Long before Disney World, there was Cypress Gardens. Will it survive a makeover with its kitschy charm intact?


Every Orlando-area amusement park worth its marketing budget has a sound track, from Universal Orlando's Jurassic anthems to Disney's hum-along ditties, but only Cypress Gardens—that Sunday picnic of Florida theme parks, and the state's oldest—claims a melancholy song that's a part of rock-and-roll history. In 1963, the late country-rock legend Gram Parsons recorded that song, "Surfinanny." Parsons knew the park well: he grew up in Winter Haven, a half-hour drive southwest of the Orlando attraction thicket.

Unlike its rarely heard song, Cypress Gardens is back in circulation. The struggling park closed its gates in April 2003, after 67 years of triple-flipping water-ski extravaganzas, tours through its gardens and butterfly conservatory, and slow-motion greetings from Southern belles inhoopskirts and swimsuits. Thanks to a grassroots campaign that attracted funds from the Trust for Public Land last fall, the rechristened Cypress Gardens Adventure Parkopens this month. Can a shotgun compromise be inspired?The new owner, a Georgia entrepreneur with a lucrative theme-park record, promises a generous mix of nostalgia with modern thrills: though four roller coasters will now rise above the topiary, the fierce new lakefront ski show will not drown tradition in its wake. 863/324-2111; www.cypressgardens.com.