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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Florida Nostalgia.

Clearwater Beach Florida USA

Florida Nostalgia.

The summers of 1989, 1991, 1994.

Hey folks, I’m gonna try something different today. In fact, this is is not your usual programming. After eight instalments documenting my U.S. travel nostalgia, I found myself tempted by the prospect of concluding the series with a piece that goes even further back.

Now when I say back, I mean waaaay back to the family visits I made to Florida as a kid. On the one hand, I realised it would be criminal to leave out the adventures that inspired my love for travel in The United States. Not to mention the experiences that served as some of the happiest days of my childhood.

Florida map.

Florida Nostalgia.

On the other hand, I was under no illusions as to what an incredibly challenging project it would be. And so it proved. With help from my dad, I gathered 60+ photos from across the three trips. All of which had to be scanned into digital format.

I also had a couple of home movies to refresh my hazy memories. Moreover, my mum’s old diary entries helped clear up questions related to dates and accommodation. Next came the photo editing itself and trying to organise these decades old travels into some kind of logical narrative. Deep breath…. here goes.

Florida Nostalgia.

Days Inn Days Lodge Kissimmee Orlando 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

My first trip to the U.S. took place in the summer of 1989. I was 11 years old and nothing short of exhilarated to be in America. We stayed in what I now realise was a poky little Days Inn Days Lodge, somewhere in the heart of Kissimmee, Orlando.

But for me of course it seemed like a palace. Everything felt new and exciting, such as the icy air con and a seemingly infinite array of crazy TV channels. It was also within those walls that I ate my first ever Domino’s Pizza. And marvelled at the fact that you could have it for free if they failed to deliver within forty five minutes. Man, I was so disappointed when that pizza arrived on time.

Florida Nostalgia Days Inn Days Lodge Orlando

Florida Nostalgia.

And then of course there was the pool! And actual serviceable weather from which to enjoy it. Yup, we were a long way from England and my 11 year old mind was suitably blown. That’s my dad in the middle of the pool teaching my sister Natalie to swim. I’m sat on the middle of the ledge calling to my mum behind the camera.

Florida Nostalgia breakfast at Denny's

Florida Nostalgia.

When it comes to romanticised childhood memories, there’s not much that can compete with those daily Florida breakfasts. How I wish we had a few more photos. We ate at Denny’s, Perkins, Brodies and Bob Evans, which Natalie kept mispronouncing as Bob in a Heaven.

Florida Nostalgia.

Bob Evans Restaurant Kissimmee Orlando

Florida Nostalgia.

There were pancakes, maple syrup, streaky bacon, poached eggs and buttery toast. Waffles drowned in ice cream and strawberries. And the milkshakes… oh lord, the milkshakes. Looking back, it’s a wonder I was able to fall asleep each night, such was the anticipation.

Jasper and Horace 101 Dalmatians.

101 Dalmatians. “Good evening ma’am, we’re here to inspect the wires and the switches”.

They say a visit to Florida is an absolute dream come true for a kid. They weren’t wrong. My sister and I were both Disney nuts who could just about quote entire movies, word for word.

Indeed we knew flicks like 101 Dalmatians, The Fox and the Hound and The Jungle Book like the backs of our hands. Thus I’m sure you can imagine just how buzzing we were the day we went to Disney World.

Florida Nostalgia Disney World.

Florida Nostalgia.

Photo courtesy of Jrobertiko.

And what a day it was. For a gentle beginning, we negotiated the wooden bridge walkways up in the branches of the Swiss Family Treehouse. Then jumped onto the Alice In Wonderland inspired Mad Tea Party spinning cup ride.

One of our favourites was The Jungle Cruise, an attraction that takes you down the grand rivers of Africa, Asia and South America. Led by a wisecracking captain, we came up against hissing pythons, screeching elephants and disgruntled rhinos. Furthermore, there were giant butterflies, snapping crocodiles and cannibalistic pygmies.

The Jungle Cruise.

Florida Nostalgia The Jungle Cruise at Disney World

Florida Nostalgia.

Photo courtesy of wpcpey.

With all the flashing animatronics and the veering of the boat, taking passable photos proved next to impossible. Luckily my dad shot the entire thing on camcorder, an amazing memento of that exciting and often terrifying ride.

The Jungle Cruise Disney World Florida 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

“If you think it’s foggy here in the rainforest, it’s because the boat in front of us just exploded”, quipped our captain, as we were about to enter a series of gushing waterfalls. “I would like to point out this is the back side of water. Looks a lot like the front side.” 

