Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
July 21, 2012
It's embarrassing admission time for your Postcards correspondent.
I've never been to Gatorland, the iconic, old-school attraction that has been beckoning tourists to pass beneath its ridiculously enormous pointy-toothed jaws for more than half a century.
How could this have happened — a sin so egregious that I suspect the authorities might descend at any moment to revoke my hallowed status as one of the endangered Native Floridians?
There's no reasonable excuse.
In more than three decades in Central Florida, I've been to Circus World, Boardwalk & Baseball, the Mystery Fun House and other now-defunct attractions that Gatorland has managed to outlive. I've sweated in the air-conditioning-deprived, pre-fab prehistoric caves of Dinosaur World (dinosaurworld.com), the cheesy landmark off Interstate 4 in Plant City that's a school carnival compared with the Gator Jumparoo, zip-line rides and other diversions on Gatorland's 110 acres between Orlando and Kissimmee.
Because it's never too late for redemption, I proclaim 2012 as my personal "year of the gator." Lots of my Orlando Sentinel colleagues have been recommending the place as a "must see" for years, so maybe we can organize a summer field trip. If we claim it as a "team-building" excursion, I bet the paper would pay our expenses.
And Gatorland (gatorland.com) isn't the only spot on my bucket list of quirky old-school attractions.
Although I was raised in South Florida, I somehow never made it to Miami's Coral Castle Museum (coralcastle.com), a stone sculpture garden carved out of 1,100 tons of coral rock and touted as "one of the world's most mysterious accomplishments."
I'm often reminded of this omission by longtime friend Scott Smith, an instructor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management who is leaving Florida this fall to take a similar position at the University of South Carolina.
"You've never been to the Coral Castle?" he'll ask me incredulously when the conversation turns to my wonder years in Miami. It's time to put a stop to that.
In Florida, there's always someone who has been somewhere cool that somehow escaped your radar. That's why I'm also asking readers for suggestions of other wacky places to put on my bucket list.
I'd love to explore your ideas. Just tell me where to go.
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