Miracle Strip Amusement Park

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park was a popular local theme park built in 1963 in Panama City Beach, Florida, across the street from the beach. The highlight of the park was the Starliner Roller Coaster, an "out-and-back" wooden coaster designed by John Allen upon the parks initial conception.

Opening[edit]

Miracle Strip Amusement Park opened in 1963 with the Starliner Roller Coaster as its main attraction. A few other rides lay nearby to the Starliner and a small arcade center and food stands rounded out the fledgling park. As the strip grew in popularity and Panama City Beach became more of a tourist location, the park grew as well. More and more rides were added throughout the late 60's, 70's and 80's and the park grew up around the Starliner, which was by far the main draw for the parks entire run. As the city became more of a spring break hotspot, the popularity of the family friendly Miracle Strip Park waned, though it remained a draw for families up to the 2000s.

Rides[edit]

The park featured several typical rides that were enhanced in unique ways by placing them within domed structures and adding lighting effects, temperature changes, smoke effects and music. These included the Abominable Snowman, Dante's Inferno and The Dungeon. There were also standard rides, such as bumper cars, a log flume, a scenic car driving attraction called Route 63, train, a Vonroll type 101 skyride, a Wave Swinger, loop-o-plane and the stand-outs; the Starliner Roller Coaster and O2 Tower. The park was also dotted with multiple kiddie rides. There was also a bobsled ride called Bayern Kurve, which was like the Musik Express, but each car carried two passengers, one sitting in front of the other one.

Abominable Snowman[edit]

This was a typical Eli Bridge Scrambler placed inside a massive igloo-shaped dome with a menacing abominable snowman guarding the door, whose legs you had to pass under to gain entry. Inside the dome was a dark, smoky atmosphere and cool temperature, a welcome break from the summer heat outside. The walls were lined with mirrors as well. Once all riders were secure, one operator would retreat to the control booth to control the lights and music while the other operator would operate the ride. As the scrambler sped up, the lighting effects would begin, complete with multiple-colored flashing lights, disco effects and strobes. As of January 9,the mechanical components of the ride had been removed, but the outer shell of the ride and interior mirrors were still in place.

The Scrambler was put at Miracle Strip at Pier Park without the dome.

Dante's Inferno[edit]

After walking into the mouth of a devil, riders found themselves within a dome housing a Chance Trabant. Much like the Abominable Snowman, the dome was lined with multiple lighting effects including rows of flashing white lights, red lights and strobes. Loud music would play as the ride began to spin and tilt. After a few minutes, the trabant would level out and the operator would exclaim that the ride would now go backwards, complete with the ominous sound of screeching brakes as the ride halted before reversing.

The Dungeon[edit]

After walking through a section of sharply-turning tunnels decorated with spider webs, riders found themselves within a dome housing a Sellner Tilt-A-Whirl, complete with spider motif. Much like the other dome rides above, loud music would play and various colored lights and strobes would flash as the ride spun around, sometimes in complete darkness! The ride was bought and added to the new Miracle Strip @ Pier Park, though it is no longer enclosed within a dome.

The Shockwave[edit]

This was a Far Fabbri late 1992 Kamikaze model with caged seats and shoulder restraints that started slowly moving riders back and forth, finally building up enough speed to send the arms of the ride full circle, sending riders upside down both forward and backward. The ride was shipped over to Australia a few years ago and was brought by Better Amusement Hire. The ride was then sold in 2007 to Flaherty Family Amusements who currently operate the ride.

The Musik Express[edit]

A 1973 Mack Musik Express was a fast-spinning ride with a 70's motif. The g-forces pushed riders up against each other. Loud music would play as the ride spun around at insane speeds. The Musik Express also ran backwards, but it was deemed unsafe at some point in the 1990s and operators were only allowed to run it forward (clockwise). Lots of small flashing lights accentuated the outside, drawing in riders. It is now at Cliff's Amusement Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Haunted Castle[edit]

Built by Bill Tracy in 1965, a campy haunted house ride shaped like a castle with a dead tree outside of it that ran two-seater cars through a maze of track showing off several morbid attractions; the electrocution of a dummy inmate, dismemberment, spiders and lots of blacklight effects. The ride even had a second floor with a break-away girder as the cars passed over, visible from the outside to give those in line a little scare themselves! It originally had a dragon facade and a clock with a 13 hand. It demolished in September 2009.

