Mention a trip to Florida and everyone starts harping on about childhood trips to Disneyland. Like a stuck record. It got Sophie Williams thinking that there’s got to be more to this holiday favourite than water parks and Mickey Mouse…
Pensacola: it’s home to a major US navy base and also the Naval Aviation Museum. Now before you roll your eyes and click away, you have to realise how genuinely cool this museum is.
A Museum? Seriously?
For starters, you have to cross a check point where your ID is inspected and you’re given a special pass to proceed onto the base. All of the trainee pilots ride around on Harleys and the beaches are pristinely white. You can’t help look out for Maverick and his buds. It just feels so American.
Step inside and you’re greeted by planes that you can actually sit in for photos, a 3D cinema and most importantly the most American of cafes. The museum itself is jammed full with planes from world wars to recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan hanging from the ceiling.
Take a Tour
Turn up fairly early and you can be treated to a tour from a charming veteran. You learn so much from them that you would never learn from a book. Be sure to ask questions; they love hearing different accents in the museum.
Personally this was the most important part of my visit. It’s not very often you get to speak to a veteran let alone be taught about American planes by them. I couldn’t help but feel rather privileged.
Head over to the Cubi Bar Café and tuck in to cheap food like salads and burgers. Be warned: the food is not the best bit about this place. It takes loads of its décor from a former café on an army base in the Philippines, like its wall plaques, plus a load of call signs and badges from previous tours.
What Else Is There?
Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels (US Version of the Red Arrows). On practice days you can drive your car up to the runway and watch them practice. And when you eventually get around to leaving which I found rather hard, you can leave knowing you’ve taken a real slice of Florida home with you. Plus the knowledge that you’ve witnessed the real Top Gun for a couple of hours. Mickey Mouse who?
Enjoyed reading this post? Take a look at the stuff our members reckon you could leave off your travel bucket list…