Friday, September 9, 2016

The Original Marineland Of Florida Was Once A Great Place To Visit

Update: At the end of this blog don't miss seeing many negative comments I've found on Yelp about this attraction. And see the ratio Trip Advisor has.

I am a huge critic of the demolition and destruction of the original Marineland of Florida which started in mid 2000. I can't help it. This did not have to happen. People should respect history and incredible achievements. What and who turned this once fantastic park into something unrecognizable was disgusting. As someone who visited this park regularly starting in the late 1960's, I believe my perspective can be very informative to others who are interested.

Welcome to my blog on the original Marineland of Florida. A lot of people are not aware of the history and story of the first marinelife park created in the world. An interesting one it is. Marineland of Florida was created by W. Douglas Burton, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Sherman Pratt, and llya Tolsen. Their concept was to have a place to film marine life. What they did was build a very special place. These four people were visionaries who created a great place which opened in 1938. They probably had no idea how amazing it would become. Many believe dolphins and marine life were not the intent of the park, but they did finally arrive later. The first film shot here was 'Revenge of the Creature' in 1955. Also the TV series 'Sea Hunt' starring Lloyd Bridges was filmed here from 1958-1961.

Also many famous people visited this park including Ernest Hemingway and Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm not sure when they were built, but there was a restaurant with the Moby Dick lounge and a motel that was on the property. Both of course were right on the ocean. On my 2006 visit during demolition I walked up to the restaurant and the front doors were open. So I quietly walked in and could hear some people working inside. This brought back many memories of the many times I stopped here for breakfast on my visits to St. Augustine. I specifically made a point to always arrive early to get a table next to the picture windows. The beach and Atlantic Ocean was right beside me. Always a treat to dine here. Anyway no one saw me inside the restaurant so I went into the Moby Dick lounge. The same one Ernest Hemingway use to drink at. The place was still intact but things were thrown around. Papers and other things. It looked as if people had ransacked the place. I wanted desperately to grab some items as souvenirs but chickened out.

This attraction was one that people of all ages would appreciate and enjoy for decades. In the 1960's, Marineland became the top tourist attraction drawing over 300,000 visitors. However with the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, Marineland of Florida saw their attendance decline. However, with returning visitors still coming to the marine park, the 1980's saw an increase in visitors. Eventually the park became to costly to maintain for the real estate investment group who owned it at the time, and the facility sunk into disrepair. Finally through a convoluted deal involving junk bonds, the property was sold. The new owners wanted to build time share condominiums, but the plan never materialized.

However with the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, and Sea World also opening in Orlando in 1973, Marineland of Florida saw their attendance decline. However, with returning visitors still coming to the marine park, the 1980's saw an increase in visitors. Eventually the park became to costly to maintain for the real estate investment group who owned it at the time, and the facility sunk into disrepair. Finally through a convoluted deal involving junk bonds, the property was sold. The new owners wanted to build time share condominiums, but the plan never materialized. Then in 1999, Hurricanes Floyd and Irene caused the park to close completely for two months. In 2003, all of the parks buildings on the west side of Highway A1A were demolished, leaving only the original structure on the Atlantic Ocean side. In 2001 the park was sold to Atlanta businessman and land developer Jim Jacoby. He decided to totally destroy this historic marine park to build a dolphin education/interactive experience, so demolition started in 2004. This was beyond heartbreaking. Many people who travel abroad knows what makes Europe a great vacation destination. The historic buildings. In the United States most developers can't wait to tear down and destroy most of our historic buildings. Put Jim Jacoby at the top of that list.

On January 1, 2011 Marineland of Florida was sold to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta for 9.1 million from developer Jim Jacoby. Officials announce no immediate changes are planned for Marineland of Florida. Since Jacoby, a land developer, who was on the Georgia Aquarium board of directors at the time and obviously had the connection to easily unload Marineland of Florida. When he purchased the park in 2001, he proceeded to demolish, destroy, and forever change this once historic landmark. And not for the better. The original Marineland of Florida was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. And thanks to Jacoby, former visitors and fans of the original Marineland of Florida only have distant memories. Many websites do not recommend visiting Marineland of Florida. That is not good. The main attraction now is swimming and interaction with the dolphins. The immersion program is 60 minutes long (30 minutes with dolphins) for $209. The discover dolphins is 50 minutes long (20 minutes with dolphins) for $159. The touch and feed is 5 minutes long (3 minutes with dolphin) for $29. The trainer for a day is 4 hours long (60 minutes with the dolphins) for $450. The dolphins designs has participants holding a canvas while a dolphin paints. This is 20 minutes long (10 minutes with dolphin) for $90. Extremely expensive programs. Admission to see very little is $9.95 (up from $8.50) for an adults 13 and up, children is $5.95 (up from $4.00) and seniors 60+ is $8.95 (up from $7.25). The original Marineland of Florida packed visitors in for decades. There is no way the new Marineland can do that. By having only pricey dolphin interactions available they have alienated and missed huge amounts of visitors that probably will go elsewhere to enjoy themselves. Seeing a large tank of water, dolphin popping up from time to time, and standing in the hot sun with no where to sit probably will not make visitors happy. At all. Just common sense. But everyone should go and judge for themselves. Nice planning and work Jim Jacoby.

