One of the most popular movie-going options of the 50’s and 60’s was the drive-in theater, also known as “cinema al fresco”, where patrons parked their vehicles in front of a large outdoor movie screen to watch films in the privacy of their cars. Drive-ins rose to prominence after the end of World War II, reaching their peak in the 1950’s and 1960’s but declining in later years as a result of increased land values and competition from new media such as color television and the VCR. Few drive-in theaters still exist today, but just like vinyl records and vintage cars, the nostalgic appeal of movies under the stars is attractive to both old and young audiences.
Central Florida is fortunate enough to have a number of drive-ins still open and operating. Orlando lost its last drive-in theater, the Ri-Mar Drive-in in the Lockhart District, when its lone screen was destroyed in a fire in 1998. But visitors to the Orlando area can consider visiting a nearby city to capture the essence of this movie-going experience of yesteryear.
The Silvermoon Drive-in in Lakeland is not only the most affordable option, but it’s the closest one to Orlando, located 61 miles away and amounting to a drive of about one hour and 10 minutes. Serving Polk County for over 60 years, the two-screen theater is open seven nights a week. General admission for a double feature costs $4 per person; children between the ages of four and nine are admitted for $1.
Its snack bar, serving a variety of favorites such as fresh-baked homemade pizza and grilled sausage and peppers, is decorated with photos of drive-ins from years ago. It also serves breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings for visitors of the Silvermoon Swap Shop, the property’s flea market open from 5:50 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The Silvermoon Drive-in is located at 4100 U.S. 92 West in Lakeland, just off the County Line Road exit on I-4.
The Fun-Lan Drive-in Theatre in Tampa is the second closest, located an hour and a half away from Orlando. Set to mark its 60th year in business in January 2010, Fun-Lan is the only four-screen drive-in theater in Central Florida; its fourth screen was added in 2006, making it one of the most state-of-the-art drive-ins in the area. General admission per movie is $6 per person; children between the ages of four and nine are admitted for $2.
Besides the usual popcorn, pizza and hot dogs, Fun-Lan’s snack bar also offers meatball subs and BBQ sandwiches. Like the Silvermoon, Fun-Lan’s property also doubles as a flea market and its snack bar serves breakfast for its hungry vendors and patrons. The Fun-Lan Swap Shop, open Fridays through Mondays, is one of Tampa’s busiest flea markets.
The Fun-Lan Drive-in is located at 2302 East Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, just off North 22nd Street.
The Ruskin Family Drive-in in Ruskin is the furthest from Orlando, located 100 miles away and amounting to a drive of about an hour and 45 minutes. Operating for over 55 years, the Ruskin Family Drive-in considers itself “the last family drive-in” because it runs on family values; for example, it does not allow alcoholic beverages on the premises or show movies deemed inappropriate for children. General admission for a double feature, viewed from the theater’s 2,000-square foot screen, costs $5 per person; children between the ages of four and nine are admitted for $1.
Like the other theaters, the snack bar serves freshly baked pizzas, grilled hot dogs and hot buttered popcorn among its selections. The drive-in strongly urges guests to buy refreshments from its snack bar because concession purchases are the only source of income that directly supports the theater.
The Ruskin Family Drive-in is located at 5011 U.S. 41 North in Ruskin.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
Source: “Drive-in theaters nearby Orlando offer a step back into the past” by Michael Salerno -Orlando Examiner. Read full article at: http://www.examiner.com/x-10554-Orlando-Tourist-Spots-Examiner~y2009m6d8-Drivein-theaters-nearby-Orlando-offer-a-step-back-into-the-past?#comments.