Cypress gardens, so called because they are gardens with Cypress trees in them and the person who thought of this Done-Disney attraction had the originality of a mayfly, not just with naming but with everything else which will become apparent as you read on.
So youve done Disney to death and flip through you menagerie of leaflets looking for that one thing which has the wow factor and will float your boat for day-tripping madness on a hot sunny day in Florida. Only it was not a hot sunny day. It was raining. Not just the sweet pitter-patter of little April showers but the tropical storms that were beating Florida like a whip-wielding dominator on a secret S&M Island. (no, not a Marks and Spencers for dyslexics!)
We had often toyed with the idea of visiting Cypress Gardens and the leaflet made the place seem that more inviting when we looked out through the gloom of grey clouds, so of we went with the roof of the convertible closed (insert sad smiley here). Winter Haven is about a 40 minute drive from Kissimmee and probably an extra 10 from International Drive. Take the I4 way down West heading for Tampa and turn off on to the US Highway 27 and then wait for a long time for a sign before turning off on to 540/Cypress Gardens Boulevard. Believe me, it seems like forever and there really are no signs to say Cypress Gardens until you are almost upon it. We stopped off at some seedy liquor store to enquire if the road we were on was the right one and thankfully it was.
Car parking is easy. Well it was this day as there were only about 30 cars in a car park that stretched for a good half mile, that was our first warning sign, why was it so empty?
The rain had stopped now so we paid our $7 for the car park and our $40 each to get in without having to queue for a nano second. (Second warning!)
Once inside we headed for the zoo area where disappointingly large animals were housed in small cages, always a bug bear of mine, one of many! They had some interesting species including a jaguar which you could almost stroke if you were brave enough. Baby crocs are always a crowd puller as they actually move, unlike their grown up counterparts. But the zoo was a bit small and not very different from anything else I had seen. Their bird aviary was quite interesting, you got to walk through the birds. Thats it.
We went to a show where two people walked out with a couple of reptiles, told you what they were and then you could go and stroke them. Wow!
The next show we went to was a pirate one, full of corny jokes and low budget special effects, I loved it. It was the best part of the day as it was that bad it was good. We walked around the zoo again and that was the first hour up.
They have a lovely ferry boat in the style of a Mississippi steam boat so we waltzed down to the dock to board her. Now this was the funniest thing to happen all week and I still laugh about it now. A lady turned round and said;
Sorry, the ferry is out of action and wont be working until later!
Not too upset at having to wait a bit, I asked how long it would take to be back in action.
It should be working mid-November. She replied. It was the 4th October!
Now that tickled me and masked the disappointment of not having a boat ride. The other boats were also out of action, so no boat rides at all. Bit peeved now as half the attraction of Cypress gardens are the boat rides on the picturesque lake. So we toddled up to the viewing tower, the sunshine sky adventure as they like to call it. This is a revolving wheel/platform where you are raised to some 160ft above the park and you get to see the a fantastic panoramic view of the park and up to 17 miles of countryside etc. Youd think! We were about 80 feet up when from nowhere a gale blew up and the rain came down with an intensity I have seldom experienced. The wheel ground to a halt with a jolt and slowly made its way back down. With nowhere to shelter from the elements, we were both extremely soaked and cold as well as a bit scared to be honest, with the rain came the lightning and there were a few safety concerns to be raised here. When we reached the ground they closed the ride for the rest of the day.
We took shelter under a closed food outlet, does anyone else notice the word closed popping up here a lot? Well, it got worse from here. The water park was closed for obvious reasons, it was wet. The rides were all closed as it was raining so we decided to grab some food. Now this was okay to be fair, the burgers were homemade, chunky and beefy, just like mama used to make, only she never made burgers, just bought them. We nibbled our way through lunch which was priced at about £3.50 for the drink, fries and burger so no complaints there.
When we had finished the rain had stopped and we finished our voyage around Cypress gardens. Some of the less risqué rides had re-opened but the main ones remained closed. They do have a small selection of rides, a couple of closed roller coasters and a few twirly-spinny things, but not enough to make you want to go here for the rides, just an added bonus I guess if you are lucky enough to find them open.
The gardens themselves did not live up to expectations. A few well ornamented and sculptured hedges to make a giant rabbit amongst other shapes were actually rather good and the waterfall looked, well false but nice. After trying to gain access into a few other closed attractions though, we give up and headed home a whole 2 and a half hours after entering Cypress Gardens.
Now, I thought and forgive me if I mislead myself, that Cypress Gardens would have been a place to walk through unspoilt natural gardens and woodland and enjoy a bit of natural Florida. Discover a bit of nature as well as take in a few entertaining shows and attractions but I think I was kidding myself here. Had everything been open and had the sun been shining, I think I could have lasted another couple of hours at most in here. The standard of the attractions was dated and dismal to be honest. The shops were expensive and the place as a whole was not what I thought it to be. It reminded me of an English park really, with a funfair in it. I guess my disappointment was only enhanced by the weather as sunshine would have at least afforded us the luxury of lying on the grass and sunbathing for half an hour or just sitting on a bench watching the closed boats. Who knows, but as a seasoned traveller in the States, I felt that Cypress Gardens did not live up to its own boasts of grandeur nor did it justify the 40 minute drive each way to view its treasures.
Even on a hot sunny day with the water park open, all the rides and attractions open and with the family in tow, I doubt this would merit the drive at the prices they charge. For the same money you could go to Typhoon lagoon which is only ten minutes away and probably have more fun and enjoyment by taking in Down Town Disney, a free market place of immense proportions and diversity.
Check out the things that Cypress Gardens have to offer on their website, but mark my words, I can only offer disappointment as a recommendation and not one of value for money or memories that will last forever.
Cypress did not impress, but I digress.