Mania was where it was at.

Photo via Florida Memory

Situated off US Hwy. 192, Water Mania originally opened as the first-of-its-kind park in the area, donning wave pools, state-of-the-art slides, and a steady 500,000 visitors per year. After its demise, possibly due to other theme park growth, the park sat abandoned for about a year before a Golden Corral and mini-golf course took its place.

Circus World, Haines City | 1973-1986

Circus World elephant performer, circa 1973

When you went to Circus World, seeing an elephant performer was an entirely normal part of the itinerary.

Photo via Florida Memory

Circus World touted a 27,000-sqft building resembling a circus tent, along with a carousel, Ferris wheel, wooden coasters, live animals, performances, and clowns. Originally pitched by the then-owners of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Circus World was tossed from owner to owner until it was replaced with another amusement park that would also go defunct — but more to come on that in a moment.

Boardwalk and Baseball, Haines City | 1987-1990

Hurricane wooden roller coaster at Boardwalk and Baseball

There’s nothing like a classic wooden rollercoaster, and the Florida Hurricane coaster at Boardwalk and Baseball was one of the most notable in central Florida.

Photo via Florida Memory

Meet Circus World’s replacement, Boardwalk and Baseball. This park hoped to compete with Disney World’s Epcot by offering 32 rides, including the famous Florida Hurricane roller coaster. Ultimately, the park could not meet the same standards as its neighbors down the road and closed its doors just three years after opening. The park then sat abandoned until it was completely demolished in 2003.

Splendid China, Kissimmee | 1993-2003

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Guests could get immersed in Chinese culture without even leaving Florida when they visited Splendid China.

Photo via Florida Memory

Owned by a Chinese government agency, Splendid China in Kissimmee was a near-exact replica of the Splendid China location in Shenzhen, China near Hong Kong. Established to highlight the intricacy of Chinese architecture + culture, the park’s main goal was to influence tourists to visit the country. After 10 years of operation, Splendid China closed in 2003 and sat abandoned for another 10 years until it was demolished in 2013.

Disney’s Discovery Island, Kissimmee | 1974-1999

An aerial view of Disney's now defunct theme park, Discovery Island.

Remnants of Disovery Island can still be seen today in the middle of Bay Lake near Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Photo courtesy of @dailydoseofdisneyparks

Originally pirate-themed, Disney’s Discovery Island was revamped in 1976 as a tropical zoological nature area to view exotic animals. The island got a reputation as a “half-day park,” with a boat-only entrance that many believe ultimately led to its closure. Though the island closed its doors on its 25th anniversary, remnants of the theme park still remain today.

Disney’s River Country, Kissimmee | 1976-2005

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Guests now know Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach as Disney’s water parks, but River Country was the one that started it all.

Photo via Florida Memory

Disney’s River Country was the resort’s first water park, with a maximum capacity of just 4,700 guests. Situated on Bay Lake, it filtered lake water through Disney’s rides + pools, which caused worry among attendees about potential amoebas. The property was abandoned after Disney built its newer water parks. All of the original structures still remain, and the old water park is fenced off near The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.

Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven | 1936-2009

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Acrobatic water skiers, circa 1950 | Photo via Florida Memory

While a piece of Cypress Gardens lives on at Legoland Florida Resort, the original park put Winter Haven on the map as the water skiing capital of the world. Over time, park attendance dwindled and new owners came and went, causing the park to close for good in 2009. It sat abandoned for about one year until it was picked up by Legoland, where visitors can still visit the famous botanical gardens today.

Jungleland Zoo, Kissimmee | 1995-2002

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One of the focal points of the now-defunct Jungleland Zoo in Kissimmee was its 126-ft. alligator statue.

Photo courtesy of @amisusanne

Once boasting a large variety of exotic animals + big cat shows, Jungleland Zoo in Kissimmee closed within seven years of its inception due to numerous facility issues, including significant draining issues and wood rot. Not to mention, a 450-lb lioness escaped her cage in 1997 + went missing for two days before being found — talk about letting the cat out of the bag.

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