Riding The Jungle Cruise retro Disney World

Florida Nostalgia.

Added to The Magic Kingdom in 1971, I’m delighted to see that The Jungle Cruise is still going after fifty years in operation.

It’s been fascinating reading about the major changes that have passed since we visited. Boat captains, for example, have been stripped of their pistols and no longer mock fire on aggressive robot animals. And the jungle itself, initially man-made, is now 100% real thanks to its own self-sustaining ecosystem.

It’s a Small World.

Florida Nostalgia It's A Small World.

Florida Nostalgia.

Another standout was It’s a Small World. In contrast to the frenetic Jungle Cruise, this endearing boat ride is an unapologetic slab of cutesy innocence.

Championing the idea of international unity and cross cultural understanding, the ride takes visitors through 100 virtual countries in 7 virtual continents. Along the way, you get to meet over 300 singing and talking animatronic dolls.

It's a Small World Florida Nostalgia.

With my sister Natalie on It’s a Small World.

Built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it was Mr. Walt Disney himself who ordered his engineers to “make me a little boat ride”. He wanted something that would unite all cultures under a single sonic umbrella.

It's a Small World boat ride Disney World Florida

Florida Nostalgia.

With this in mind, he asked Disney songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman to compose the ride’s almost infuriatingly catchy theme song. “It’s a small world after all” he reportedly muttered, unwittingly supplying the Shermans with the song’s famous line. Today it stands as the most publicly performed song in history.

The Sherman Brothers Disney songwriters

The Sherman Brothers: “Our song is NEVER going to leave your head”.

There were countless other memorable experiences at Disney World of course. But for the sake of brevity I’ll mention just one more highlight. As fate would have it, we’d timed our visit for Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday celebrations. The main event was a lavish musical parade that ran down Main Street.

“America loves you Mickey Mouse! Happy Birthday to our favourite superstar. Let’s have a party like we’ve never had befoooore…”

Mickey Mouse Birthday Parade Disney World 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

In addition to seeing the great mouse himself, the parade treated us to dozens of floats inhabited by Disney’s most iconic characters. Goofy trotted by on horseback. Tigger danced along to a Beach Boys track whilst surfing a giant wave.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Florida

Elsewhere, Donald and Daisy Duck waved to the masses, while the unlikely combination of Cinderella, Mary Poppins and Alice (in Wonderland) engaged in some kind of manic dance competition.

What’s more, there was a dedicated float for The Little Mermaid, whose movie premiere was still a few months away. And if you’ve ever wondered what a screenshot of a 32 year old home movie looks like… well… that’s the photo below.

The Little Mermaid float Disney World 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

As much as I loved Disney World, it was Universal Studios that really stole the show. I was already well on my way to becoming a huge film fan, hence there was no beating our visits to the world’s best movie theme park in 91 and 94.

Florida Nostalgia Universal Studios.

Florida Nostalgia.

Here, we got to enter alternate realities of our favourite movies for personalised, high octane adventures. With so many incredible rides, it’s been tough settling on a rundown of the best. I’ll start with the exceptional E.T. Adventure Ride, which we did in the summer of 1991 about a year after it launched.

Florida Nostalgia.

E.T. Adventure Ride Universal Studios.

Florida Nostalgia.

The experience starts with our good old friend Mr. Spielberg explaining that we all have to pitch in and help E.T. get home in order to save his dying planet. Armed with a bicycle and an interplanetary passport, we set off on a journey through the city pursued by baddie NASA and police officials.

E.T. Adventure Ride Universal Studios Florida

Florida Nostalgia.

Just as it seemed we were about to get caught, up we shoot into the air. Over the city we go, climbing higher into outer space towards E.T.’s home, The Green Planet. There, Hollywood’s favourite alien restores his land and people with that famous healing finger.

At the end, I remember E.T. thanking each rider personally as we filed towards the exit. It was a clever touch, as they made a special point of taking everyone’s names at the beginning before we boarded.  Unfortunately, old E.T. made a real mess of saying Leighton. But hey, it’s the thought that counts.

Back To The Future The Ride Universal Studios 1991

Florida Nostalgia.

Back to the Future: The Ride was equally memorable. This one had just opened and boy oh boy, do I remember the queues. Seriously, it felt like weeks. However, all was forgiven when we climbed into “Doc” Emmet Brown’s brand new invention, an 8-seat DeLorean.

