Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
For over 40 years, the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach was the undisputed queen of beach entertainment and attractions in the
Florida Panhandle. Located across the street from the gulf near the M. B. Miller Pier, the park offered carnival-style rides, arcade games, and the state’s oldest wooden roller coaster. For generations of beach-goers, it was a must-do vacation standard.
Then in September 2004, the park closed for good. The land was slated for condominiums and the rides were sold and distributed around the country. Fond memories were all that was left of what had once been the Northwest Florida gulf coast’s place of summer fun and childhood dreams.
Opened in 1963, the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park was a traditional seaside park of “old Florida,” with a twist. While most of the rides like the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster were in the open air, several of the rides were placed inside dome-shaped buildings where lighting, smoke, mirrors, and pounding music created special effects. Best of all, for summer visitors wanting to escape the heat, these buildings were air conditioned.
Rides like Dante’s Inferno and the Abominable Snowman were popular, as was the Starliner, a wooden roller coaster built in 1963 and sold to Cypress Gardens in 2004. It was the oldest roller coast in Florida until 2009 when Cypress Gardens closed and the coaster was disassembled and put into storage.
Other rides included the Big Eli Ferris wheel which gave a sweeping view of Panama City Beach from the top, as well as several rides for younger children such as the Carousel, boats, train, and the Red Baron plane ride.
In April 2009, Jenny and Teddy Meeks realized something was missing from the Panama City Beach entertainment scene and they decided to do something about it. Although the Miracle Strip Amusement Park had been closed for several years, people still talked about all the fun they had as children or as young parents taking their children for some family fun. The Meeks decided to bring a little of the old park to Pier Park, the premier Panama City Beach shopping and dining venue.
The couple bought the original 1964 Allan Herschell Carousel, cleaned it up, put on a new top and new motor and placed it on land they leased from Pier Park across from the Grand Theatre. The Carousel was an immediate hit, so much so that they decided to purchase more of the old rides.
Currently the Meeks have found and refurbished the Carousel, the Balloon ride, the Biplane ride, and the Sea Dragon. They also found an exact replica of the Big Eli Ferris wheel built in 1975. Other restored rides include the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Scrambler, and old fashioned hand-crank cars that look like train engines and run on a track. There is also the Sock Hop Bouncing Pillow that is more fun than jumping on the bed.
In the center of all this carnival fun is a cool and quiet place with a koi pond and hundreds of butterflies of different species in their natural habitat. The Butterfly House is a fun and educational experience where visitors can walk among the butterflies and watch them feed on the various flowers. There is also a butterfly Birthing Center that follows the different stages of metamorphosis from egg, to caterpillar, to first flight. Butterflies include Monarchs, Swallowtails, Julia’s, and Zebra Longwings, Florida’s state butterfly.
Northwest Florida is an ideal location for the Butterfly House since it on the direct migration route for butterflies traveling back and forth from South America. The Miracle Strip Butterfly House is one of only two such facilities in the region. The other is the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre which is open from April to November. There is also a Butterfly Garden at the Tallahassee Museum.
The Meeks say they plan to add more rides and attractions, and recently moved the park to a larger tract of land on the east side of the Pier Park complex. Batting cages, a splash pad and remote control tug boats have been added.
Jenny Meeks says that, surrounded by the shopping, restaurants and entertainment of Pier Park, Miracle Strip @ Pier Park brings something for children as well as their parents to enjoy. She hopes this “one stop shop” will grow to be the new place for making old memories on Panama City Beach.
All day admission to Miracle Strip @ Pier Park is $18.99 plus tax for children and $22.99 plus tax for adults. Seniors age 62 and older, Active Military, and Bay County Residents are $15.99 plus tax. Annual passes are also available.
Miracle Strip @Pier Park is located at 284 Powell Adams Drive, Panama City Beach, Florida 32413, on the east side of Pier Park near the beach. The park is open daily in the summer from 12 noon to midnight and open in weekends and holidays in the spring and fall. The park is closed over the winter. Visit their website or call (850) 230-5200 for more information.