The Train[edit]

A small multi-passenger diesel-engine train ride that took riders from the station roughly in the center of the park around a few attractions, such as the paratrooper, spider, dungeon, log flume, shockwave and blue tornado and through a tunnel. This then led into the wooded area where the park was never developed before looping back to the station.

The Paratrooper[edit]

A spinning, tilting ride that was shaped to look like parachutes. The ride was located right next to the train station and was notorious for its long running time.

The Blue Thunder[edit]

A Mack Matterhorn Himalaya-type ride, it spun quickly forward and then backward and boasted a massive sound system. The carts were individually mounted on hanging bars rather than sitting flat on the ride floor like the Musik Express, however. This ride also pushed riders in the same carts together with g-forces. It was originally known as HeadAche at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

Zierer Wave Swinger[edit]

A massive swing ride that rose into the sky after riders were strapped into their swings and tilted to one side as it spun riders in a wide arch. This ride was also notorious for its typically long running time.

The Bullet[edit]

Much like the Shockwave but on a smaller and faster scale. This ride was also decidedly more comforatable than the Shockwave, though it lacked any interesting lighting effects.

Sea Dragon[edit]

A large ride shaped like a Viking boat decorated with shields and a dragon head that swung back and forth, gaining momentum until it tilted riders vertically both forward and backwards.

Big Eli Ferris Wheel[edit]

A large Ferris wheel situated not far from the parks main entrance. It was a standard wheel with neon lighting effects. Up until 1999, it was run by the original motor (using a lever to adjust the speed and to slow it down) and the operator had to manually raise the platform by standing on a different lever. This sometimes made it difficult to control the Ferris wheel because it became out of balance. However, before the 2000 season, the motor was replaced. The lever which controlled the Ferris wheel was replaced by a toggle switch. The platform was also replaced with a new platform that only required a push of a button.The wheel is now located in Lake Winnipesaukee amusement park in Rossville,Ga. Just outside the city of Chattanooga Tn.

The Log Flume[edit]

This was a typical log flume that started riders in a docking area made to look like a mill, complete with working mill wheel. The log-shaped carts would move slowly around a bend and take a long ride to the top of the first of two large hills. After the initial drop, the log flume would send riders along a rapid-like series of turns before pulling the cart up the second, much larger hill. The drop from this hill would end with a huge splash that often got riders quite wet (especially those seated in the back). The carts would then pull back into the station for disembarking.

The O2 Tower[edit]

The O2 Tower attraction was a more recent addition to the park in March 2002. It was an 85 foot S&S Space Shot Turbo Drop combo tower that rocketed 12 riders up to the top for a breathtaking view of the 27 miles of beach front property, before dropping them at incredible speeds again into a soft landing. The ride cost about $2 million.

The Starliner[edit]

The Starliner was one of the first attractions on Miracle Strip Park and lasted from its conception to its closing. The ride was a wooden roller coaster designed by John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1963. The coaster was the focal point of the park, running for almost the entire length of the rectangular strip that comprised it. The Starliner was visible from any point in Miracle Strip and the nearby roadways. The trains were three bench PTC rolling stock with a single seatbelt for both riders per cart and a single-locking lapbar. After the operator disengaged the manual brake system, the train left the station and began the 70-foot climb up the lift hill. The initial drop was 65 feet and gave way to several smaller hills, the third of which took riders through a tunnel painted like a dragon (as if you were entering its mouth). Riders were often caught off guard as a bunny hop was located halfway through the dark tunnel, allowing for some airtime. After the tunnel, the track looped around and hugged the previously-traveled track, over several more bunny hops for more airtime, before moving into the boarding station again, where a red light and bell signaled the end of the ride.

November 10, 2006[edit]

Kent Buescher, president of Adventure Parks Group LLC, announced he's reaching into the past to help boost attendance at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. Buescher said he plans to add Starliner, which was Florida's first roller coaster and was originally built in 1963 for the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach. It will be the sixth roller coaster to the park. "We could not think of a more fitting place to salvage a major coaster than to bring it to Cypress Gardens and reintroduce it to a whole new generation," Buescher said.
It will be rebuilt at the park and brought up to safety standards, he said. Plans are to open it in late June or early July, with 2,640 feet of hills and valleys. Buescher estimated the total cost at $5 million.