Back to the Future: The Ride.

Doc Brown Christopher Lloyd Back to the Future

Great Scott! You queued up for how long!?!?”

The narrative is somewhat complicated, with multiple plots relating to 1885, 1959, the present day and near future. But you don’t have to get bogged down in details. Rather, just sit back and let the adventure wash over you.

And what an insane ride it was, with volcanos, dinosaurs, ice age caverns and, pleasingly, a starring role for the trilogy’s comical villain Biff Tannen. Sadly, I see the attraction closed in 2007 and was subsequently replaced by The Simpsons: The Ride.

Back to the Future.

In terms of outright terror, little could compete with the thrilling Jaws Ride. In this one we got to tour the harbour at the fictional community of Amity Island. And lo and behold, what starts out as a leisurely cruise soon turns into a fearsome attack by a great white shark.

Jaws The Ride Universal Studios Florida 1991

Florida Nostalgia.

I can still picture that awful animatronic shark lunging at us, teeth exposed. As Richard Dreyfuss and friends sing in the movie: “Show me the way to go home!” Despite being one of Universal Studios’ most popular rides, park management also called time on this one. It closed in 2012 to make way for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

Florida Nostalgia.

King Kong Encounter Universal Studios Florida 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

Another hair-raising ride was Kongfrontation, among the park’s first attractions when it opened in 1990. Partly inspired by the 1976 movie King Kong, this open air tram ride saw us trying to escape Manhattan with the rampaging giant ape hot on our heels. I remember that tram lurching around all over the place as Kong chased us along the city streets between various skyscrapers.

Kongfrontation ride Disney World.

Florida Nostalgia.

Kongfrontation was definitely one of the most popular rides in those first few decades. But eventually it got a reputation for being unreliable, with too many breakdowns and maintenance closures. Finally, they pulled the plug in 2002 and it gave way to a new attraction, Revenge of the Mummy.

King Kong Ride Florida Nostalgia.

Florida Nostalgia.

As with Disney World, I could go on and on about the dazzling rides at Universal Studios. But there’s more to cover, so I’ll wrap this segment up with honourable mentions for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies and the Ghostbusters Spooktacular.

Florida Nostalgia Sea world 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

We really did have some energy levels back in those days. Especially when you consider the bulk of our trips played out as a relentless barrage of theme park days. Outside of the big two, SeaWorld was certainly a special one.

SeaWorld Orlando.

Sea World Florida 1989.

Florida Nostalgia.

It was the first time I’d seen octopuses and dolphins up close, let alone a performing killer whale. Back then, SeaWorld’s star attraction was its Shamu Show. Shamu was actually the name given to a series of the park’s famous whales, dating all the way back to the late 1960s.

Florida Nostalgia Sea World Orlando

Florida Nostalgia.

The Baby Shamu we saw (real name Kalina) was SeaWorld’s first surviving Orca born into captivity in 1985. The show was absolutely awesome. Shamu performed thrilling jumps with a trainer balanced delicately on her nose. She also splashed the audience and posed in shallow waters on the main stage.

Baby Shamu.

Baby Shamu (Kalina) as an adult with one of her children pictured in 1999.

It was only later, as a young adult, that I read about SeaWorld’s practices and the history behind the park’s famous whales. The story makes for some really grim reading, so much so that I remember feeling physically sick. The visit had brought me so much happiness, but behind it all there had been untold misery.

The Shamu we saw died in 2010 of septicemia aged 25. In 2016 SeaWorld announced the end of their orca breeding programs. They also revealed that their theatrical shows would be phased out in favour of “inspiring natural orca encounters”

Florida Nostalgia.

Water Mania 1989 Florida Nostalgia.

Another deceased Florida attraction.

Thankfully, I have no mixed emotions about Water Mania. Opened in 1987, this was Kissimmee’s first water park and home to the state’s largest wave pool. They also had some action-packed rides, including Twin Tornadoes and The Anaconda.

The Screamer Watermania 1989.

Florida Nostalgia.

But the one that really stayed with me was a terrifying water slide called The Screamer. That’s it, tucked away behind my dad in the top left corner. It was a 22 metre straight drop and yes, as the name suggests, you could hear the screams from everyone who dared to ride it. Those sounds haunted me, I can tell you. As a result, I refused to go on.

Retro Florida Water Mania in 1991.

Florida Nostalgia.

