Splendid China, the bizarre theme park once down the road from Disney World

In December 1993, just down the road from Disney World in Orlando, Florida, another theme park opened. Splendid China was owned by a travel agency called China Travel Services and a US company called American Eastern International.

"Its only tie to China is that the government licenses the company to operate a park near Hong Kong," according to the Orlando Sentinel at the time. Thing is, that wasn't true.

From SFGate:

Hoping to capitalize on the rich tourism industry surrounding Walt Disney World, the companies teamed up to bring a theme park filled with miniature Chinese landmarks to the middle of a residential neighborhood in Kissimmee. Up went over 60 replicas, among them a small Forbidden City, a not-so-Great Wall of China, dozens of terra cotta warriors and a recreation of a street in Suzhou during the 1300s. More than 100 artisans were flown in from China to craft the replicas, and eight chefs were tasked with creating authentic regional cuisine to serve in the park.

The park also featured an insult to Tibetans in the form of a replica of Potala Palace, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama until 1959 when he was exiled by the Chinese government. During the park's life, it was a hotbed of protests and other controversies as stories abounded of Chinese employees being mistreated and some defecting to seek asylum. Finally, in 2003, the Sentinel apparently determined that the park was—surprise!—controlled by the Chinese government. That same year, the park closed and became a popular destination for urban explorers. In 2017, Splendid China was torn down to make way for a Margaritaville Hotel & Resort.

image: Pat David (CC BY-SA 2.0)