1971 – Present: Florida’s Big Park Tourism (The Vacation Destination of the World)

Any history of Florida could contain the sentence: And then Disney came and everything changed.

At the very time many Florida attractions were struggling to entice tourists off the new interstates and Turnpike, Walt Disney visited central Florida and picked property close to two of the modern highways. Uncle Walt planned to double-down on the runaway success that was Disneyland. What happened was a radical change for tourist attractions and the economy of the state. Only World War II and its military mobilization could be said to change Florida at the same level in such a short time.

In 2018 52 million people visit Walt Disney World – the number one tourist destination in the world. And like so many attraction developers during Florida’s 1950s golden age, new development rushed to create a second golden age. Where prior to 1971 there were no modern-day themed attractions in central Florida, three years later there were four. Thirty years later there were nine, each with it’s own themed lands, state-of-the-art rides, exciting shows and millions of visitors.

Florida’s tourism past was struggling however. Many of the attractions from the first half of the century failed to continue to be successful. Some trimmed back to save costs, some were turned into parks owned by the state or a local municipality, while others quietly closed their doors forever.

Not all was lost. While the state of tourism is radically different today than 50 years ago, the creative traveler can still find old Florida. There are many wild areas still to be visited as well as many glimpses of the roadside attractions that made Florida famous long before Disney.


Gulf Islands National Seashore established which includes Forts Barrancas and Pickens

Lake Talquin State Park opens

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park opens

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park opens

Stump Pass Beach State Park opens

Walt Disney World Resort opens

Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s second span is finished


Blue Spring State Park opens

Clearwater Marine Aquarium opens

Ichetucknee Springs State Park opens

Indian Key Historic State Park opens

Reptile World Serpentarium opens

Santini’s Porpoise School sold and renamed Flipper’s Sea School


Church Street Station opens

Fort Pierce Inlet State Park opens

John U. Lloyd Beach State Park opens

Barnacle Historic State Park opens

Pirates World closes

The SST Museum opens

SeaWorld Orlando opens


Circus World opens

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park opens

Egmont Key State Park opens

Estero Bay Preserve State Park opens

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park opens

Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island (previously named Treasure Island) opens

Lake Louisa State Park opens

Little Manatee River State Park opens

River Rise Preserve State Park opens

San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park opens

Big Cypress National Preserve established


Canaveral National Seashore established

The Central Florida Zoo (formally Sanford Memorial Zoo) moves to its current location

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park opens

Honeymoon Island State Park opens

Walt Disney World’s River Country opens

Stars Hall Of Fame Wax Museum opens

Selby Gardens closes


Cayo Costa State Park opens

Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park opens

Mystery Fun House opens

Ybor City Museum State Park opens

Aquatarium changes name to Shark World


The Florida State Fair moves to current location

Big Lagoon State Park opens

Shark World (Aquatarium) closes

Flippers Sea School closes to the public

Fort Cooper State Park opens

Lake Kissimmee State Park opens

Morikami Gardens opens

Savannas Preserve State Park opens

Wet n Wild opens – it’s the first modern water park in the world


Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve opens

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park opens

Perdido Key State Park opens

The Zoo Northwest Florida (later Gulfbreeze Zoo) opens

Masterpiece Gardens (formally the Great Masterpiece) closes


Fun ‘n Wheels Orlando (eventually becoming Fun Spot America, Orlando) opens

The Everglades is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the only in Florida

Florida Festival opens

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey opens

Rapids Water Park opens


Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory opens

Biscayne National Park established

One of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s spans hit by a boat and bridge partly collapses

Miami Metro Zoo opens after animals are moved from Crandon Park Zoo

The Space Transportation System (STS or Space Shuttle) first launches from Kennedy Space Center

Adventure Island, Busch Gardens’ water park, opens


Bulow Creek State Park opens

Circus Hall of Fame closes and moves to Peru, IN

The SST Museum closes

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park opens

Paynes Creek Historic State Park opens


Buccaneer Bay, Weeki Wachee’s water play park, opens

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park opens

De Leon Springs State Park opens

Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center opens, marking the first time two theme parks exist on the same property

The Salvador Dali Museum opens


Amelia Island State Park opens

Gasparilla Island State Park opens

Henderson Beach State Park opens

Koreshan State Historic Site opens

Lovers Key State Park opens

Rock Springs Run State Reserve opens

Xanadu: Home of the Future opens

Medieval Times opens


Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum opens

Six Gun Territory closes

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park opens

Miami Serpentarium closes

Miami Wax Museum closes

North Peninsula State Park opens

Miami Metro Zoo receives a monorail system from the Louisiana World Exposition

Dolphin Research Center opens


Weeks Air Museum opens

Don Pedro Island State Park opens

Fred Bear Museum opens

Florida Festival closes


Mulberry Phosphate Museum opens

Oleta River State Park opens

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park created

Water Mania opens

Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park opens

Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park opens

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park opens

Circus World closes


Boardwalk and Baseball opens on the old Circus World property

Avalon State Park opens

The new Sunshine Skyway Bridge completed

Silver Springs State Park opens

Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park) closes for major renovations


Butterfly World opens

The Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park) re-opens

Beal-Maltbe Shell Museum closes

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve established, including Fort Caroline and the Kingsley Plantation

Fun ‘n Wheels Kissimmee (eventually becoming Fun Spot America, Kissimmee) opens

The Florida State Museum is renamed the Florida Museum of Natural History to accurately reflect the museum’s mission.


