Make us your home page

Dinosaur World manager takes pride in prehistoric park

Marlene Svensson, general manager of Dinosaur World attraction in Plant City, loves working in the kid-friendly roadside attraction off Interstate 4.


Marlene Svensson, general manager of Dinosaur World attraction in Plant City, loves working in the kid-friendly roadside attraction off Interstate 4.

Behind the towering replica of a T-rex glowering over Interstate 4 lies a roadside attraction thriving in the shadow of SheiKra and Mission: Space. Dinosaur World near Plant City glories in low-tech, with 150 full-scale replicas of giant reptiles that don't stomp, chomp or roar.

Founder Christer Svensson bought the shuttered Gator Jungle alligator farm in 1997. He moved with his family from Sweden the following year and opened Dinosaur World.

Marlene Svensson, his daughter and general manager, talked with the Times about how Dinosaur World got started and competes in Florida's crowded tourism landscape. Here's an edited version of the conversation:

How did your dad decide to build a dinosaur attraction in Florida?

He was in the entertainment business and opened up a few (dinosaur) parks in Europe in the '70s, beginning of '80s. He wanted to do a big, big park somewhere. We'd been on vacation here many years in the winter when it's very cold in Sweden.

How did he end up in Plant City?

He was looking in the Orlando area. It was very expensive, several million. He knew there was a gator park here. It was closed … but he met the man, and he wanted to sell it. There were 2,000 gators here. My mom was so afraid. The (owner) picked them up, but she was afraid they were going forget some.

There never were dinosaurs in Florida, right?

No. Florida was underwater at the time. We are an educational park for people who are interested in dinosaurs.

What's your target market?

Families with kids 3 to 10 years old. Even 2- and 3-year-olds know the names, know if they were meat eaters or plant eaters. We have fossil digs, where kids can keep three fossils for free. We have a bone yard with a (buried) Stegosaurus skeleton. We have a video cave and skeleton garden. As kids get older, they're interested in other stuff, they want more high tech.

So how do you compete with the Orlando parks on one side and Busch Gardens on the other?

We have a lower entrance fee: $12.75 for adults, $9.75 for children. We don't have a parking fee. They can bring a picnic lunch and coolers. We don't have any food service, but people can have pizza delivered to the park. We have a lot of school field trips coming out here. We give them a good rate, only $5. And a lot of day cares.

So, it's strictly a value play?

It's peaceful. It's no stress. Disney World is a great park. But for most of the stuff, you have to stand in line for 20 or 30 minutes.

A few years ago, your dad said the park drew 200,000 visitors and made a profit of $400,000 on annual revenue of $1 million. Are you doing as well now?

We had a little drop (in attendance) last year, just a few percent. Revenues are a little over $1 million. We're doing great.

How do you make money on such a modest gate?

We don't spend a lot of money on advertising. We have a few billboards but just took down a few toward Orlando. We have rack cards in hotels, restaurants. We have about 14 employees. Six are family members: me and my husband, my sister and her husband, and our parents.

Have you ever tried special effects?

Once, we put a sound by the Tyrannosaurus rex. It was like roaring. We had so many people complaining that it scares the children. And we don't want to do that. We took it down.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

Dinosaur World manager takes pride in prehistoric park 01/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 4:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]