The Ghost of the Starliner

Starliner Rollercoaster

Today, Miracle Strip Amusement Park is only a fond memory for many people that visited Panama City Beach in the 20th century. Although, it only lasted four years into the 21st century,  Miracle Strip Amusement Park was the most successful attraction on the Gulf Coast of Florida for 40 years.

For many years it ranked in the top ten most attended attractions in Florida.

On a site directly adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, the park was built on a gamble. In a time when roller coasters were rapidly fading in popularity, the investors in MSAP elected to risk the purchase of a brand new, custom-designed roller coaster.

The new coaster was called ‘Starliner’ and, in 1963, the Starliner was the first coaster built in Florida. It was an “out-and-back” style designed by John Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. The Starliner remained the top draw at the park for its entire lifespan.



The rapidly growing tourist trade in the sixties at Panama City Beach assured that Miracle Strip Amusement Park was a success from the outset. The Starliner proved that including a roller coaster was a wise choice.

In the early years, the rides outlying the Starliner were provided by traveling carnivals that would bring their rides to the beach for their off-season, which was the spring and summer months.

The up-and-coming park came to the attention of Ed Nielson who owned Fair Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Nielson joined the partners at MSAP and moved his rides and arcade concession to Panama City Beach.

Over the years, as shareholders sold out, the park became fully owned by the James Lark Sr. family.

The final season ended in September 2004. Many factors contributed to the park’s demise. There was a downturn in family bookings due to area’s bad reputation caused by rowdy students on spring break. Probably the greatest factor was the condo-boom of the nineties.

The land where the park sat had far greater profit potential as high-rise condominiums, and in the end, it was pure economics that broke the hearts of so many people.

Miracle Strip Amusement Park
Night View of Miracle Strip Amusement Park


I think, if you stand by the Gulf water on a clear night and listen very carefully, you can barely hear the screams of ghost riders as the Starliner falls headlong down that first drop.

18 thoughts on “The Ghost of the Starliner

  1. Kitty Gatlin says:

    I never rode on it.. .I was a chicken. Iremember t well and of course the Miracle Mile. Thanks for the memories. ?❤

    • Kenny Redd says:

      I bet you would have liked riding the Starliner, Kitty. I rode it for the last time just before it was sold to another park in Florida.

      • Sam says:

        Hi Kenny! Do you have any information on the current status of the Starliner? Is it just sitting in sections in a warehouse somewhere? Is there any hope of it ever bring re-built?

        • Kenny Redd says:

          Hey, Sam. It was in storage at Lego Land for a while. I think it has been parted-out. They probably sold the timbers to reclaimers…probably sold the cars to collectors. Sadly, it will never return.

  2. Carl says:

    The Starliner was the first roller coaster I ever rode. The only other coasters I’ve been on have been the old-school wooden ones. I am not about to go onto any coaster that loops, spins, inverts, etc. It’s a guaranteed way of making me lose my cookies.

  3. Terry says:

    So many wonderful memories at MSAP! My family went every year, so I got to experience all of those rides growing up. Although I now live in CA, PCB is still one of my favorite places to visit and very near & dear to my heart.

  4. KENNY NOLIN says:

    panama city is nothing like it use to be, to go now you have to just about mortage your house, i choose to go to clearwater beach it is 1/2 the price n ten times more to do n familt oriented,,,pc is a thing of the past!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kenny Redd says:

      Many people share your sentiments, Kenny. I wish there were more family-owned and family-oriented attractions left on PCB.

  5. Scott says:

    I made my first trip to PCB in the summer of 1967. I continued to go fairly regularly into the late 80s, but after 1996 I had not returned. Finally, in 2015 I returned to PCB to find a dramatically different place than my wonderful memories gave me. I will be making my fourth straight trip back in May. It’s not what it used to be but the beach and the Gulf are the same, and that’s the biggest thing for me. When I came back in 2015 I drove down to where MSAP used to be and at first I had difficulty finding it. It was hard to believe all those rides sat on that small plot of land. I still miss it. I was 9 years old on my first trip and I have so many wonderful memories of that park. You can’t go back but I sure wish I could.

    • Kenny Redd says:

      There are a lot of people that feel the same as you, Scott. I bet someone that visited PCB in 1936 and came back in 1956 would have seen obvious changes but they probably would not be overwhelmed by the differences. Thanks for commenting..!

  6. Richard says:

    I remember cruising down The Strip and meeting these three girls walking along. We all wound up going to the park and even though I was 17 the Starliner was my first roller coaster because I couldn’t chicken out in front of them. Then the Abominable Snowman was where a first kiss happened. 🙂

  7. Georgann McNabb says:

    PCB & MSAP is one of my clearest & favorite memories from the early 60’s. We stayed in a Mom/Pop motel out of town every year. I was blessed with the opportunity to purchase a condo on Long Beach last year, just a few blocks from the MSAP site. Loving making memories with my grandchildren in PCB!

    • Kenny Redd says:

      Georgann, I’m glad you are able to live in a place where you have so many happy memories. Now you’re making happy memories with your grandchildren. Thanks for commenting on!

  8. Olivia Valentine Dykes says:

    It’s awesome reading this I remember the first time I rode it. I remember being about 3 or 4 and the park hadn’t opened yet and my Papa (Val Valentine Jr.) asked me is I wanted to ride but I was far too small so I remember sitting next to him in the front row while he held my tiny body down. It was one of my happiest memories with my Papa.

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