Central Florida attractions thank Disney for bringing visitors, valued employees

Gatorland, ICON Park and other attractions celebrate Disney 50th

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida attractions are joining Disney World in its celebration of 50 historic years. Many Disney World visitors see other attractions during their vacation, some business owners said the theme parks helped bring in quality employees.

“Word of Disney coming to Florida was certainly the most welcome news that the Florida attractions have ever heard,” Cypress Garden founder Dick Pope said in 1965. “All of our attractions believe is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to them.”

Cypress Gardens was Florida’s first theme park, offering water sports and a botanical garden in Winter Haven. It’s now the site of Legoland Florida. The sentiment from Pope is still being felt today by attractions throughout Central Florida, including Gatorland in Orlando.

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“Gatorland’s got a 22-year jump on them when it comes to being open here in Central Florida, but I really believe we wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for Disney and the impact they’ve had on our community,” Gatorland CEO Mark Mchugh said.

Gatorland opened in 1949 along US-441 which at the time, was the main thoroughfare from North Florida to Miami. A popular attraction with families stopping along their travels to learn about Florida’s wildlife and to get up close and personal to alligators.

“That all changed in the 50s and 60s when they built [Interstate 4] and the turnpike. All of a sudden people weren’t driving past Gatorland and our business was dying. Disney opened in 1971, and all these millions of people started coming and it just revitalized the tourism community here and that’s the only reason we’re still alive,” McHugh said.

Gatorland doesn’t consider Disney competition, more like business partners offering an experience you can’t find at Disney, like feeding the gators.

“We’re like that little dog running around the feet of the big dog picking up any crumbs that they drop, and they don’t leave many crumbs,” McHugh said.

Fun Spot amusement parks also benefit from the visitors pulled in by Disney World, according to Vice President of Marketing John Chidester.

“No long lines and no long waits to ride attractions here,” Chidester said.

Chidester said the park attracts customers with its affordable tickets and smaller crowds.

Over at one of Orlando’s newer attractions ICON Park, CEO Chris Jaskiewicz said Disney World has brought more than just visitors but quality employees.

“Disney for decades has attracted, recruited, trained, and retained outstanding employees, managers, and leaders and they’re the best in the business,” Jaskiewicz said.

In fact, Jaskiewicz is a proud former Cast Member having worked at Disney World in the 80s. He still has his original Disney nametag.

“When I look at this nametag I first think of the training and commitment that everyone had when they trained me,” Jaskiewicz said. “I had several jobs at Disney. I was a landscaper for many summers. I was a bartender. I was a waiter.”

Jaskiewicz’s dad also worked at Disney World, receiving a 35-year-service award retiring as Vice President. Now he’s following in the family business, opening his own attraction featuring this 400-foot wheel with shopping and dining options. He said he’s hired many former Disney World cast members onto his team.

“They have really raised the bar. Everyone in town knows that they have to provide excellent service, their people have to be extremely friendly, and the product has to be high quality,” said Jaskiewicz. “I carry that ethic with me here at ICON Park because we’re trying to do the same thing. Put the stake in the ground and elevate.”

ICON Park offers a special discount for Disney World visitors. Half-off admission to The Wheel if you show your Disney World ticket. ICON Park calls it the ‘Park Topper Ticket.’


About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a multimedia journalist who joined the News 6 team in February 2020. Crystal comes to Central Florida from WKMG’s sister station, WJXT in Jacksonville, where she worked as a traffic anchor and MMJ.