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The New Marineland


Tom PattonIt rained again Saturday at the beach. I know, no big surprise any more, but with my daughter visiting, I wish we’d have had better weather. But the good news is, even with less-than-perfect weather in one spot in Florida, there’s always another. We chose to drive down to Marineland.

For those of you who remember this taste of old Florida, well it’s a bit of a disappointment now. What was a classic pre-Disney roadside attraction has become little more than a place to watch dolphin swim in a tank for your $8.00 general admission. There are very nice young employees to answer your questions about the dolphin, and about what’s to come (they say) at Marineland, but it’s nothing like it was.

In its heyday, long before I came to Florida, it was a combination tourist attraction and movie lot. A half million people a year came to Marineland in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Billed as “The Worlds’ First Oceanarium”, “Revenge of The Creature” a sequel to “Creature From The Black Lagoon”, and “Tarzan” were among the parks’ claims to fame, though many movies and television shows that needed a lush, tropical backdrop were shot at least in part at Marineland. We snuck onto the old movie lot once when we visited, and just tromped around in the scrub. It was difficult to see where anything had been, but it was cool none the less. All that is being cleared now, for what, I don’t know and I didn’t ask.

In the park proper, there was the obligatory gift shop, but there was also an enormous 18 foot deep open aquarium, where fish large and small, sea turtles, and even a small shark or two swam in endless circles in front of viewports that were growing increasingly opaque with age. As you entered the aquarium, there were displays of old hard hat diving equipment, and a pictogram telling the story of the park as a movie set and tourist attraction. My best memory of Marineland is still the day we dove in that big tank. Jenni was getting checked out as an open water diver, and I went diving with her that afternoon. A big grouper bit my hand. It was a cool place to dive even if it was only 18 feet deep. And for an hour, we were among the fish that the tourists saw as they peered into the view ports.

But as Orlando’s “one stop shopping” approach to Florida tourism and it’s Las-Vegas-wannabe glitz swallowed up tourist dollars like a mid-state sink hole, fewer and fewer people came to pay to see the dolphin, the fish, even the small flock of penguins that called Marineland home. Even the ability to interact with the dolphin, we have a “Sunny The Dolphin” original painting in our home, and even dive in the tank, weren’t enough to save the park. The tank leaked badly, not enough money was coming in to sustain the park, and it was sold.

The gentleman who bought the oceanfront attraction said he would preserve Marineland, but also wanted it to be a hands-on educational facility. No one could really argue with that. But while he preserved the site, what was Marineland, even the familiar blue arches over the old oceanarium, is now gone. The dolphin have performed their last show, and it’s expensive to swim with them.

dolp1Not that we didn’t enjoy our visit. The dolphin are playful creatures, and several times, as we watched through the thick plexiglass, they tossed basketballs over the wall and begged us to throw them back … posing for pictures as they did. It made me want to go get my gear and go for a dive, but I don’t think that’s allowed any more. One of the employees told us that the other animals and fish were mostly on loan to other facilities, and that a new oceanarium is planned. That, I think, would be a good thing, and I hope it comes to fruition.

dolp2I’m not one of those people who pines for nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. I understand the progress happens, and when things are unsustainable, change is inevitable. Marineland was never going to be what it was, and that’s OK. I guess I was just a little sad to see another slice of an Old Florida that I frankly never really knew is gone.

And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure why.


7 Responses »

  1. We visited it a couple of years ago, during a trip home from Orlando. We were REALLY disappointed from what wasn't there anymore, but we also heard that they were "planning" to rebuild. A lot of the events were damaged in one hurricane or another & I don't think there was a lot of money available to build it back up. It would be great if we had a place for families & kids to learn about the ocean & the animals, but not so big & fast as Sea World.

  2. I remember taking my children there in the 80's and how we enjoyed watching the dolphin shows. I commute to Daytona for my job everyday. Every so often I will take A1A home for a change of scenery. Even though the drive is nicer than 95, it makes me sad when I drive past Marineland. At least we still have pictures and memories of the days of past.

  3. We recently visited with a group of 'older' people, and enjoyed it. Those of us with the childhood memories missed the "real Marineland", but it was a beautiful Spring day. The view of the ocean and pristine beach is worth the price of admission! We watched as several groups swam with the dolphins. One of the dolphins joined a swimming group at the edge to pose for photos - so cute! We hope the new owners will be able to do more.

    Remember Washington Oaks State Park is practically across the highway - also an interesting place to visit.

  4. I think it is a shame that many people think tourist attractions have to be "Touristy" and if you cannot buy Sand Dollars, Conch shells or a bunch of cheap "carnival" quality plastic oranges, then it is not the "old" Florida.
    However, for someone with an open mind Marineland is a wonderful place experience a meeting with one of the oceans most intelligent creatures.
    By the way Dan, it's called Marineland, not Touristland. As a writer you would think some research goes into the writing of an article.
    Marineland is now a marine research facility dedicated to understanding dolphins. Some of the most renowned authorities in the world have active research projects ongoing at all times, and the "enrichment" program they have to keep the dolphins happy are top of the line.
    What about the marine recue program they have? What about the researches who have documented many aspects of Dolphin launguage? What about the chance for people to interact and realize a creature of the sea can be intelligent and friendly and to appreciate the fact that other animals can think and feel? Why did you not see how the lives of disabled people are enriched by the interaction with people - I bet you did not know that dolphins can tell if someone is ill or injured and can be very kind and attentive.
    Sorry all you get out of the tourist experience in Florida is orange juice, sand dollars, and old cheesy movie sets (I like the cheesy movies though!).
    Very Repsectfully, Flicker Thomas

  5. I remember going to Marineland when my childern were young they loved watching all the fish swimming in the tank it was a calming experience and of course they loved watching the dolphins. I hope that they rebuild Marineland into an educational place where the people could interact with tidepools and rays and pet and feed dolphins, learn that we need to be concerned for the ocean and all in it.

  6. About a year ago found an old Marineland bumper sticker in my files with a nice curved blue dolphin on it. Brought back memories so put it on the back of my Ford Ranger to enjoy the respones which are usually : "Is that place still open?" or "How old is that bumper sticker?" Good to hear that at some of it still exists, but would miss the dolphin show and even the old 3-D movie. (The bumper sticker is about two decades old.) Next time I get down that way, hope to stop in and at least say hello to a dolphin.

  7. When I moved here to Florida from TN 5 years ago, I took 2 of my visiting grandsons to Marineland and we loved it. Even got our pictures taken with the dolphins. It was such a thrill. We even got to see a show. A few months later, the storms came and caused much damage. When it finally reopened, like many others, we took the trek down there again, only to be greatly disappointed. To pay the admission just to walk and view the dolphins....sorry it was a big waste of money not to mention a big disappointment to the visiting little grandchildren. If they had a place to sit and enjoy that would be different but they didn't. Sorry, but I agree with the others. The view is just not worth it, not when you can walk the nice boardwalk right next door and romp in the nice beach there. We need affordable places to visit that a normal everyday hard working (or eldery) person can visit and show off this beautiful area to their visiting family & friends without having to take a loan out