Marineland of Florida
In 1938, Marine Studios opened as an “oceanarium” to which, the owners hoped, filmmakers would flock in order to film marine life. Much to the surprise of the founders, it wasn’t movie moguls who stormed the gates on opening day but 20,000 guests who jammed traffic on State Road A1A for miles in order to see this, one of Florida’s first theme parks.
The park’s mission was soon inverted from a place where visitors could sneak a peek at the moviemaking process into a full-fledged tourist attraction that would occasionally host a movie shoot; The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed here. A decade later, brochures were touting that at Marine World, visitors could see marine life “not segregated by species, but placed together as it exists in the open seas.”
By the 1950s, Marine World was known as Marineland of Florida (9600 Oceanshore Blvd., 904/471-1111, www.marineland.net, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, $6 ages 13 and up, $3 children 12 and under), and its trained dolphin shows and other aquatic attractions were one of the highlights of any family’s visit to Florida.
By the 1970s and the opening of Walt Disney World, however, attendance dropped precipitously, and Marineland nearly went out of business, exacerbating its own problems by cutting back on maintenance and upkeep. Today, little of the original attraction remains, as the new Marineland’s primary role is that of a Dolphin Conservation Center rather than a place to see dolphins jump through hoops.
Today’s guests still have the opportunity to gawk at the animals through thick glass walls, but that’s about all your general admission ticket will get you. The primary draw at Marineland now is the selection of hands-on experiences. These start at $75 for a 10-minute interaction with dolphins and range all the way up to $500 six-hour “Trainer for a Day” programs.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition