Anyone who grew up in the Panama City Beach area knows about Miracle Strip Amusement Park.
For over 40 years, families gathered at the park to enjoy thrilling rides, such as the Starliner, Dante’s Inferno, or Big Eli’s Ferris Wheel.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the famous Miracle Strip Amusement Park. We’ll examine its history, best attractions, driving directions, and the overall fate of the park.
MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK HISTORY
The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park opened in 1963, with the Starliner roller coaster as it’s main attraction. The beach-side amusement park was built to resemble a traditional boardwalk and had many of the rides you’d typically find at a modern carnival. This includes rides such as a scramble, carousel, haunted house, and a Ferris wheel.
ORIGINAL MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK
The original park was made by a group of men who aimed to start an attraction in the Panama City Beach Area. They raised enough money to create the Starliner and began building the park in early 1963. After it’s initial opening, the park continued to expand over the next few decades.
Despite years of entertainment for millions of amusement park attendees, the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park had its last season in 2003 due to a lack of interest. There were also issues with loss of money, likely due to the rising costs of running the older attractions.
MIRACLE STRIP AT PIER PARK
The park sat abandoned for years, with all of the historic rides sitting dormant or being sold to other parks. It wasn’t until 2008 that a new company opened the Miracle Strip at Pier Park, utilizing some of the famous attractions from the original park.
In 2009, owner Teddy Meeks added the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park carousel to the new park. It wasn’t long before he purchased the two remaining Miracle Strip rides, the Zamperalla Balloon Race and the Allen Herschell Red Baron. He hoped to also purchase the original Big Eli Ferris Wheel but settled for a model with the same make and model.
The Miracle Strip at Pier Park continued to grow throughout the next few years. In 2011, the park added scrambler and tilt-a-whirl rides. By the end of 2013, the park moved roughly 200 feet from the original space.
The new space had 14 acres, with a bridge separating the park into two sides. There was also a talk of re-opening the original Starliner coaster, which has been bought by Meeks and two partners for $2 million. Unfortunately, the Starliner coaster would not be seen again before the second park met its downfall.
THE DOWNFALL OF MIRACLE STRIP
Within the first few years of the opening, Miracle Strip at Pier Park ran into financial issues similar to that of the original park. A number of obstacles got in the way of Meek’s vision, including limited land access and disappointing attendance numbers. It wasn’t long before the park couldn’t sustain itself, and the owners soon found themselves in debt.
In 2015, the Miracle Strip at Pier Point suddenly announced that it was opening for its last season. There are various rumors about why the park closed, though many news outlets reported that the park was being evicted for owing over $328,000 in rent.
Since its closure, most of the Miracle Strip rides were auctioned off to various parks across the country. Many of the rides moved to Lake Winnepesaukah, a classic amusement park located in Lakeview, Georgia. Today, both Miracle Strip parks sit abandoned with only pictures and memories to look back on.
MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK BEST ATTRACTIONS
The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park had a variety of different attractions that made the park appealing to guests. Many of these rides were exhilarating, which called out to millions of thrill seekers around the world. Let’s take a look at some of the best attractions from the original Miracle Strip park.
THE STARLINER ROLLERCOASTER
The Starliner Rollercoaster really was the star of the show and the most popular ride at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. The ride was 2,640 feet in length with a maximum drop of 65 feet. It featured three large drops, as well as a tunnel with a surprise bunny hop.
The Starliner was Florida’s first roller coaster, built the same year the original park opened. For decades, fans would line up with anticipation to ride the thrilling wooden coaster. The coaster made headlines in 1978 when Jim Barnett rode the coaster for a week straight, setting the Guinness World Record.
The Abominable Snowman was an Eli Bridge Company Scrambler that was hidden beneath a large igloo-shaped dome. A statue of the Abominable Snowman was placed in front of the ride as if guarding the door or warning the riders.
Guests would enter the dark igloo only to be greeted with thick fog and chilly air conditioning. Mirrors lined the walls of the ride to enhance the feeling of claustrophobia. Once they were strapped in, riders would experience a traditional scrambler ride accented with strobing lights and thrilling music.
The iconic devil’s head entrance of Dante’s Inferno was arguably the most memorable part of the park, warning guests about the peril to come. Dante’s Inferno was a dark Chance Trabant ride, where guests would be carted around an enclosed space to various lights and music.
At the start of the ride, the carts would begin to tilt and spin as passengers were exposed to flashing lights and loud music. Halfway through the ride, the operator would level the Trabant and tell the passengers that the ride would begin to move backwards. Guests would often scream with delight at the sound of the breaks squeaking to a halt, only to start up again in the opposite direction.
THE HAUNTED CASTLE
The frightening Haunted Castle delighted guests for decades and was likely the source of nightmares for many young children. The spooky exterior beckoned horror fans to test their will in this spooky dark ride attraction.
The ride sat guests in a 2-seat car, which carted them inside the haunting interior. The ride took passengers on a maze-like journey throughout the castle, treating them to various scares through the twists and turns. Notable scares included an electrified prisoner, a bloodied bald head, and decaying skeletons. The loud music and lights intensified the experience, leaving guests terrified.
BIG ELI’S FERRIS WHEEL
The Big Eli Ferris Wheel was one of the most unforgettable rides at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park, where thousands of memories were made. Added to the park in 1975, the large wheel was the perfect ride for thrill seekers or cuddly couples.
The Ferris wheel was placed near the entrance, and it was often the first thing guests would see when they arrived. A ride on Big Eli’s Ferris Wheel lasted about 10 minutes, giving riders a beautiful view of the park. At the top of the wheel, guests could look out to see all 14 acres of the park.
MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK DRIVING DIRECTIONS
Interested in visiting what remains of the Miracle Strip Amusement Park? Here are some quick driving directions to help you find the original site.
FROM PANAMA CITY
THE FATE OF MIRACLE STRIP AMUSEMENT PARK
Though the park lasted over 4 decades, the shut down of the Miracle Strip Amusement Park was inevitable. Rising maintenance charges and inflated rent quickly put the park into debt, which they were unable to pay off due to a decline in guests.
The renovation of the legendary amusement park, Miracle Strip at Pier Park, had a brief opening in 2013 only to close a few years later. Today, Shipwreck Island Waterpark is the only associated park still open for business.
We hope that someday the Miracle Strip Amusement Park opens back up for business. Until that fateful day, we will look back at the park with fond memories of thrilling rides and great times.