Most kids today don’t even know what a drive-in is. What better way to experience the traditional way to view a movie on the big screen than from your car.
There is a handful of them within driving distance, including the Ocala Drive-In.
The Ocala Drive-In opened in March 1948 as Dyers Drive-in. It only had one screen at the time.
“The original screen from when it opened was the width of a small building and straight up and down, called a flat format. Mid to late 60s they added the two wings on each side for a wider screen,” said owner John Watzke.
The property switched owners a couple of times, then sat vacant until Watzke took over in 2011. He added a second screen a few years later.
“Everyone thought I was kind of crazy but I was raised in the drive-in. My family has worked in theaters for over 100 years. My grandfather was a projectionist, my dad, my brother and I and our sons all worked in the theater,” Watzke said. “It’s not a get rich quick thing. It’s a passion.”
Watzke charges $6 dollars for adults, $3 bucks for kids six to 12 years old. Movies are free for kids five and under.
“We offer two movies for half the price of one at the regular theater,” Watzke said.
The lot can fit about 300 vehicles. You can watch some of the classics, or check out new releases. In fact, at some point during the pandemic, The Ocala Drive-In was the only theater still open playing new releases in the country. The outdoor venue offers a safe and unique way to watch movies.
“The pandemic was a terrible thing to happen to this country and a lot of businesses didn’t make it. On the flip side, the drive-in gave the younger generation an opportunity to experience a drive-in and the older generation a chance to reminisce on when they were younger and it became a safe haven for families,” Watzke said.
This drive-in combines traditional and updated technology. The movies are shown using large digital projectors, unlike the traditional film.
The audio is still transmitted through the radio in the car, but with a much-improved sound.
The Ocala Drive-In is open seven days a week, offering two separate flicks a night. The theater also serves food and refreshments. Watzke even serves signature dishes from his hometown of New Orleans including the traditional-style muffuletta sandwich. It consists of a muffuletta loaf (9 1/2 inch round bread shipped to the Ocala Drive-In from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans ) split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated muffuletta-style olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella.
Watzke said the venue provides more than just a movie.
“If you want to see a movie and you don’t mind being stuck in a room with a bunch of people you don’t know, the walk-ins are fine. The walk-ins are nothing more than a movie, the drive-in is a memory. You’re experiencing a family get-together. The children are walking around the grassy area playing with each other before the movie, and families are coming together. It’s a memory,” Watzke said.
The theater is open even when it rains. Watzke said it doesn’t affect the quality of the picture.
A few things to know if you plan to visit the Ocala Drive-In. Outside food and drink are NOT permitted. You can’t purchase your movie tickets early, you’ll have to get them when you arrive. Dogs are allowed on the property if they are leashed, and you can bring lawn chairs to sit outside of your vehicle during the movie.
Have you experienced a drive-in movie? What are your thoughts? Let us know below in the comments.
Drive-in theaters in the Central Florida area
- Ocala Drive-in Theatre at 4850 S. Pine Ave. in Ocala. 352-629-1325
- Silver Moon Drive-in Theatre at 4100 New Tampa Highway in Lakeland. 863-682-0849
- Fun Lan Drive-in Theatre at 2302 E. Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa. 813-234-2311
- Joy-Lan Drive-in Theatre at 16414 U.S. Highway 301 in Dade City. 352-567-5085
- Ruskin Family Drive-in Theatre at 5011 N. U.S. Highway 41 in Ruskin. 813-645-1455
Other drive-in theaters in Florida