Forget the sunshine and sharks' teeth, in Florida I got to meet Mickey Mouse!

There is seriously nothing more exciting than being a child and getting to meet… Mickey Mouse! Throw in Daffy Duck and Pluto and holding a baby alligator with its mouth taped shut and you’re pretty much in child heaven.

I went to Florida when I was just seven and 25 years later – cripes, that makes me OLD! – I still remember it vividly. Our family holiday consisted of non-stop excitement and adventure and included eating alligator soup, watching HUGE crocs launch themselves up and out of the water to eat chicken carcusses swinging from a washing line, and collecting sharks’ teeth on the sandy white beaches.

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse (Photo credit: ross_hawkes)

I remember it like it was yesterday; my dad waking us up in the middle of the night to get us washed, dressed and packed off to the airport for a family holiday. A few days later and my brother and I were combing the beach for the little black teeth, thinking how cool it was that they washed up on the shore and that sharks couldn’t be very dangerous if all their teeth fell out and ended up in our bucket. An America chap popped over with a HUGE bag of sharks’ teeth and said my brother and I could each take a handful of his to help us with our own collections. Painfully shy but spurred on
by our parents we delved in. It was SO exciting!

We also found it hilarious that every time mum ordered chips we got crisps but, despite being just seven, I can remember the sense of fun, excitement and happiness of holidaying in Florida. It was the last big holiday we had as a family before my parents split up a couple of years later and it was three weeks of awesomeness. It was also my first introduction to the road looking wet because of the heat but when you got up close it’s perfectly dry; an optical illusion that kept my childlike brain wondering for hours.

People in Florida were helpful and friendly too and when my brother’s ‘cush cush’ went missing, the hotel staff rallied around to find it. It was an easy mistake to make, ‘cush cush’ was a full sized pillow that my younger brother insisted on travelling and sleeping with, his little comforter, and the hotel maid had scooped it up into the laundry by mistake. But after a ‘911’ call to hotel reception and a manic half hour, ‘cush cush’ was returned to the room safe and sound and my brother’s tears stopped. A happy ending and another Florida memory I’ve been unable to shake off.

Seriously, my time in Florida has stuck with me as the sort of childhood holiday I’d want my own kids to have; the whole experience was simply magical, not least because we spent time at Disney World and got to shake hands with THE Mickey Mouse. I also remember a ride called Figment of Your Imagination themed around a little purple dinosaur called Figment, a toy version of which accompanied me home on the plane thanks to a visit to the Disney World gift shop.

Gatorland Zoo sticks in my mind too (ref the gators chomping on chickens above) as well as a boat trip around the Everglades

, the fear and excitement of seeing crocodiles and alligators in the water filling my little belly with butterflies. At the zoo my brother and I got to hold a baby alligator, its mouth taped up so it didn’t snap at us and I got the exciting end – the mouth – to hold while my brother settled for the tail. We also have a great family photo – and this is when I realise I wish I had a digital copy to share or could easily pluck it from my mum’s photo albums at home – of my brother and I putting our heads into the wide open jaw of a gator. Of course, the gator was a replica version in the zoo but it looks pretty damn real to anyone who sees the photo.It’s on my ‘to do’ list to return to Florida for a holiday as soon as possible, as a sunshine-filled adventure with hubby and maybe friends or in a few years when we have kids and can give them the sort of amazing holiday I had when I was seven.

I don’t have such vivid memories of any other childhood holiday, Florida really stuck with me and I wish – as I type this from my desk on a raiy evening – that I was back there.

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