When people think of Florida, they usually think of theme parks, however this year my family opted to try a Disney Land-free visit.


We decided to stay at Longboat Key as we didn’t need to stay in Orlando for quick access to Mickey Mouse and friends. Longboat Key is an island just off the main part of Florida, the area is a hot spot for the wealthy  to build their multi-million dollar holiday homes which line the roads and feature beaches instead of back yards.


One of the main attractions of Longboat Key is that it is only 12 miles wide and so you are always close to a beach, which was good for us as our holiday involved a lot of sunbathing. This was quite a change of pace for us as we usually spend our holiday rushing around theme parks trying to cram in as many rides as possible. We also did a lot of shopping and even with the low exchange rate you can still pick up one or two bargains, especially when it comes to designer clothing.


One of my favourite things to do in Florida is go dolphin watching. My family are big fans of Dolphin Landings, a dolphin watching yacht trip that starts at the aptly named Dolphin Village. We spent a total of two hours sailing around a bay, the first hour was spent watching the dolphins that live nearby and the second was spent sightseeing and having a nosey at the expensive houses surrounding the bay.


The owners of Dolphin Landings guarantee a 99% chance of spotting dolphins on your sail and during our trip we saw seven, including a baby. They happily swam alongside the boat, chasing fish and play fighting with each other. This is what separates dolphin watching from seeing dolphins in captivity... being able to view them in their natural habitat and seeing their normal behaviour instead of watching them swim backwards and forwards in a tank.


Well, we eventually decided to make an exception to our no theme park rule and went to Busch Gardens, which also houses a zoo. During our visit we went on the Serengeti Safari, a half hour ride through the park’s Serengeti Plain in the back of an open top truck. The safari also involves hand feeding the giraffes that live on the plain.


This was such an incredible experience, being able to get up close to such beautiful and unusual creatures, to have them eat lettuce leaves out of your hand and even being able to stroke them. The rest of the safari is also a unique experience, getting close to zebras, rhinos, ostriches and wilder beast. The tour guide provided plenty of interesting information about the animals and even passed around an ostrich egg, which was huge.


The park also provides plenty of other opportunities to get up close to the animals, especially the white tiger enclosure which features a glass viewing area in the middle. One of the tigers was asleep on the roof of the viewing area when we climbed inside so we were literally underneath the tiger. As for the theme park aspect of the park it does not disappoint.


The park features four main rollercoasters, as well as rapids, a log flume and a rally ride through the Serengeti Plain. Montu is, in my opinion, the best ride in the park, full of twists and turns. What makes this coaster great is the length, as unlike other rides this one isn’t over in a few seconds.


To get a truly American experience we went to a baseball match... the Tampa Bay Rays versus the Boston Red Sox. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, although some parts of the game were a bit boring, the in-house presenter played plenty of games with the audience during the match to keep them entertained.


The atmosphere is a lot more friendly than some sports crowds as fans of both teams happily sit together in the stands and there is no bad language as this is banned in the stadium. The Ray’s mascot, Raymond the sea dog, keeps the crowd lively during the four-hour game by starting chants and teasing the Red Sox fans.


Overall I enjoyed our (almost) theme park-free holiday as I discovered there is much more to do in Florida other than pay a visit to Mickey Mouse. The whole experience was a lot more relaxing than our last few trips to Florida, which involved back-to-back trips to all the parks. All the early mornings, late nights and hours spent on your feet can be exhausting so this year was definitely a good change of pace, which meant I returned home relaxed and happy.


Florida, without Mickey Mouse

By Rebecca Cowlam

JMU Journalism travel articles

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