Water Mania called it a day in September 2005. According to owners Gary and Randy Larson, they received an offer for the land that was too good to turn down. A number of attractions took Water Mania’s place, such as Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf.

——

One afternoon, during our 1989 trip, there was a dramatic change of tone with a day at Kennedy Space Center. Yup, the very place where NASA launched operations for the Apollo missions, including the 1969 Apollo 11 spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon.

Kennedy Space Center Florida 1989

Florida Nostalgia.

It was definitely a case of “one small step for Leighton” as I moved in front of the camera to have my photo taken with a Saturn 5 rocket. That’s the type of rocket used in the Moon landings.

There is so much history packed into this place, with exhibitions on NASA’s space shuttle programs and the world’s pioneering space legends. We also got to see several launch pads and an actual Lunar Module Eagle.

John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Florida Nostalgia John F. Kennedy Space Center

Florida Nostalgia.

Of course there were days when Family Thomas desperately needed a break from all the relentless touring. On such occasions, we would drive out to a number of nearby beaches. First there was Cocoa Beach, a surfer’s paradise with coarse sand covered in seaweed.

Florida Nostalgia on Clearwater Beach

Natalie on Daytona Beach.

But we much preferred Daytona Beach, a more handsome and smoother series of sands. I remember we could drive right onto the beach and park up where we wanted to settle.

I also recall a stressful afternoon when we locked ourselves out of the car and a beach police patrol officer had to help us get back in. Our favourite though, by a Florida mile, were the powdery snow white sands of Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater Beach Florida 1989.

Florida Nostalgia.

I loved Clearwater Beach. Natalie and I built sandcastles and paddled in the sea while my parents kept half an eye on us from their snoozing positions. One day, we met a gregarious salesman who we nicknamed Panama Jack after the brand of tanning oil he was pedalling.

Florida Nostalgia Clearwater Beach 1989.

Florida Nostalgia.

Panama Jack was a smooth talker alright and we ended up buying several bottles of his oil. It was also Jack who took the family shot of us that serves as this article’s cover photo. I wonder if he’s still roaming the beach today.

——

In 1991 we enjoyed a major accommodation upgrade. For that trip we stayed in a two bed deluxe at Legacy Vacation Resort. The entire complex felt so exotic, with its manicured lawns, trees, pool and lake.

Florida Nostalgia.

Florida Nostalgia Legacy Vacation Resort Orlando

Florida Nostalgia.

I watched my first episode of The Simpsons in that villa. It was Lisa’s Substitute, Season 2 Episode 19, where she falls in love with her new teacher, Mr. Bergstrom.

Glued to the TV in our downtime, Natalie and I fell about laughing at Mr. Rogers and his cheesy but charming Won’t You Be My Neighbor Song. We then drove my mum mad singing it 24-7. Except we misheard the words and sang “neverly neverly” instead of “neighborly”.

Tennis courts at Fantasy World Club Villas 1994

Florida Nostalgia.

In 94 our Orlando lodgings were the similarly swanky Fantasy World Club Villas. This place came with even more facilities, such as the tennis courts we regularly played on. In that villa the entire family was on hand to witness the insane O.J. Simpson Car Chase as it played out live on TV.

The O.J. Simpson Car Chase 1994.

“He’s getting away!”

On that last trip my nan joined us and added much to the party. She had so much energy and brought so much positivity we dubbed her Go Granny Go. In truth she could outlast us all when it came to gallivanting around all those theme parks.

Florida Nostalgia Universal Studios 1994

Florida Nostalgia.

On one of the days leading to my 16th birthday we were strolling around Florida Mall when I came across the official U.S. soccer jersey for that year’s World Cup, held in the United States.

I was crazy about that shirt, something I’m sure I made no bones about to anyone who’d listen. Nan didn’t blink. “You can have it Leight, my birthday treat!” she exclaimed. 27 years later, I still have that shirt. It’s in pretty good condition too and fits like a dream.

Florida Nostalgia.

Grey USA soccer shirt 1994 World Cup

Florida Nostalgia.

Before wrapping up, I must mention the sleepy Floridian town of Indian Shores in Pinellas County. We came here for a week in both 91 and 94, chiefly to rest up after all the theme parking. For the most part our days played out on the local beaches, which were largely quiet and had the most gorgeous sunsets.

Florida Nostalgia Indian Shores.

Florida Nostalgia.

