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Floridaland was Actually 10 Different Theme Parks

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark Smith, former Sarasota County Archivist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Floridaland was Actually 10 Different Theme Parks photo

What tourist attraction in Sarasota County promised you “Everything under the sun?” It was called Floridaland. Floridaland West, Inc. announced on April 3, 1964, that an extensive tourist attraction center was going to be built on 50 acres just south of Blackburn Point Road, between U.S. 41 and Sarasota Bay. The promoters of the park said that more than one million dollars would be spent in initial investment and that it would be a family type tourist park. They predicted over 200,000 visitors in its first year. Floridaland opened on Christmas Day 1964 with an attendance of over 5,000 people.

Floridaland was really 10 small theme parks in one place. Its advertisements promoted 10 big attractions promoted at one admission price, $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for kids. These included a western ghost town, a billy goat mountain, porpoise shows, a deer park, Indian village, exotic gardens, Floridaland tour train, covered wagon rides and a stern-wheeled riverboat. The two main attractions were the western ghost town and the porpoise shows. As shown in the above photo, the western ghost town, complete with a saloon, bank, general store and undertaker. The 1965 Sarasota Visitor’s Guide stated that “Floridaland western ghost town is the wildest in the South. Hourly shows are held in the Golden Nugget Saloon with pretty can-can girls stepping high. In the streets, the sheriff thwarts a bank holdup and bravely makes desperados bite the dust.”

The Porpoise Pool attraction was located near the intercoastal water way. The pool had trained porpoises and sea lions that performed in shows throughout the day. The porpoises had become favorites of the pubic and to take advantage of this, Floridaland arranged a long distance call between two porpoises. The Herald-Tribune reported on May 14, 1965, that the world’s first “porpoise to porpoise” long distance call was made by Moby Dick, star of the porpoise show at Floridaland called Keki, one of the performing porpoises as Sea Life Park in Hawaii. Moby Dick “talked,” in high pitched tones, for five minutes to Keki over a specially designed phone. Other attractions were the miniature tour trains taking visitors through 40 acres of tropical gardens, through Deer Park and Billy Goat Mountain. At Deer Park you could stop and feed the tame deer and look at performing animals. Ducks played drums, chickens played baseball and a bunny-kissed his girlfriend “until she blushed.” Billy Goat Mountain had Rock Mountain goats and sheep roaming over high bridges.

In July 1967, Holiday Inn opened a 100-room hotel complex at Floridaland. Holiday Inn was supposed to spearhead further commercial development of Floridaland. Although Floridaland continued to promote itself as the perfect family attraction, by late 1968, attendance was beginning to drop. In hopes of attracting more visitors, the New Floridaland opened in November 1968 with new rides, longer shows and a new orchid garden. The new attractions did not help. By the fall of 1970, the western ghost town was closed during off-season, the skyride had closed and the owners feared the opening the new theme park in Orlando called Disney World. Floridaland announced that its early summer schedule would run from April to July 2, 1971. It never reopened for the winter season. Floridaland was one of may tourist attractions in Florida that throughout the 1950s and 1960s advertised Florida as the perfect vacation destination.