Scanning Around With Gene: Just Another Roadside Attraction


Despite growing up with a small speed boat that my dad built, I never got the chance to try out water skiing – by the time I was old enough, the boat had lost favor and spent most of its time in my grandmother’s garage. But I always imagined myself gliding across the water, hitting the jump ramps and doing acrobatics on the way down. It looked like a lot of fun.

And when it comes to water skiing, there’s no place quite like Cypress Gardens in Florida. In addition to a legacy of entertaining water ski shows, it’s also where many professional skiers go to set records and try new feats – a veritable water-ski playland. So I thought we’d look at some photos and graphics from the park, which is now part of the LEGOLAND Florida complex. Over the years the park has had its ups and downs and closed several times under several owners. But to this day the water ski shows continue, and even LEGOLAND has tried to incorporate some of the park’s traditions in its updated version. Click on any image for a larger version.

The park was conceived in 1932 by a public-relations man by the name of Dick Pope, who, along with his wife Julie set out to build a garden so beautiful that people would pay to see it.

The location was the middle of a 16-acre marsh 45-minutes south of Orlando, and the press was doubtful – they called him “Swami of the Swamp” and the “Maharaja of Muck.” But determined, Pope carved out an impressive botanical garden which opened in 1936.

The water-ski show wasn’t added until 1943, but soon became the most popular feature of the park. Other acts included an alligator show, a bird show, and a duck show (in which ducks played musical instruments).

A long-time feature at Cypress Gardens was young women dressed up as Southern Belles with traditional skirts, parasols and the like, as well as various extravaganzas involving citrus fruit.

As you might imagine, after Disney World and other area theme parks opened, attendance at Cypress Gardens suffered. There wasn’t much excitement by then over botanical gardens and Southern Belles, even when you threw in the water skiing shows.

So like every other theme park, Cypress Gardens added a couple of roller coasters and other rides, trying to attract the family adventure types. But none of it ultimately worked.

A few years back LEGOLAND bought the property and built a new theme park around the original gardens.

I’m glad the new owners have kept up the tradition of the water ski shows (which now feature skiing LEGO characters). And I saw a picture of a giant-sized Southern Belle made out of LEGOs, so some Cypress Garden traditions do live on.

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