Near our apartment, we paid a visit to the lovely Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a wildlife rehabilitation centre that focused on sick and injured birds. Launched in 1971, the facility saved the lives of thousands of local birds before closing in 2016. That same year the foundation was reborn as today’s Seaside Seabird Sanctuary.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary Indian Shores Florida

Florida Nostalgia.

Well folks, if you’re still here I have to commend you for your literary stamina. And yet there’s so much I didn’t get to feature. So here’s an honorary mention to feeding alligators at Gatorland, riding The Scorpion at Busch Gardens and birthday eats with karaoke at Black Angus Steakhouse.

Florida Nostalgia Gatorland 1991.

Gatorland.

Cheers to stocking up on Reese’s Chocolate at K-Mart and watching Forrest Gump at the cinema on its week of release. To losing and regaining one’s wallet on a rollercoaster. And to the road trip we took to South Carolina to visit friends on Hilton Head Island. All these experiences will stay with me forever as treasured fragments of Florida Nostalgia.

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53 Comments

  • rajanisingh885721172

    Beautiful blog

    July 10, 2021 - 8:53 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading!

      July 10, 2021 - 8:54 am Reply
  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Morning Leighton. It’s great to be able to recount stories which trace the origins of our love of travel – Michaela and I have each done that on our blog (under “travel bug” heading). Very different from yours due to the age gap – Spain in the early 1960s seemed like a different planet and I was hooked on travel for ever. We haven’t been to Florida (Michaela hasn’t been to the US at all) and it’s not currently on our radar despite my best mate going twice yearly and forever pestering us to join them out there! Enjoyed reading your fondly held memories.

    July 10, 2021 - 9:43 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Phil. This was a really special article for me and perhaps my most challenging blog project of all. Spain in the 1960s… that must have really been something.

      July 10, 2021 - 9:56 am Reply
  • nickreeves

    Brilliant!

    July 10, 2021 - 10:32 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Nick, have you been to Florida?

      July 10, 2021 - 10:35 am Reply
      • nickreeves

        Similar to yourself, I holidayed there with my parents about 1979. I have memories of Disney (the EPCOT was still being built), the water rides and of motels, ice machines and pancakes. Mostly, I remember the odour of Florida – citrus underpinned with tobacco, grapeade and (I want to say) mould – lovely! The trip was our first and last extravagant holiday as a family – the financing of which strikes me now as equivalent to the moon missions! It was amazing! My parents were so enamoured that they returned and lived in Kissimmee and Sarasota in 1982 and stayed for five years. By that time I had left home and had embarked on an ultimately doomed apprenticeship as an orthodontic technician in Surrey, but my younger brothers all finished school in the states. I do sometimes wonder…what if I had gone with them…

        Thanks!

        July 11, 2021 - 9:58 am
      • Leighton

        Amazing stuff Nick! I am totally with you on that Florida smell, couldn’t have put it better myself. Appreciate this insight into your own history, thanks a lot.

        July 11, 2021 - 10:39 am
  • Travel Cuddly

    I just love old photos.. beautiful beautiful clicks.👌👌

    July 10, 2021 - 11:07 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, thanks for reading!

      July 10, 2021 - 11:08 am Reply
  • natty4t

    So lovingly put together Leighton x

    July 10, 2021 - 11:14 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I think those trips deserved this treatment, glad they brought back some memories.

      July 10, 2021 - 11:19 am Reply
  • Beverley

    Fabulous memories Leighton. Thank you for taking the time to write them all up. Natty and yourself look like kids in a sweet shop. I have been to Florida many, many times now including a grown up road trip with Sanibel Island being rather special. However, you cannot beat taking a child to Orlando for the first time and visiting all those theme parks.

    July 10, 2021 - 11:18 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for taking us there! To say they were special times would be a huge understatement.

      July 10, 2021 - 11:20 am Reply
  • pedmar10

    Great shots, lots of memories for me , was living there at the time of your visits…we missed lol! last time there now was 2015! in Florida I live 18 years of my life and sons born there so very close to my heart, thanks for the memories! Cheers

    July 10, 2021 - 11:53 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh that’s wonderful, I had no idea. What a lovely place to spend a chunk of one’s life. Where did you live? Glad this brought back a few memories, thanks for reading and commenting.