I visited the park on 10-24-13 and work was being done on the south end of the property close to the gift shop. It looked like a small tank was being put in. Many visitors have complained for years that there is nothing to see and do here except a swim and interact with the dolphins. So perhaps the complaints are finally being heard.

This area use to have an abundance of palm trees that really gave the spot a lot of character and tropical ambience. The large statue of a Greek god was once across the street when the original park was operating. There also was a small area out of frame and to the left that housed flamingos. It was way to small and should have been larger for them. Photo 10-24-13.
This is the entrance to the park right on Highway A1A. A plastic fence has been added here and extends around the construction area. However it is easy to photograph everything going on inside here. Photo 10-24-13.
This shot is looking through to the main entrance. The gift shop is straight ahead and has been here since the late 60's when I first visited the park.

As of 9-8-15, Trip Advisor review totals are as follows: 160 excellent, 73 very good, 36 average, 33 poor, and 63 terrible. That is over 50% who rate the park between average and poor. But what I found interesting is the attempt by some to give this place glowing reviews. Clearly without question these are employees or operatives pulling out all stops to convince readers of how fantastic this place is. The attempts are laughable. Kind of like QVC or Home Shopping Network spending 20 minutes to convince viewers that a necklace or jacket is so revolutionary and amazing, that you can't live without it and must buy it.

Here are some excerpts of comments from visitors on Yelp. These are all verifiable from the visible and filtered ones:

1- (August 2013) There is absolutely zero reason to visit Marineland unless you have the money to spend on one of the encounters. Otherwise, as many others have said, you're just staring at a tank in the hot sun and seeing a couple of dolphins swimming by. Even as encounter participants we were looking around going "This is it?"

2- (June 2013) "Can we say RIP OFF, I would have given it zero stars but doesn't allow that. I am so upset we left the resort to go to Marineland, telling our daughter all about how we enjoyed it many years ago when we went. About $9 per person to get in the door, and to do what? Stand there and just watch the tank. We will never be back and hope that others will see this and not go either."

3- (January 2012) "You're gonna' end up paying around $9 a person to take your family in, stare at dolphins through three plexiglass windows (which are literally feet away from each other) and if you're lucky, MAYBE see a dolphin jump out of the water, paint, or do a few tricks."

4- (August 2012) "I'll never step foot in the place again."

5- (June 2013) "We picked up my 5 year old nephew, drove an hour to spend the day at Marineland!! Little did we know that we would pay money, get a ticket, hike up a little hill and stand in the hot sun looking into little windows of a dolphin tank....and that's it."

6- (July 2010) "Waste of time. Even the dolphins want to leave this place. Save your money for something else."

7- (August 2012) "I don't think I would recommend the admission price. Basically you just walk around the pools and look at other people doing the immersions. There didn't seem to be anything else to do with the general admission."

8- (April 2012) This is the biggest waste of money and biggest ripoff in the state of Florida. Never go here."

9- (April 2012) "No attractions, no shows, no anything. Its a sad, hollow shell of the place it used to be."

Reviews on Trip Advisor

1- (July 2013) "We bought 2 general admission tickets. For that price you get to stand mostly in the sun and view people who paid $215 for the immersion experience or one of the other packages. My husband was very disappointed because a lot of years ago he had gone there and had seen the dolphins put on a show. Don't go there!"

2- (July 2013) "Basically you sit in lawn chairs and watch other people who paid more feed dolphins. I hope they give people more to do in future development!"

3- (July 2013) "I definitely would NOT recommend this particular place or program to anyone. Its VERY overpriced and they really seem to be only interested in the $$$."

4- (July 2013) "As much as I like that which 'Marineland' promotes..i.e..dolphins and dolphin preservation, sadly, I must give a thumbs-down to the humans who make the policies there."

5- (July 2013) "They don't tell you that when you pay your admission that all you get is the privileged of walking through their gates and staring at dolphins through glass. You can do the same thing on the internet. Nor do they tell you that there are ONLY dolphins. (not that I don't like dolphins). Here is the point: They should have a sign and or state exactly what you are getting for what you are paying."

6- (July 2013) "My husband and I signed up for the touch and feed, $60 plus for two. We were told to come 30 minutes early to wait. We were not allowed to take pictures but could buy their overpriced pictures. Two days earlier we stood in the same location taking pictures. The entire experience lasted maybe 4 minutes. Would not recommend this."

To be fair there are some good reviews about the park. But smart people can recognize when reviews are probably written by staff and hardcore supporters. This is definitely the case on Trip Advisor. It is very obvious many reviews are not from the general public. Sorry but I'm not buying it people. When a review is long, detailed, and so glowing that it raises skepticism, there leaves doubt as to the honesty of it.

I welcome and publish all comments. Pro and con on the park. I believe that everyone has the right and freedom to express their opinions. Thanks for seeing here.