Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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 amount 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 12-3-16, the comments on TripAdvisor was 229 excellent/very good, and 148 average/ poor/terrible. Keep in mind many pro-Marineland of Florida people and staff add reviews that paint this park as the greatest thing ever. It's so obvious when you read them. But they are not fooling smart people. When a review is long, detailed, and so glowing that it raises skepticism, there leaves no doubt as to the honesty of it. And as of 12-3-16 on Yelp, the review count is as follows: 14 4/5 star, 25 3/2/1 star. More 1 and 2 stars than 3 stars, for what it's worth. So Yelp reviews are more eye opening indeed.

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.


Mike Miller said...

I enjoy your blog and like to check in from time to time. You have a great history of Marineland. I invite you to write something on my website about Marineland. I now have a feature that allows you to create your own webpage that would be part of my site. I can't pay you for it, sorry, but it would be a good plug for your blog. Check http://www.florida-backroads-travel.com/marineland-florida.html

Anonymous said...

Given the fact that Marineland of Florida is the world's oldest oceanarium and had much damage due to storms over the years, I can imagine that it must have been very run down by the time that it was torn down. This must not have been very good for the dolphins there. Maybe this is why they built a new place for them. Although it is difficult for people to see something they love go away, we have to think about what is best for the animals there. I have been to Marineland recently and it is a beautiful place with healthy dolphins that are reproducing. And I don't think your comparison with Sea World is accurate because even though you may pay only six dollars per tray of fish, you can't forget about the $75 admission fee.

Brian Christopher said...

Wow ! Thanks for visiting my site and briefing me on the 'original" Marineland. Your site provides much interesting history and is much appreciated !

Brian Christopher said...

Additionally... the wife likes your photos of the flamingos :)

Anonymous said...

While I share your sentiments about the sadness of the demise of the Grande Dame, there is MUCH more to the story than just blaming it on the current ownership. I know, because I was here smack in the middle of it. When the current ownership finally bought it out of bankruptcy in March 2001, he had already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the place, without ever having any guarantee that he'd eventually own a single thing. I think more of the venom should be directed at the previous ownership who allowed the place to go without repair or significant maintenance for the previous 10 years or so. It was so bad the USDA was about to close it down and confiscate the dolphins in early 1999. And while you're at it, the public had stopped coming here years before that, as the gate receipts showed, and public expectations changed as well. That's why SeaWorld built Discovery Cove and roller coasters, and why their shows are now more about Cirque de Soleil than the whales or dolphins. It's hard to let go of the past, but I watched this place go through TWO bankruptcies in 5 years, and almost saw all of the dolphins leave for other parks and timeshares built on this site. The current ownership tried to get multiple investors and partners to chip in and help save the original, but he was the only one willing to put his cash into saving ANYthing here without a guaranteed return on investment. He also had two different engineering firms come in to see about saving the original Circular or Rectangular Oceanarium, and the answer was no, these are condemned as they are, tear them down and build replicas.

It broke many hearts to watch it go down, mine included, and even though I wasn't here in the 70's or 80's, I have been in the dolphin field since the 80's and have always celebrated the history of this place, and also of the geriatric dolphins still thriving here as well as their offspring and grand-offspring.

Again, I understand how easy it is to cast blame, but wanted to share a bit more info with you, as the people here now working with these dolphins are wonderful, caring people who do it because they love these animals and this place. Not everyone may agree with every single decision made by ownership, but what company can ever honestly say that?

John Poe Kongdog01@yahoo said...

Great Site!!!! Hated too see it go as well, I walk around the place now and just remember.... I love old Florida and this place is not the same, hopefully someday something can be done in the old park area, a monument of sorts. And the dolores motel OMG !!! In early 1983 I walked off the beach after sleeping there and went into the resteurant to get some breakfast, people and waitress were looking at me funnny!!! So I ordered and went to the restroom to clean up, well I looked into the mirror and yukes!!! My Face was covered in soot, from the fire I made on the beach that prior night. When I came back to eat the waitress was smiling. After eating I went back down to the beach and headed towards JAX, I came upon the old marineland and it brought a great smile to me as I walked down the beach, I wish now I went up and looked around. Thanks for the site.

Charles said...

A big thank you to everybody for taking the time to comment on my blog. I never censor comments by not publishing them, even if they disagree with my thoughts on Marineland Florida. A lot of bloggers do. That is very low class to censor people. All the best to everyone.

Anonymous said...

I used to work there. I worked from 1983 to 1994 and did everything from push a broom to dive to dolphin shows to work in the lab. I know what happened.

The downfall began in 1988 when management began to change the shows to try to "modernize them" It was a horrible disaster. The attendance plummeted after the changes took place. They got rid of the old style shows, got rid of the old diver helmets things that could ONLY been experienced at Marineland.