Everglades National Park expands by 443 sq km (171 sq mi)

Big Shoals State Park opens

Dudley Farm Historic State Park opens

Econfina River State Park opens

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail opens

Give Kids the World Village opens

Walt Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios opens

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park opens

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park opens

Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon opens

Tussaud’s London Wax Museum closes


Tiki Gardens closes

Boardwalk & Baseball closes

Rainbow Springs State Park opens on the grounds of the original attraction

Teddy Bear Museum of Naples opens

Universal Studios Florida opens

The Henry Ford home opens as part of the Edison and Ford Estates


Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park opens

Curry Hammock State Park opens

Planet Ocean opens

Terror on Church Street opens


Dry Tortugas National Park established after Fort Jefferson National Monument expands

Mel Fisher Treasures (Sebastian) opens

Seabranch Preserve State Park opens

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park opens

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Orlando opens

Weeks Air Museum closes


Splendid China opens


Brevard Zoo opens

Skyway Fishing Pier State Park opens

Ted William Museum opens

Ocean World closes


Walt Disney World’s Blizzard Beach opens

Lake June in Winter Scrub State Park opens

St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park opens

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park opens

Florida Aquarium opens

Troy Springs State Park opens

Fantasy of Flight opens with the collection from the Weeks Air Museum

Top O’ the Strip Observation Tower closes and is demolished a year later


The Cross and Sword Play closes

Xanadu: Home of the Future closes

Camp Helen State Park opens

Daytona USA opens

Deer Lake State Park opens

International Museum of Cartoon Art moves from New York State to Boca Raton

Alafia River State Park opens


Anclote Key Preserve State Park opens

Fanning Springs State Park opens

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park opens

Skull Kingdom opens

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum opens

Bellm’s Cars of Yesterday becomes the Sarasota Classic Car Museum

Fun N Wheels Orlando changes name to Fun Spot America, Orlando

Dreher Park Zoo renamed Palm Beach Zoo


Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park opens

Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom opens

Wonderworks opens on International Drive

Dinosaur World opens

Black Hills Passion Play Winter Session finishes its run

Bazaar International and the Trylon Tower are demolished


Terror on Church Street closes

Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island closes

Bald Point State Park opens

George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier opens

Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure opens


SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove opens

The Guinness World Records Experience opens

Madison Blue Spring State Park opens

Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park opens

Thomas Gaskins Cypress Knee Museum closes


Walt Disney World’s River Country closes

Mystery Fun House closes

Hialeah Raceway closes

Dunns Creek State Park opens

Orman House Historic State Park opens

The Holy Land Experience opens

Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park opens


International Museum of Cartoon Art closes and its collection moves to Ohio State University in 2008

Guinness World Records Experience closes

Parrot Jungle moves to its current location and becomes Parrot Jungle Island


Pinecrest Gardens, the former home of Parrot Jungle stays open as a botanical garden

DeSoto Site Historic State Park opens

Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park opens

Miracle Strip Amusement Park closes

Splendid China closes

Klassix Auto Museum closes

Lake Placid Tower closes


Crystal River Preserve State Park opens

Fun Spot America, Kissimmee opens

Marineland closes


Caribbean Gardens (aka Jungle Larry’s) renamed Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

Fort Mose Historic State Park opens

Lafayette Blue Springs State Park opens

Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park opens

Teddy Bear Museum of Naples closes

Daytona Lagoon water park opens

Water Mania closes

Xanadu: Home of the Future demolished

Lake Wales Amphitheater closes – the former home of the Black Hills Passion Play Winter Season


Marineland reopens (as Marineland Dolphin Adventure)

Ted Williams Museum closes


Okeechobee Battlefield State Park opens

St. Marks River Preserve State Park opens

Parrot Jungle Island renamed Jungle Island

Colt Creek State Park opens


Aquatica, SeaWorld Florida’s waterpark, opens

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park opens on the site of the original attraction

Walt Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios


Hialeah Raceway reopens

The site originally known as Palm Cottage Gardens reopens as Nehrling Gardens

The Zoo Northeast Florida closes


Miami Metro Zoo renamed the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, or Zoo Miami

Daytona USA closes

Gulfbreeze Zoo opens (on the site of the Zoo Northeast Florida)

Miracle Strip at Pier Park opens based on the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park

Safety Village Closes


Legoland Florida opens at Cypress Gardens opens

Marineland Dolphin Adventures purchased by the Georgia Aquarium


Wild Florida opens

Legoland Water Park opens

The Senator at Big Tree Park destroyed by arson


Silver River State Park becomes Silver Springs State Park with the state’s acquisition of the Silver Springs attraction

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art renamed The Ringling


Fantasy of Flight closes to the general public


The Orlando Eye, Madam Tussaud’s and Sealife jointly open in a new attractions center

Miracle Strip at Pier Park closes

Skeletons: Museum of Osteology opens


Wet ‘n Wild closes

The Orlando Eye renamed the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye


Snooty the Manatee dies at the South Florida Museum – he was the oldest known manatee (1948-2017)

Volcano Bay, Universal Orlando Resort’s water park, opens

Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park opens


Starflyer Orlando opens

Coca-Cola Orlando Eye renamed ICON Orlando

Lowry Park Zoo renamed Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park


South Florida Museum renamed the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature

ICON Orlando renamed the Wheel at ICON Park

Wild Florida opens their Safari Park


Skeletons: Museum of Osteology closes

All Florida theme parks, attractions, state parks, federal parks and much of the rest of Florida shut down from mid-March through mid-May due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Major attractions didn’t open until June, or later.