      July 10, 2021 - 12:07 pm Reply
      • pedmar10

        Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, North Miami, Hialeah, and last Miramar. Worked in Miami! all in my blog! cheers

        July 10, 2021 - 12:14 pm
  • Anonymous

    I plead guilty to the wallet falling out of my shorts on the roller coaster. I feared $600 was gone as the ride took off on its next run. Waiting at the exit on its return I managed to find our carriage and as two people jumped out and eyeballed me the wallet fell to the floor. Maybe they were about to hand it in !! A lucky escape.

    July 10, 2021 - 12:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha! Didn’t realise there was that much money in there. A slice of Floridian luck!

      July 10, 2021 - 12:36 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Ah Leighton, this was a great post to read! How special to have such wonderful memories from your childhood … and to have experienced all these exciting places that kids are dreaming of. You’ve certainly put a lot of effort into this post and we appreciate your time to bring this out! Oh yes, and I can see you’ve loved your sunglasses from a young age 😁.

    July 10, 2021 - 12:38 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha yes, I’ve always liked to hide from the camera if at all possible. Thank you for reading such a long article and for contributing to the thread. Really appreciate your readership. Have a good weekend!

      July 10, 2021 - 12:40 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    It’s great to reminisce on trips that inspired the travel bug and I very much enjoyed reading this post Leighton. Although I’ve visited the US numerous times I’ve not been to Florida. Enjoy the weekend. Marion

    July 10, 2021 - 2:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, you too. All paths lead to Sunday evening, for better or for worse.

      July 10, 2021 - 2:19 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Fabulous blast from the past, Leighton. Your first trip at 11 sounds so much like the trip we took our kids on when they were near that age. Disneyworld, Universal Studios, NASA and Clearwater Beach (with Busch Gardens). I hope my kids enjoyed as much as you appeared to have. Yes, all my photos from that time were analogue. One of the first tasks I set myself on retirement was to digitize all analogue photos and videos. It is a chore. Thanks for the memories and have a great weekend. Allan

    July 10, 2021 - 2:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Great to know you’ve also done the Florida thing Allan. Any chance of a blog on that one day? It is indeed an incredible amount of work. Thanks for taking the time to finish this lengthy piece.

      July 10, 2021 - 2:26 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    I may not revisit this one in a blog, but I have a few other past trips that might be worthy like my recent NZ/Aus one. Will have to see if I run short of material. Cheers. Allan

    July 10, 2021 - 2:41 pm Reply
  • Pam

    My family is from Florida! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Gator land was badass. Cypress Gardens was up there too. They had water skiing competitions and stunts. So fun.

    July 10, 2021 - 3:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh yes, Cypress Gardens! Thanks for reading Pam, appreciate your feedback. Which part of Florida are you from?

      July 10, 2021 - 3:19 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Wow, you have an amazing collection of memories from Florida. When I began reading, I wasn’t expecting that much. Hope you enjoyed putting all of this together as much as I did exploring it. I’m left with the idea that life just isn’t fair – the shirt still fits after 27 years??? At least I can say that Natalie was a cute kid. Cheers!

    July 10, 2021 - 6:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha nicely put. Well, as a kid all that stuff was so magical. I do wonder what kind of time I’d have if I went back today as a 40 something. Not sure if I’ll ever find out.

      July 10, 2021 - 7:03 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    What a surprise to see baby Leighton in the photos; you look very much like your dad, honestly! Florida does get that rep of being a resort holiday for visitors, domestic and international, and I admit I did the exact same thing back in 2014: I didn’t visit Disney World, but I went to Universal Studios and had fun, especially with the Harry Potter theme park that had just opened up a couple of years prior. Glad that you had a lovely introduction to my home country; I hope you can revisit to check out more of Florida, especially with the Florida Keys!

    July 10, 2021 - 8:46 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Rebecca., I’d love to see The Keys, in addition to The Everglades, Miami, Sanibel Island and… well… lots more. But there’s so much we want to do, who knows if I’ll ever get back there. I can imagine the Universal Studios experience was a whole other kettle of fish in 2014. Certainly better in terms of technological advancements.

      July 10, 2021 - 8:52 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Thank you for sharing these memories of your wonderful family vacations in Florida. Your post conjures up many memories of family vacations of my own. Getting scared on the Jaws ride is one of them. I experienced that ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I’m glad you had such a great time in Florida and the U.S. Out of curiosity, anything you didn’t like?

