41st Annual Holiday Nights
Edison and Ford Winter Estates
If you go:
What: Waltzing Waters at Edison & Ford Holiday Nights
When: Open through Jan. 1. Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours are 5:30 to 9 p.m. daily.
Where: Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers
Tickets: $20 ($10 for ages 13-19, $2 for ages 6-12, free for younger)
Info: 334-7419 or edisonfordwinterestates.org
They don’t call it Waltzing Waters for nothing. Spend a few minutes with this Southwest Florida tradition, and you’ll understand.
The “liquid fireworks” show turns water into a dazzling display of light, color and movement. People often stop in their tracks and whip out their cameras to shoot photos or video. Or sometimes they just stand there, awestruck.
Occasionally, all they can manage is one word: “Wow.”
Now Waltzing Waters is dazzling people again after a 16-year absence from Southwest Florida. And it’s just as magical and spellbinding as you probably remember.
The water-fountain show is part of the annual Holiday Nights display at The Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.
People visiting Waltzing Waters often stand awestruck as jets of colorful water sway, shimmy, burst, pirouette, cascade and generally dance around to orchestral holiday music. The water even makes a dash-dash-dash sound to the “dashing through the snow” part of “Jingle Bells.”
The display is so beautiful, it brought tears to John Richards’ eyes during a recent visit.
“It makes my heart sing,” said Richards, 70, of Bonita Springs. “It’s incredible. What a thing!”
For decades, Southwest Florida audiences have agreed with Richards. Waltzing Waters has been a recurring tourist draw ever since debuting in the former Cape Coral Gardens attraction in 1964.
Now the grandson of the man who invented Waltzing Waters is carrying on the tradition in Southwest Florida and all over the world.
Michael Gunter Przystawik, president of Cape Coral company Liquid Fireworks, understands just why people love it so much. He loves it, too.
“It’s always been a part of my life,” Przystawik says. “I always thought it was cool.
“In the third grade, I did a report on all the patents and inventions my grandfather had (more than 100 for Waltzing Waters, alone). I recognized it was special.”
Waltzing Waters hasn’t been seen in Southwest Florida since 2000, when it ended a four-year run at The Shell Factory in North Fort Myers. It closed due to dwindling attendance and the cost of operating the show, said owner Tom Cronin at the time. Waltzing Waters attracted about 850,000 to 900,000 people every year.
Przystawik admits he wasn’t even thinking about doing another local show. He’s busy enough creating displays for places throughout the United States, Indonesia, China, Egypt, Pakistan and all over the world. He’s built fountain displays for Disney World, SeaWorld, the Mall of America and even a 50th birthday party for the Sultan of Brunei.
But then the Edison & Ford Winter Estates contacted him about bringing Waltzing Waters to the Fort Myers museum grounds, and he loved the idea.
Estates CEO Chris Pendleton thought Waltzing Waters would be a perfect fit for the museum. Thomas Edison, himself, experimented with water and sound at the Estates, his former home.
And, like Waltzing Waters, the Estates is an attraction that opens a window into Florida’s past. She hopes to make the show an annual Holiday Nights tradition.
“We’re interested in the history of old Florida,” Pendleton says. “And we’re a quote-unquote ‘old Florida attraction,’ too.”
Pendleton admits she’d never seen Waltzing Waters until Przystawik set it up by the Caloosahatchee River on the Estates grounds. But once she did, she was just as amazed as everybody else.
“You get light bouncing all over the place,” she says. “It’s pretty dazzling!”
The fountain display consists of a complex set-up of lights, pipes, nozzles, pumps and more. But, believe it or not, the system doesn’t use a computer to control the show. Instead, all that digital data is contained on two tracks of a compact disc: The music on one track and the choreography on the other.
“It’s all on a digital playback device,” Przystawik says. “It’s really reliable. When you think if it, it’s like a modern version of a player piano.”
Waltzing Waters debuted in Southwest Florida in 1964 as part of Cape Coral Gardens, a southwest Cape tourist attraction that also featured a rose garden, porpoise shows and animal exhibits. The Gardens were a marketing tool by the city’s early developers to lure potential home buyers.
And it worked, too. In its heyday, Waltzing Waters attracted about 300,000 people to Cape Coral every year. But then Cape Coral Gardens closed in 1970, and the water show moved to the Cape’s German American Social Club from 1972-1980 (where Przystawik’s father, Gunter Przystawik, was a founding member). Then it went to San Carlos Park from 1982-1990 and The Shell Factory from 1997-2000.
Now Przystawik dreams of creating more Waltzing Waters displays in Southwest Florida, including — he hopes — his hometown of Cape Coral.
Those dancing waters are in his blood, he admits. Przystawik’s father came to the United States in the early 60s to set up the display at Cape Coral Gardens, but he ended up getting hired as their permanent operator.
“He said, ‘I’ll try it for six months,’” Przystawik says. “And we never left.”
Przystawik’s grandfather, inventor Otto Przystawik, died in 1971, and his dad died in 1991. But Przystawik wants to carry on the family tradition. It’s always been a part of his life.
“When I was a kid, I was the Waltzing Waters Kid,” he says. “Everybody knew me. Because Waltzing Waters was such a landmark.”
Przystawik loves mesmerizing people for a living. And while Waltzing Waters might be an old Florida attraction, he says, some things never go out of style.
“It’s timeless,” he says. “8 years old and 80 years old — people get it. It’s ageless.”
Wendy Richards, 66, of Bonita Springs seemed to agree. She was just as dazzled as her husband during a recent visit to the Estates.
“It’s fabulous!” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
THE STORY OF WALTZING WATERS
1920s: Otto Przystawik, a German inventor, comes up with an idea to synchronize a fountain with symphonic music. He begins selling these to stores and restaurants.
1951: Having learned the trade while growing up around the dancing waters, son Gunter Przystawik signs on with the company at age 12.
1953: Waltzing Waters makes its U.S. debut at Radio City Music Hall. The Rockettes pose for pictures in front of the liquid chorus line.
1964: Cape Coral development company Gulf American invites the Przystawiks to Lee County.
1965: The first permanent set of Waltzing Waters opens in the (now-defunct) Cape Coral Gardens, a tourist attraction in southwest Cape Coral. Developers Gulf American built it to entice prospective homeowners.
1970: Waltzing Waters and the Cape Coral Gardens close. Przystawik buys back the equipment from Gulf American.
Later in 1970: The German-American Club in Cape Coral invites the family to build a Waltzing Waters on the club’s largely undeveloped property on Pine Island Road. Przystawik builds a lake and adds water skiers and marine mammals.
1982: The attraction closes. Reason: Low attendance and rising costs. The family reopens in a small indoor spot on U.S. 41 at the entrance to San Carlos Park.
1990: Przystawik shuts down Waltzing Waters. Reason: Low attendance.
1991: Gunter Przystawik dies of cancer at age 53. Son Michael becomes the third generation to run the business.
1998: A bigger, more high-tech Waltzing Waters opens in the lake at The Shell Factory, drawing big crowds.
2000: Attraction closes. Reason: Rising costs and dwindling attendance.
2016: Waltzing Waters returns as a holiday attraction during Holiday Nights at The Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.
— News-Press file story