Fantasy of Flight to close as tourist attraction

Kermit Weeks announced March 4 that Fantasy of Flight, his central Florida aviation-theme tourist attraction, will close to the public after April 6, the last day of this year’s SUN ‘n FUN airshow/fly-in just 20 miles down I-4.

Fantasy of Flight founder Kermit Weeks with the TBM Avenger.

Fantasy of Flight’s Kermit Weeks with the TBM Avenger.

The site will continue to function as an aircraft restoration center and will welcome group functions such as weddings, business meetings and corporate events, he said. Of a reported 65 employees, half may lose their jobs.

“We’re currently outside the center of mass tourism and not perceived as a destination,” Weeks told local Orlando and Tampa media.

Opened in 1995, the attraction had to raise its admission fee to today’s $29.95 ($15.95 for kids) — expensive for an air museum, but a fraction of Disney World’s near-$100 day rate.

Weeks told local media that Fantasy of Flight “never made money a single year.”

Weeks said he plans to re-open the venue in late 2014 as a scaled-down museum. But he also told media, “I’m going to get some of the best minds in the design business. We’re going to look like the big boys up the street (e.g. Disney and Universal theme parks) but with a completely different product.”

For years, Weeks has talked about offering aviation to the public not as past history, but as an element of a modern-day active, adventurous lifestyle.

However, next month’s end to daily tourist operations will reportedly shutter some of Fantasy of Flight’s recent new offerings, including a WingWalk tour and a Zip Line.

Weeks told The Lakeland Ledger, “I turned 60 last year… it’s time to move on. Instead of focusing on a business that quite honestly is not sustainable, I can focus my energy and resources towards a dream that will sustain.”

Fantasy Of FlightFantasy of Flight is midway between Orlando and Tampa on busy Interstate 4. It boasts two runways (2,500 and 5,000 feet) and a large adjacent lake that hosts the SUN ‘n FUN’s annual “Splash-In.”

Weeks’ collection of more than 100 aircraft is said to be the largest in private hands. He relocated his operations from South Florida in 1992 after his Tamiami location was decimated by Hurricane Andrew.

Fantasy of Flight boasts a custom-built terminal and hangar complex of 1930s-1940s design and décor. Among Weeks’ unique aircraft is a huge 1944 Short Sunderland four-engine flying boat said by the late R.E.G. Davies, Smithsonian historian to be one of only four extent after World War II.

“Fantasy” visitors would enter through an Art Deco air terminal and coffee shop, then plunge into the dark days of World War II face-to-face with a B-17. After walking through several other engrossing “experiential” scenarios, guests could freely wander around several hangars full of airplanes from World War I, the Golden Age of Aviation, World War II and post-war types. Many days, Weeks would fly one or more of his vintage planes for the crowd.

© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved

Comments

  1. Norm Hill says:

    Just looked at the Fantasy of Flight web site and was devastated to read that the museum has been closed to the public.
    I have been a regular visitor (every year or so) to the museum and have described the various aircraft to my Grand kids, 18/16/10 who now have expressed an interest.
    Promised them a visit in August this year much to their excitement.
    Now I read this sad news.
    What do I tell them after building expectations for several months that during our August vacation to Florida from the UK the museum is no longer open.
    Do you have an expected late 2014 opening date planned

  2. Ronald L. Parsons says:

    I m sorry to here of the museum closing. We had the wonderful experience of being there and was VERY impressed by the displays. My wife never was very interested in aircraft until she was there. I ve always been a history buff and aircraft history especially. Again we are sad to hear of the closing.

  3. Mr. Weeks,
    I want to thank you for what you have done. I am a private pilot although not current at this time. I still look up every time I hear a plane go over and wish I was flying it. I took the time not long ago to come and see what you had built. Not knowing what I was missing till I walked in. Wow Just awesome! I read through some of the comments posted and found that some people expect or think they are entitled to everything being free. That is why they will never have any thing and are jealous of those who do and strive to be the best at what they do. It take hard work and a commitment to dedication and drive to do what you have done. My hat off to you. You could have been selfish and self consuming with what you have but instead you chose to give back! Thank you again for what you have given and I do appreciate the opportunity you gave me to come and be a part of what you have done.
    Keep on keeping on and enjoy your dream!
    Best Regards,
    Scott

  4. Bob (Indiana) says:

    Mr. Weeks: Thank you for making the effort to provide an experience by vision and sound from aviation and battles past. It is was your effort, vision and risk that made it happen. Things change. Do not let the condescending comments of ungrateful and perhaps jealous types take away the positive you have done. As one now 75 who has enjoyed the pleasure and pain of expense in ownership of a personal aircraft I can say it is not just a rich mans game. Sacrifice is what makes it possible for many of us in GA. To experience by air and visit wonderful sites from Alaska to the Bahamas for an average kid has been a real life trip. Wonder what the envious say to the $100,000 boat buyers.

