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Memories and Photos of the Former Spectacular Cypress Gardens in Florida

The southern states have a charm all their own. From beaches to deserts, there is a wide array of landscapes to please almost anyone!

Cypress Gardens

This post will show many pictures of the beautiful Cypress Gardens in Florida that my mother and I enjoyed one year while on vacation. We were making our way to Florida from Houston to visit my aunt and uncle, and we did some sightseeing along the way. After leaving Tarpon Springs, "the sponge capital of the world," a fascinating Greek-influenced town in Florida, we decided that we had enough time to visit the renowned and beautiful tourist site before arriving at my aunt and uncle's home.

Cypress Gardens opened in 1936, and my grandparents, along with many other people, visited it often through the years. It was the oldest operating tourist attraction in Florida—a state filled to the brim with other tourist attractions.

Dick and Julie Pope were the founders and owners for many years until they sold it in 1985. Julie had a "green thumb," and, with her involvement, over 8,000 varieties of plants were in this scenic garden with waterways and cypress trees adorning this distinctive piece of land.

In 1938 electric boats were added to take the touring visitors through the gardens via this mode of transportation. The water ski shows became a part of this evolving attraction in 1943. When my mother and I saw it in March of 1998, Ski Xtreme had water skiers forming a human pyramid culminating the performance. Every type of acrobatic showmanship, including jumps off a ramp and other fast-moving entertainment, made for a delightful and memorable water show.

Southern Bells

Young girls adorned like Southern Bells in hoop-skirted colorful dresses graced the gardens adding even more pizazz to the beautiful sight.

Other young women could rent these hoop dresses in all types of colors for photo opportunities, and we saw several families taking pictures of their young daughters dressed in this attire.

Topiary in the Gardens

Besides the botanical gardens, topiary elements were cultivated and punctuate the landscape with fantastic shapes. Topiary is a gardening art form that takes plenty of tending and constant pruning to keep the desired characters in shape.

The topiary forms we saw included cute teddy bear shapes. There was also a horse-drawn carriage in which people could sit for photos, and a hoop skirted woman made to look like she was standing outside near a waterway painting a canvas. These are just small examples of the many topiaries that graced the grounds when we were visiting.

Animals at Cypress Gardens

A small zoo was also a part of these gardens when we visited there. One of the pictures that I took was of an animal called a Capybara. This fascinating creature lives typically in marshes and swamps or wooded areas near water in Central and South America. Their diet consists of eating aquatic plants, grains, and fruits. They can weigh from 60 to 110 pounds when fully grown.

Another photo was of the Patagonian Cavy. These are rodents that live in the dry grasslands of southern South America. They live on raw vegetables, hay, and green matter. The Patagonian Cavies get to be 2 feet long and nest in burrows. They are fast runners and can leap up to 6 feet in the air.

I took some photos of other birds and animals as well.

Changes Take Place

When the Pope family sold Cypress Gardens in 1985, things began to change. Slowly carnival and adventure rides, including things like roller coasters, were added. A paddlewheel boat joined the scene in 1999. Splash Island, which was a water park, was added.

After September 11th, our modern "day of infamy" in the United States, the park ran such a large deficit that it had to be closed.

Today Cypress Gardens has pretty much gone back to its roots. What is featured once again are the spectacular gardens. The water park called Splash Island continues to operate, and one can pay separate admission charges to see one or the other.

They are selling the adventure rides, and the relocation of the zoo animals into other good homes is taking place. That is an ongoing project as of the date of this post. The water ski show will continue to be an attraction, but the human pyramid will no longer be a part of the show for cost-cutting economic reasons.

I believe that eliminating all of those rides and keeping the gardens' quiet beauty as the focus will serve it best in the long run. People can go elsewhere to enjoy an amusement park atmosphere. I am happy that my grandparents saw it many years ago and that my mother and I got to see it in almost the same condition that many decades later.


Cypress Gardens is now forever closed, and LegoLand takes its place.

I hope that you enjoyed these pictures of what these beautiful gardens used to look like in Florida. The physical site itself is pretty, and there are still gardens, but strolling through them will no longer be the same type of experience. It is like the passing of an era!

Cypress Gardens (now Legoland) near Winter Haven, Florida


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods