Guns, Gators & Rodeos… 10 days in the ‘Real Florida’

Guns, Gators & Rodeos… 10 days in the ‘Real Florida’

When most holidaymakers think of Florida they conjure up images of Disney, rollercoasters or Mickey & Minnie, but there really is much more to the Sunshine State than meets the eye…!

What I wanted to get out of our 10-day trip to the US was a sense of the ‘real’ Florida; the all-American, southern swampland that most people don’t get to see whilst they are screaming down Space Mountain; and that’s certainly what I got.

SO, what springs to YOUR mind when you think of Florida? Alligators?… Check; Cowboys?… Check; American muscle cars?… triple Check!!

Here’s an overview of some of the most iconic things we got up to during our 10 days in Florida. But don’t worry, there’s plenty more Floridian fodder to keep Life’s Great Adventures stocked up with fresh posts for weeks to come!…

See ya later Alligator!

Even before I watched the US TV series ‘Invasion’, (anyone remember that?) I’ve wanted to experience swampland for myself. Well staying in Central Florida and about 5 hours drive from the Everglades, we settled for Lake Cypress, the headwaters for the ‘glades near Orlando, and took a trip on an airboat with Wild Florida.

Welcome to the middle of nowhere

Wild Florida Airboat

The powerful, and quite frankly ridiculously loud, V8 hovercraft skimmed right over the reed beds surrounding Lake Cypress like they were made out of feathers! Some of these plants looked about 6 feet tall but when our friendly boat captain “Skip” turned towards them, we flew over them effortlessly!

Wild Florida Reeds

The speed of our airboat was pretty unbelievable and I’m not quite sure how it didn’t scare away all of the wildlife within a six mile radius. Despite all the racket it was making however, there was plenty of wildlife to see, from cows, bald eagles and wild turkeys to the almighty alligator itself!  We were probably out on the river for around an hour playing ‘spot the alligator’ – these pesky things don’t like being the centre of attention and were quite hard to see as they bobbed up and down beneath the surface.

Alligator in the reeds

Alligator in the water

See ya later alligator

Wild Florida also has a wildlife park and bbq on site so we had a wander around after our boat trip and saw some more wildlife up front. They serve deep fried Gator at the bbq hut too for those who want a different ‘experience’ of alligators!

I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it! (Clint Eastwood)

They don’t call Florida “The Gunshine State” for nothing and whatever your views on gun control, firing off a few rounds over the weekend is kind of a regular past-time in these parts. So of course, we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The Oak Ridge Gun Range is on South Orange Boulevard, not far from Universal Studios and it’s here that I got my first taste of what it’s like to fire a real gun.  Rather alarmingly, pretty much anyone can wander in off the streets and pay to have a go in the gun range. The guy behind the counter just took our ID, gave us a run down on prices, pulled out a .38 caliber, then handed it over!

The range itself is behind two doors (you can only open one at a time) and you have to wear ear-protection and goggles; although to be honest, the ear-protectors aren’t really much cop – you can’t really do much to dull down the sound of gunfire at close range!

We were given verbal instructions on how to load up and hold the gun, then hooked up our target. The ‘gun range guy’ shot the first bullet then it was over to us!!

Having never shot anything more powerful than an air rifle before, I really enjoyed ripping up that target! We took it in turns to empty the barrel until all of our bullets were gone and it was time to hand back the gun. We were very tempted to progress onto a shotgun (as the lads in the booth next to us had done) but not wanting to waste all of our spending money on bullets, we called it a day!

Yee Ha! Ride ‘em Cowboy…

Southern States and Cowboys go together like bangers and mash, so to pay homage, we decided to fill a whole day with horse-related fun. First up, was a horseback ride courtesy of World Horse Stables in Poinciana…

This working ranch, not far from Kissimmee, offers trail riding for riders of all abilities, from the total novice to the skilled equestrian. You can choose from three types of ride; beginner, intermediate and advanced – the differences being that beginners simply walk with their horses around the nature trail, intermediates will be taken for a trot and the advanced riders can canter off into the sunset if they like!

It was really relaxing riding through the Floridian countryside, we tried our best to spot some exotic wildlife hiding in the bushes but unfortunately the only wildlife we saw that afternoon were the horseflies!

Later that night we took part in another horse-related form of entertainment, the good ol’ fashioned Rodeo!!

The Silver Spurs Rodeo is situated off Highway 192 (aka the Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy) on Silver Spurs Lane and takes place every Saturday evening. We were surprised at just how busy the parking lot was when we pulled up – there was a great party atmosphere with food & drink stands and live music playing outside the arena – these Rodeos really are popular!

Inside the arena we grabbed some nachos and had a look around the stalls selling cowboy hats and boots before seeking out some ‘seats with a view’. It was very exciting and soooo American – before anybody went near a cow we had to sit through the National Anthem, a Marines’ tribute display and a round of prayers for the cowboys. There were more than a few teary eyes around us after the National Anthem, and quite a few Veterans in the audience getting emotional! For a few minutes, even we felt proud to be an American! haha (Neither of us are  American btw).

The Rodeo was a great night out but at LEAST an hour too long! We sat through round after round of bull riding, calf-lassoing and stunt riding. The section with the children was my favourite – boys and girls as young as eight racing horses around barrels! One little girl was bumped around so much that she was thrown off the saddle and onto the horse’s neck – we couldn’t believe that she actually managed to hang on until she had finished and rode back into the paddocks to a roaring cheer!

Bienvenido a Miami!

A trip to Florida isn’t complete without a trip to Miami. Despite it being 3 1/2 hours away via the direct route, we decided to take the long way round in a bid to avoid the notorious Florida toll roads and also to see more of the country.

I must admit that my prior knowledge of Miami was limited to Will Smith’s music video for ‘Welcome to Miami’, the movie ‘Miami Vice’ and crime drama ‘CSI-Miami’ but it really was just how I imagined it to be. Miami Beach itself was lined with bars and restaurants pumping out latino-esque dance music and visited by glamourous looking people in skimpy swimsuits.

We headed straight for the beach to do a bit of sunbathing (or ‘posing’ in Tom’s case…), then when the weather started to close in (we were in stormy season after all!), went for some lunch before taking a walk along the promenade.

Miami Blue Skies

The trip back to Davenport put a bit of a damper on the day however, as we ended up struggling through torrential rain for five and a half hours, pretty hairy stuff!

One afternoon definitely isn’t long enough to experience Miami properly, so it’s already been pencilled in for a return visit! Next time round, I think we’ll go down for the weekend and sample some of the famous Miami nightlife too!

‘Mustang-ing’ on Daytona Beach

First up, this subtitle is a play on the words ‘just-hanging’ in case you didn’t get it!!!

Our rental car for our 10 day trip was an iconic Mustang Convertible, something that we paid extra for to guarantee, as we didn’t want to get stuck with a Chrysler Sebring! And boy, were we glad we did; it was awesome!

We took it to the world-famous Daytona Beach (I know it’s world famous as it said it on the sign), which motor-heads will recognise as being the historical home of Nascar and exciting land-speed records. The hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach, which was also featured in Tom Cruises’ Days of Thunder, can still be driven on, so we headed straight for it and parked up!

Before we stripped off to catch some rays, we spent a few minutes taking photos of our beautiful motor, which prompted one onlooker to shout “woah, looks straight out of a brochurrree!” (said in a cool American drawl), then settled down to sunbathe.

Mustang on Daytona Beach

It’s so handy having your car on the beach with you when sunbathing, particularly when sunbathing in Florida in June, as a few hours after we laid out our towels, the threatening clouds got darker and darker and we had to abandon our posts just as the heavens opened!

Threatening Clouds on Daytona

Crossing to the Harley-Davidson Dark Side…

As well as hiring the Mustang, getting a Harley for the day was one of Tom’s ideas for embracing the ‘real America’ during our trip. Being a superbike rider, a Harley-Davidson has never really been at the top of his motorbike wish-list, but they really do go hand-in-hand with US motorcycling.

To stay on the ‘right side of sporty’, he opted for a V-Rod, Harley’s ‘sportiest’  sports cruiser and I have to say, I really did like the look of this! And with no disrespect to his R1, it was soooo comfortable to ride on the back of! Cruising around on a Harley is, according to Tom, a VERY different experience to riding back in the UK – for one, he wasn’t covered from head to toe in leather and the open face helmet, coupled with shorts & T-Shirt, and the chilled out seating position, all added to the immense sense of freedom a Harley is famous for.

We had the bike for 24hours and got it for the bargain price of $75 from the Harley dealer on 37 St, Orlando. Tom took every opportunity to take it out, whether that was going for a ride round the block, out for dinner or simply riding around the RV Park!

Tom on VRod

Looking at the bike parked outside our holiday home, alongside our Mustang, really made us feel like we were living the dream!

The 10 days we spent in Florida, really were fantastic, even those evenings when we didn’t really do anything except sit and enjoy the sounds of nature in the park, or watch the storms with a bottle of Bud or a cigar. We didn’t see Mickey Mouse once and only ventured near Disney to visit the Blizzard Beach water park.

So that’s pretty much it for the round-up of our trip to the US of A, but there are plenty more stories to come. If you’ve got anything to add on how to experience the ‘real Florida’ we’d love to hear it – just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. Feel free to share any photos of your own Floridian adventures too!

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4 Comments

  1. September 20, 13:31 #1 Aisleen Author

    Great! Get yourself down there now! 🙂

  2. September 20, 07:19 #2 Renuka

    Some real adventure there! I am intrigued and I would like to visit Florida some day!

  3. September 03, 14:11 #3 Aisleen Author

    Thanks! Thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Florida and cant wait to go back already! 🙂

  4. September 03, 00:15 #4 Samuel Jeffery

    What an epic photo essay and trip to Florida!

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