It is Christmas 2016 and we are heading to Florida like many families do every year chasing the fantasy experiences surrounding Orlando. Yes, we will join in with that ritual, but only the once and only at Busch Gardens, a more natural tourist attraction whose theme is equally focussed on wildlife conservation as it is thrill rides.
No, our Floridian adventure will be to experience the wild and natural side of this weather blessed state. Our journey will take us to the depths of the coral reefs of Islamorada with Key Dives, the alligators of the Everglades, the deserted, at that time of year, white sandy beaches of Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast and an unforgettable snorkeling adventure with the manatees of the Crystal River.
Every adventure was special and none more so than discovering The Devil’s Den, located off the beaten track in central Florida, a prehistoric underwater natural cavern system providing an unbelievable scuba diving experience. With me on this adventure is my 14-year-old son, Tom, on only his third scuba dive. Professional supervision ensured complete safety for him and for both of us to enjoy a very special bonding in an alien environment.
We descended the steps into the Den, made our final equipment checks and submerged into the depths with our flashlights. Quickly we left the daylight behind and for the next 45 minutes explored rock formations deep within the cavern system. As we go deeper our torches illuminate the dark passages, revealing fish life: Gubbies, Crappie, and Catfish, hiding in crevasses in the rocks.
It is a strange world with only the hiss of our air regulators and the bubbles of our breathing breaking the silence. We make regular ‘buddy checks’ looking after each other and communicating with the ‘OK’ forefinger and thumb circular hand signal. I was especially aware of Tom’s inexperience but I had no need to worry, he was so relaxed and in control as if he had hundreds of dives. It was a proud Dad moment!
All too quickly our time was up and we slowly ascended back to the cavern entrance and into the daylight. Back above ground both of us were buzzing with adrenaline and Tom’s excitement could not be contained as he described his experiences to mum and sister, who were both pleased to see us return from the depths safely!
Florida is about so much more than theme parks and sunshine. Go and explore the wild side and you will certainly not regret it.