Closure[edit]

The ride operated at Cypress Gardens for two years, and the ride closed with the park's theme park attractions in November 2008. It was the oldest roller coaster in Florida at the time. When the Starliner closed at Cypress Gardens, Space Mountain became the oldest operating roller coaster in Florida.[1]

Other attractions[edit]

Miracle Strip boasted several other attractions, including an arcade center with various games, both electronic and more standard carnival fare, like ring toss and water-pistol games for prizes. There were multiple food and drink stands throughout the park as well and smaller versions of some of the bigger rides for the kiddies. Bumper cars, a large carousel and smaller Ferris wheel rides were also available. There was also a stage area where live shows were often scheduled near the bumper cars.

Some attractions also came and went. A spinning ride called The Spider once stood near the Dungeon and followed its spider motif, but it was later replaced by a kiddie parachute ride. There was also at one point a walk-through haunted house called "Old House", but it was inexplicably demolished and replaced by the Blue Thunder in 1999. Vincent "Val" Valentine built this attraction in 1967. After "Old House" dismantled, the flashing mannequin skeletal ghost was taken to the Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' gallery, where he would have a precise shot from a rifle and mechanically rise from a grave with a weak mid-1990s "Don't Do Drugs" message strapped to his bones. It is now outside Lake Winnepesaukah in Rossville, Georgia. With not enough interest in this shooting gallery at Lake Winnie, it was dismantled and stored away in a shelter at the parks maintenance shop. An almost exact replica of "Old House" is the "Mysterious Mansion" in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Another creation of Valentine, it contains many similar features like secret passages,dropping balconies, and also a flashing skeleton similar to the one at "Old House." The "Mysterious Mansion" was built in 1980 and is still in business today. Several of the kiddie rides from Miracle Strip are here,the bees,a children's ride,and several of the rides that were under the matel building in Panama City Beach are now at Lake Winnie.

There was another ride called "Bayern Kurve" located originally where the Wave Swinger sat, then in the late '70s, it was moved next to the train depot. During the mid to late 1970s, a steel Galaxi coaster named the "Crazy Mouse" stood right next to the "Old House".

Demise[edit]

In 2003 it was announced that the 2004 season would be Miracle Strip's last. The owner, Billy Lark, sold the land for use in development of condos (which are slated to be called "Miracles Condos"). He cited a general lack of interest in the preceding years from tourists, loss of money and increased expenses in keeping the rides running. The final season ended in September 2004. Many rides have since been moved or disappeared.

The log flume was taken apart and moved to Wild Adventures Park in Valdosta, Georgia. It was slated to open as the Shaka Zulu Water Ride in late 2006, but never opened to the visitors.

The O2 Tower also disappeared not long after the park closed. The ride was taken to Dixie Landin' Amusement Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and opened in 2006 as Hot Shot.

The Wave Swinger has recently been spotted at the North Florida Fair. The Wave Swinger appears to have new or refurbished swings, though the overall look of the ride is the same.

The Carousel was moved to Pier Park in April 2009, and appropriately named "The Miracle Strip Carousel". It's located across from the Grand 16 Theatre.

The powered tracked Sports Cars were moved to Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut and reopened in 2007 as Zoomer's Gas-N-Go.

The Blue Thunder was taken to Blue Diamond Amusement Park in New Castle, Delaware which closed in 2008. It can also be seen on eBay.

A group of enthusiasts purchased the elements of the Haunted Castle and moved them to a location where they were able to recreate the dark ride and run it for Halloween events. This same group is currently in the process of selling it to a party in Oxford, Alabama as "The Terrortorium", where it will have a more permanent setup.

According to cover story in the September 7, 2009 Panama City News Herald, the remains of The Miracle Strip Amusement park would be either removed from the site to be sold, or demolished. This was scheduled to start on Thursday September 10. Billy Lark was considering using eBay and Craigslist to sell some of the remains.

By 2010, the few remaining standing structures at the park had been demolished. The only remains of the park are sidewalks, concrete barriers, foundations and the main thoroughfare, which is overgrown with weeds.

Re-opening[edit]

In December 2009, it was announced that a new, smaller version of the amusement park would be returning to Pier Park, the city's outdoor shopping mall. The Starliner has been purchased by local interests at Pier Park, who are in the process of securing a location to reconstruct the rollercoaster for future generations.[2] The Starliner will start being reassembled in fall 2014 within an opening in 2015. Miracle Strip @ Pier Park will be reopened 200 feet from its current location in April 2014 on ten acres of land.

References[edit]

Coordinates: 30°11′28″N 85°49′30″W / 30.191°N 85.825°W / 30.191; -85.825