If you went to Marineland anytime after October 1988 you did not see the "true" Marineland I knew.

Follow those changes the management then tried various "get rich quick schemes" that failed. Thousands spent with little return.

I left thankfully in 1994. But I stayed in touch. The place was un dangerous shape and the reasons it got that way started back in 1988.

See my photos here. Feel free to use them.


Anonymous said...

The current ownership tried to get multiple investors and partners to chip in and help save the original, but he was the only one willing to put his cash into saving ANYthing here without a guaranteed return on investment.
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Greg May said...

In 2005 I made my 100th visit to Marineland. Fox News televised my pilgramige. Not too long after that, Marineland called to tell me the bulldozers arrived. I was heartbroken. I certainly had a passion for Marineland. My mom and dad first took me there in 1965. Every year they would take me to Marineland so I could"get it out of my system". I looked forward to those visits more than Christmas morning. Joy Wallace Dickenson of THE ORLANDO SENTINEL wrote an article about my boyhood memories of Marineland entitled "Marineland Was More Fun Than Santa." I was such a regular Mitch Lightsey, Marineland's original "JumpMaster",would let me feed the "Famous Jumping Porpoises"on the Top Deck. Of all my visits, my most memorable was in February 1967. My grandparents, Chester and Pearl Gibson of Winchester, Kentucky were down for the winter. All week long I was bugging my parents to take Nan and Granddaddy to Marineland. Of course, everyone knew who REALLY wanted to go! It was 35 degrees when we left Orlando that morning and 25 degrees at Marineland. And with the cold wind blowing off the ocean, that brought the wind-chill factor down to 10 degrees! I saw more new things that visit like the Risso's dolphins, the new cherry-picker hanging upside-down from those iconic arches and the Amazon freshwater dolphins. I often wondered why I had such a fascination for Marineland. One day my mom showed me a picture my dad took of her peeking through the hole in the coquina rock at the main entrance in 1955. They were on their second honeymoon and spent the night at Marineland's Motel nine months before I was born! Greg May Orlando, FL pushed myslef Poor Granddaddy ioceanodt iprents had such a passion for i

Charles said...

A big thank you to everyone for taking the time to leave your thoughts about Marineland on my little blog, positive and negative. I never censor people, but lots of others online do. Censoring comments is un-American. Communist and socialist censor people, not freedom loving Americans.

Emma Pulley said...

Dear Charles-

My name is Emma Pulley and I am a junior at Flagler College in St. Augustine. I am doing an oral history project and had decided to make Marineland my focus- I remembered my visit as a child, and wondered how the park had evolved since I had been there. I searched the internet for hours, and found nothing until I found your blog...

I am so lucky to have stumbled upon your wealth of information!

I was curious to know if you were still in the area and if perhaps you might consider consenting to a tape-recorded interview of your memories of this wonderful park.

I don't know many people connected to the park, or anyone who has a rich history with it. I was particularly interested in seeing if I could contact anyone involved with the filming of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc. I know that might be a far stretch...

If you know of anyone else whom I might contact, I would be greatly appreciative...additionally, this interview invitation extends to all readers of your blog. I can see that you have a devoted following who love the park as much as you do.

If you are interested, please contact me at: emmapulley@gmail.com. I am looking forward to your response!

Thank you so much for your time and consideration,
Emma Pulley

Greg May said...

Looking at a website of Marineland's demolition was very upsetting for me! I am still in shock that the world's original marine attraction AND one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions was swept away even though it was listed on the National Register of Historical Places. I was such a regular visitor to Marineland I was always allowed to feed the "Famous Jumping Porpoises" on the Top Deck during the show. You can see me in action with Jumpmaster Tom DeVoe looking on at florida-backroads-travel.com/my-boyhood-memories-of-marineland. The new owners claimed to have saved those iconic arches. I would love to see them erected again - this time straddling A1A. That was part of the thrill for me when I was a kid seeing those arches on the horizon as we approached Marineland.
Greg May Orlando,FL

Briana said...

After a storm, stand and start all over again. Marineland is such a perfect place to visit and I am so happy that the restoration of the place went good. I am sure many where sad about the closing of the place but now it is back for the people to enjoy.

Shenandoah bed and breakfast said...

Very useful link about Marineland, FL. This article would sure help those backpacker who never been there.

Greg May said...