    July 11, 2021 - 6:06 am Reply
    • Leighton

      To be honest, no! I was just a kid and everything felt so magical. Probably tuned out anything that didn’t directly relate to whatever ride we were on or about to go on. I was in my own little world really. I remember everyone we met being so friendly and positive. The service in restaurants and shops particularly blew my mind. I’m sure as an adult it would be a whole other experience. Thanks for reading John and for your thoughtful contributions to these threads. After some reflection I have altered the song quote subheading in the Chattanooga article. Appreciate your time.

      July 11, 2021 - 9:13 am Reply
      • salsaworldtraveler

        I can see that. When I was young, everything was wonderful when we were on vacation. No school and parents dealt with any travel issues.

        Thanks for altering the Chattanooga article. It’s embarrassing (but important I think) to bring that stuff up.

        July 11, 2021 - 1:51 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    What a wonderful look at your childhood and your family and such memorable moments in Orlando. I loved the Back to the Future ride at Universal California when I went in high school and was so excited to ride it again when we moved to Florida, but they discontinued it and turned it into something else. Your post made me a little wistful to go back to Florida 🙂

    July 11, 2021 - 6:27 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg, very cool that you have also ridden the Back to the Future Ride. They don’t make em’ like the used to, blah blah blah. Seriously though, I understand that today’s rides must be incredible with the developments in technology over the last thirty plus years. Have a safe flight to Israel!

      July 11, 2021 - 9:42 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    It sounds like you and your family have some wonderful memories from your trips to Florida. That’s amazing that your mom kept her old diary entries from all those years ago. That must have been so much fun to go through them, along with the old pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    July 11, 2021 - 3:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a special blog project, no doubt. A real challenge and fun to try and piece together these old photos into some kind of logical narrative. Thanks for reading!

      July 11, 2021 - 3:53 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    Aha… good old memories!! Glad to hear about the wonderful memories of your childhood! Great reading!!

    July 11, 2021 - 4:46 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Jyothi!

      July 11, 2021 - 4:46 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    You look so like your Dad! What an amazing collection of lovely childhood memories – after riding It’s a small world as a kid multiple times, the irritatingly catchy theme tune often comes back and gets stuck in my head! 🙂

    July 11, 2021 - 5:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha those songwriters knew what they were doing eh? Thanks for reading Hannah!

      July 11, 2021 - 5:27 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    A lovely memory of a family trip, it was all so special then, wasn’t it? How fun to go through your mother’s writings and old photos. My family took a couple of driving trips from New Jersey to Miami in my young days. Staying at a big hotel at the beach seemed like an elegant treat. I had a penpal friend from Canada for years that I met there.

    July 11, 2021 - 5:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      A road trip from New Jersey to Miami? That’s quite the adventure, how long did the drive take you with all the various stops? A cross-country U.S. road trip remains high among my many future travel dreams.

      July 12, 2021 - 12:54 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        My father was a driving fool. I can’t remember how long it took (I was pretty young), but it wasn’t that long. We stopped to visit cousins in North Carolina and drove through the Smoky Mountains but didn’t stay long anywhere else.

        July 12, 2021 - 3:04 pm
  • Lyssy In The City

    Love this so much!! How fun to look back on old pictures of childhood. The only big vacations my family did when we were kids was to Disney and Clearwater too 🙂 And I agree with Hannah that you look so much like your dad!

    July 12, 2021 - 3:52 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Aw that’s great that you’ve also done the Florida thing Lyssy. Clearwater was definitely my favourite beach of the bunch.

      July 12, 2021 - 8:42 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    It must have been so different from the holidays in Europe. I can see how children’s eyes could marvel at it. I think that at that time the United States were a bit ahead in the field of entertainment. Since then the gap has narrowed.

    July 19, 2021 - 12:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely. It truly feels like a different planet to me. So much has changed in the past thirty two years it’s almost impossible to comprehend.

      July 19, 2021 - 12:58 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    What a great read – the work you put into pulling this together really paid off! I’ve done some blogging of very old trips but haven’t managed this level of detail as yet – well done 🙂

    We were in Florida in 1992, between two of your visits, but as adults. It was the second of our US road trips, having absolutely fallen in love with California the year before. And while it didn’t quite stack up to that, it was still pretty special. We didn’t do the theme parks but we really like the Kennedy Space Centre, having grown up with the Apollo programme. And we also loved the Keys and Everglades.

    July 29, 2021 - 8:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Sarah, I appreciate your readership and kind words. Would love to go a bit further south and explore The Keys and Everglades. Maybe… just maybe I can squeeze in one last visit to tick off some new parts of Florida.

      July 29, 2021 - 8:24 pm Reply

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