by Oliver Todd at Kenwood Travel Florida Holidays.
Interstate I-75 is a highway in Florida. There’s a famous stretch of this road, between Weston on the East coast and Naples on the West, dubbed Alligator Alley. Most of the road traverses the Everglades and is flanked by waterways. One evening, on a road-trip from Atlanta to Miami, I found myself driving along this causeway-like strip of road in a tropical rainstorm. I had heard tell of Alligator Alley but dismissed it as an urban myth. I mean, it sounded so far-fetched, so exaggeratedly ‘American’. (What would be the equivalent in the UK, Squirrel Lane?) Could there really be a road that was inhabited by gators?
Sure enough, as I peered out of the car window, windscreen wipers barely coping in the downpour, there they were. Dozens of them were crawling out of their brown, murky river-dwellings, pummelled by the rain, slithering onto to the tarmac, seeking what? Refuge? A snack? I’d like to say I wasn’t afraid, safe within the moving metal box that was our hired Chevy Cavalier, but that wasn’t entirely true. The severe weather had reduced our speed to a crawl that would have allowed the beasts to attack should the urge have taken them. An onslaught of gnashing teeth seemed possible, if not exactly imminent. We proceeded with trepidation. Perish the thought we’d brake down.
Despite the fear factor it was an unforgettably awesome sight. As thrilling as swimming with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or Komodo trekking on Rinca Island (not that I’ve experienced either of these).
It lead me to question whether Florida could be as genuinely challenging a holiday destination as it is a fun and vivacious one. Most people look upon the Sunshine State as a light-hearted, crowd-pleasing centre of surface-level entertainment. Causing a splash on the log-flume and taking a selfie with Mickey hardly constitute the pinnacle of self-discovery. But that’s fine. That’s not what we sign up for. ‘Profound Experience Guaranteed’ it does not say on Florida’s tin. And yet, yet…
I thought I’d take a look at some of the more potentially enriching ways to spend your Floridian holiday. Here’s my top 5 Guide to Florida Without The Theme Parks.
#1 Take a Kayak Eco-Tour, Grand Lakes – A journey as exhilarating as any roller-coaster, but rather more tranquil, this twice-daily tour on Shingle Creek puts your paddling power to the test while exposing you to nature at its most beautiful: watch out for gators sharing your water, and marvel at bald eagles in the skies above.
#2 Play Golf, Orlando – This sounds obvious, but few activities are as enriching as sport, and golf in Florida gains extra kudos from taking place in such picturesque surroundings. Central to all sport is the personal achievement of overcoming difficult challenges combined with the physical feeling of the action itself. Theme parks may be fun but they come up short in these respects. Tee off in one of the world’s most varied golf destinations: Orlando alone is home to over 170 courses.
#3 Watch a Skateboard Competition, Tampa – Since 1993 the world’s most prestigious Pro Skateboarding event has been held at the Skate Park of Tampa (SpoT). Hard to imagine with the influx of Street League and the X-Games, but before their arrival this contest was number one on the skate circuit and so it remains among the hardcore pros. This contest is about pride, not pay-outs and as such produces the highest level performances. Fantastic for spectators. This year’s show-down takes place 21st – 23rd March.
#4 Go Gator Trekking, Everglades – If official estimates are to be believed, Florida’s myriad waters are home to over 1.25 million wild alligators. Head to Everglades National Park, rent a bike and see how many you can spot. The creatures like to bask in the sun along the concrete pathways and are accustomed to cyclists whizzing by. Do use your common sense though: don’t get too close and never try to touch them!
#5 Experience Art by Moonlight, Miami – Educational programmes at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami are inventive and varied. MOCA by Moonlight is a new series of art classes, forums and lectures held when the sun goes down. Alternatively, Jazz at MOCA performances are very popular and the gallery hosts up to 10 different innovative and provocative annual exhibitions which challenge the way we view modern art.