On December 5, 2010 I returned to Marineland with my friend, Jamie Richies of Durban, South Africa to meet a young lady named Emma Pulley. Emma is in college and is preparing a paper on the history of Marineland and wanted to interview me on my memories of Marineland. Special thanks to Kevin Roberts who rolled out the red carpet for the three of us as Stacey and her fellow dolphin trainers introduced us to Chubby, Alvin and Nellie, who will turn 58
in February! Since this was my first visit to the "new" Marineland, I was awash in a sea of emotions as Jamie and I parked the car in a lot which was once the oceanarium. Marineland's dolphins have set a longevity record for marine life parks - so they must be doing something right!.

Vic Johnson said...

I had worked at Marineland in April of 1966 erecting the two intersecting arches over the dolphin tank and the covering over the spectator area. This was the best (most fun) construction project that I had worked on. We could not start work until the park was cleared at dark, and be gone when it opened the next day. The legs of each arch were about 110 feet apart at there attachment points on the ground. They were made of laminated pine, with a cross section of 18" X 18" and weighed approx. 7000 lbs. Per leg. There is an 1800 lbs. stainless steel weldment that attach the four legs together in the center. Problems with making the last of the 32, 20" long bolts fit in the attachment gave me a chance to watch four magnificent sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean from up top. Working there was a great experience that I will never forget. All the people were like a big family. I find it very interesting that they saved the arches, and think that Greg’s idea to straddle A1A is great. I am sure we stayed at the Delores Motel. I remember the shower only had one valve, so the water temperature was pre set for you by the builder, and it was COLD. One day my boss came in and used the toilet when I was showering. When he flushed the toilet, I had warm water!!! From that time on, I always turned on the cold water in the sink while I was showering. That was interesting also, if the window was open, you could hear the water from the sink running on the ground under the building. I have just put some photo’s on Flickr that I shot at Marineland in 1966. My Photostream is under the name of ‘fillphoo’. If you want to use some of them, please feel free to do so, just give me credit for them.

Thank you
Vic Johnson

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles,

Thank you for the nice comment on my article, "More Marineland Memories" at www.florida-backroads-travel.com.
I'm hoping that Marineland's new owner will preserve the memories of what it used to be in some form of a museum. What I saw on December 5 was only a few graphics of days gone by. I got the biggest kick out of Vic Johnson's comments of constructing those magnificent arches! As far as I'm concerned, that was one of the world's greatest engineering marvels.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles,

Thank you for your nice comment on my article, "More Marineland Memories" at www.florida-backroads-travel.com. I'm hoping Marineland's new owner will preserve the memories of what it used to be like in some form of a museum. I got the biggest kick out of Vic Johnson's comments. As far as I'm concerned, the construction of those magnificent arches were one of the world's engineering marvels!

JRay said...

I had forgotten about the flamingoes and I will agree with you, I would also go and watch them sometimes before going in and even at times when we came out.
I do believe the rock formation is still there. My took some pictures of my children at a formation, but will need to check them to see if they are still there. The large jaw is still there, but I remember it being inside the park, but now it is outside. I also took some pictures of my kids with this display as well.
It really is a shame that they would prefer to destroy the park instead of trying to rebuild it. I used to have some pictures of the dolphin shows and will have to see if I can find them.
I did not see the statue of Neptune they last two times I was there. Once back in 2004 (or maybe 2006) and 2010.

Dribbles88 said...

This blog is bittersweet to read but also brings back great memories for all the times I spent there as a child. I grew up in St. Augustine and I used to visit Marineland quite often. (Then later I watched them tear it down.) At my school, we were given honor roll cards that were good for free admission there. So almost every weekend, we went. I remember the hours I used to spend at the playground area with the punching bag tent, great jungle gym, and air cushion/bounce house room. I remember my brother being chosen to be a "dolphin trainer" and getting my picture feeding Dolly and Alivin (I think that was their names). I'm so glad someone is keeping the memory of the old park alive. By the way, the coquina 1938 "Marineland of Florida" entrance sign is still there. I was there about a month ago and saw it. My family lives in St. Augustine and I live in Orlando so I go by there quite often.

PS- I loved the flamingos too.

Greg May said...

Marineland fans can find my article, "Return to Marineland" at www.florida-backroads-travel.com/return-to-marineland. Dribbles88 reminded me of the flamingos that were at the main entrance. When I met Flagler College student Emma Pulley at Marineland December 5, she wondered what had happened to the flamingos. I was happy to see that Marineland had preserved the entrance with the coquino rock. Remember having your photo taken sticking your head through the hole?

Greg May said...

Thank you, Charles, for taking time to read and comment on "Marineland's Past, Present and Future" at www.florida-backroads-travel.com. Wouldn't it be nice if those wonderfully-wealthy Georgians could invest some capital into restoring Marineland? A former manager - who is now working at the Georgia Aquarium - (imagine that!) told me once that the new owners (your beloved developers!) were planning to reconstruct the Oceanarium with the entrance end designed in the Nautical Moderne-style featuring portholes which would evolve into the state-of-the-art utilizing huge acrylic panels. I guess we'll just have to wait and see . . .

