Real estate in the bustling tourist mecca of Orlando, Florida is a hot commodity so it is rare for any unused space to be left abandoned, but the old Splendid China theme park has been rotting away since its closure in 2003.
Originally opened in 1993 as a stateside replica of Splendid China, Shenzen (which is still in operation) the China-centric theme park featured over 60 miniature replicas of famous Chinese locations. This included 1/10 scale models of such grand monuments as the Great Wall of China, the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an, and even a four-story version of the towering Leshan Buddha. The attention to detail in the miniature scenes was astounding with the Great Wall being built brick-by-tiny-brick and even a little imperial wedding party taking place in the Forbidden City diorama. In contrast to the other bright, loud wonderlands crowded into Orlando, Splendid China was a quiet display recalling China’s majesty.
This graceful quality was the main attraction for some and the biggest issue for others. Splendid China was actually owned by an agency of the Chinese government, which led many local Floridians to decry the displays in the park as nothing more than propaganda, especially in regard to its depiction of many Tibetan and Mongolian structures. While the park was in operation it saw repeated protests and even a campaign to disallow school field trips to the park.
The park also faced an issue with its own performers. When Splendid China opened it featured dozens of the best Chinese dancers, jugglers, and acrobats. However after a number of the Chinese citizens escaped the park and declared asylum in the US, the park began hiring local talent.
When the park closed in 2003, it was blamed on a decline in tourism, but there may have been more political reasons. After the abrupt closure, the thieves and vandals swooped in, taking most of what wasn’t nailed down and spray-painting what was. Today many of the miniatures, damaged and desecrated, still remain, but plans are finally underway to begin dismantling the park. Splendid China was a grand experiment in building a different kind of park, but now it is just a grand location for urban exploration.
Update: Splendid China has been torn down, leaving only rubble. Explore at your own risk.
Update January 2017: Splendid China now the site of construction for a Margaritaville resort.
Update May 2017: Echoes and remnants of this splendid failure continue to persist. You can find a Chinese-themed supermarket in Formosa Gardens Village complete with pagodas and figures (including a panda).
Know Before You Go
Splendid China miniature buildings can be found in a parking lot of a decorating store located at 2640 W. Orange Blossom Trail, Apopka, Florida. Last time I was there, the owner, who purchased these miniatures at auction, was willing to sell. Inside the store we found miniature statues from Splendid China also for sale. All that remains of Splendid China is the wall that runs along Formosa Gardens Drive.