  5. I believe the article said that the venue will be downsized and restructured to draw visitors. Kermit is very in tune with GA knows its needs and the needs of its members. Lets see what is in store.

  6. Daryl Bortel says:

    It’s too bad that they don’t allow GA pilots to land there and take in the tour and the restaurant. They lost a lot of business by doing this.

  7. Don Burns says:

    I had the opportunity to contribute to this museum in a small way and am truly sorry to see it close. It is a wonderful contribution to aviation.

  8. Steve Markus says:

    If he really wanted to, Kermit could keep the place open on his own dime. Not really about education, but about funding his personal restorations through his shrine, er . . museum. Has the cash well dried up?

  9. John Wesley says:

    The closing to the public is not proof that aviation is a rich mans game, but it is proof that we in aviation, Kermit included, are doing what is needed to appeal to the non-flying interested public. There are just simply not enough interested participants to support GA in general and a great attraction in particular, the public does not know about Fantasy of Flight, so they don’t go there. it is typical of all GA aviation related venues, it is never heard of outside of aviation related media.

    We needed to quit preaching to the choir 30 years ago, now it is too late, how sad this is.

  10. Sorry to see this excellent museum close – but excited about how it’s going to morph and change. We were fortunate to have visited last year during one of our yearly winter breaks to the Orlando area. Love the 1930s-1940s Art Deco style hangar / coffee shop / gift shop. Of course as a person who’s involved with aircraft maintenance (UPS Airlines) I enjoyed seeing the restoration/fabrication shops and the impressive collection of engines, rare aircraft hulls and components Mr. Weeks has lovingly accumulated and restored. I’m quite confident that whatever shape the Fantasy of Flight Museum reemerges as will be worth the wait and be a lasting tribute to the art and beauty of aviation.

  11. Norman Davis says:

    It is unfortunate that the museum will close to the public. I don’t believe Mr Weeks understands how a family of average means can afford his and Disney’s high admission prices. Again, his closing will add to the concept that aviation is a rich person’s hobby. Too bad. A lot of future pilots may be discouraged from flying.

    I visited the museum the day John Glenn rode into space on the Shuttle. We saw the Shuttle take off and climb into the sky. Quite a thrill. The museum was also extremely interesting.

    I returned a few years later following the admission hike. I determined the price was much too high. I departed quite discouraged disappointed. Now there will be no need to return. I can spend my hard earned money in better places.

    I hope there are others out there who are more enlightened than Mr. Weeks and his fancy high priced museum, who will pick up the ball he’s dropping and illustrate that aviation can be enjoyed by many walks of life.

    • I’ve been to ths great attraction twice!
      And to frankly make the absurd statement; “aviation is a richs man’s game” is totally unfair and irrelavant – this WAS open tho the “general public’!
      If I were to guess, the “demise ” could largely be attributed to, as they say in real estate, “location, lolocation, location”! This IS the problem with Mr. Weeks having an airport location being to distant from the “main actiion” (Disneyland) as is the case here.
      If the facility were located with 3-6 miles of Disneyland, a “piggy back” opportunity, that is capitlzing on the higher volume traffic created by tourists or vacation/tour packaging INCLUDING Fantasy of Flight, would have abled them to reduce ticket fares hence resulting in a greater sales volume. Ineffective or lack of “creative” marketing and sales promotion – perhaps? This INCLUDES, As John Wesley stated; ALL of General Aviation is GULITY of “preaching to the chior”!

  12. Sam Presley says:

    I would like to congratulate all the fine people associated with Fantasy Of Flight for there dedication to aviation over the years.Thank You!

  13. Sad day when Fantasy of Flight closes. I would have enjoyed taking my grandkids there.

  14. Captain C says:

    An interesting place, but watching KW interact with vistors and kids at FOF one got the impression that the place was really built as a shrine to allow him to show-off his wealth (which was handed down) and not really to share the excitement of aviation. Definitely a “look and what I have and you don’t” vibe. Guess people got tired of paying to visit his personal garage.

  15. Guido B says:

    Truly sorry to see this. Had hoped to visit one day.

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