Greg May said...

The news coverage of my 100th visit to Marineland is now on YouTube. It's titled, "Man Makes 100th Visit to Marineland." The historic oceanariums and the Porpoise Stadium were demolished shortly afterwards.

DWR said...

Correction: the best days for Marineland's attendance were 1972 - 1976! During the summer admissions on a daily basis were around 8,000! We ran back-to-back top deck, underwater circular and underwater rectangular shows but only the regular schedule of porpoise stadium shows. Disney World's opening only helped Marineland's attendance. It was Sea World and very poor Marineland management in the early 80s that caused the attraction to do downhill...and rapidly.
David Redman
Marketing Director 1967 - 1976
Accounting Department 1959-61
Staff Announcer 1959

DWR said...

Your last video contains errors and I will send correct information for you to revise your site.

David Redman
Marineland of Florida 1957-1976
Accounting, Staff Announcer, Camera Shop Attendant, head of Marketing/Public Relations.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles. I remember your Uncle Jerald and Dolores very well. In fact I went to high school in Bunnell with both of them. As a teenager, I often visited Dolores at the restaurant and fondly remember her parents, Stanley and Ann. I actually remember when the Schatz family arrived in Flagler County--from Alabama as I recall.

I left Flagler soon after graduation from high school, went to Jacksonville to work and completed my degree in political science at night. I worked in politics in Washington and met my future husband--an Orthopedic Surgeon--there. He practiced many years in PA and unfortunately, I am now a widow.
I was there a couple of weeks ago driving from Port Canaveral where I had embarked on a cruise to the Carribean. I stopped at the wine and cheese shop which was once my home and bought a bottle of Pommard from the area which was my bedroom.
Your blog was very interesting and brought back many memories of Flagler County, Dolores and Jerald, and others whom I knew.


Charles said...

Thank you very much for seeing my blog and sharing your stories Carolyn, Greg, Dribbles88, JRay, Vic, Shenandoah Bed and Breakfast, John Poe, Mike and Brian. You are very kind. Life is all about the memories you create. And the original Marineland of Florida to everyone here and possibly worldwide created incredible memories that were the best. Thank you again everyone. Take care.

Greg May said...

As far as I'm concerned, Marineland of Florida no longer exists. Long-time Florida residents and out-of-state visitors who have fond memories of visiting Marineland in its 'heyday' will notice that the landscape has changed as they drive through the town that was incorporated in 1940. Goone are the tell-tale arches that could be seeon for miles on the horizon as you approached Marineland from either direction on A1A; gone are the Oceanariums - the first in the world - and gone is the Porpoise Stadium, birthplace of the world's first porpoise show. All of the property except for the 'Swim Adventure' has been sold by the Atlanta developers to other developers - hye seized the opportunity to take advantage of the attraction's financial woes and turn it into a money-maker for himself.

Charles Rinehart said...

Greg I agree the Marineland of Florida we and others grew up with is no more. My blog is a constant reminder to others what happened to it. My last visit was 10-24-13 when they had the front entrance blocked doing work. I hope I can get back to see the results soon. Thanks again for connecting here.

Pete D. said...

As a kid from upstate New York, I remember stopping at MARINELAND in the late 1940s and early to late 1950s. My family...mom, dad, sister and brother, always enjoyed it, but I think I might have enjoyed it the most. Stopped there in 1984, and was disappointed with the place. I think I'll probably go there in my mind, rather than person. Thanks for the memories. Pete

Charles Rinehart said...

Pete thanks for stopping here and adding your thoughts. I really appreciate it. This was indeed a very special park in it's day. I visited here many many times and just was so thrilled and excited every time. All the best my friend.

Mike and Victoria said...

Wow, I can't believe how many years since our last visit to Marineland. It was 1979 and already was starting it's deterioration. My wife and I drove up from Daytona on A1A. the show was nice at the dolphin tank. While everyone else moved over to the shark tank, I noticed the mama dolphin was trying to teach her baby how to toss the basketball around.

Mom tossed the ball to me, her way of asking for help. We spent 45 minutes working with the baby and finally, baby got it. Momma was happy, she did the happy dolphin dance on the water.

That kind of interaction was unplanned and certainly can not be repeated. I will always cherish that memory and Marineland will have a special place in my heart. Thanks for the memories!

Charles Rinehart said...

Mike and Victoria: Thank you for your comment. Looking back, while Marineland of Florida was not a perfect park, it did bring lots of happiness, fun, and memories for so many people. For sure we'll never forget. Take care.