Odds are, some of you freaks might be looking for weird stuff to check out on the road to EDC Orlando. Well, this is Florida, the land of a thousand nutty headlines. And it’s all so much truer than you know. Carnie town Gibsonton is here. The Church of Scientology is headquartered here. Florida is a magnet for weird. The ignominious term “Florida Man” didn’t creep into the cultural lexicon by accident.
Here are some especially notable stops to spice up your road trip to EDC Orlando. Let’s get weird.
From the North
Florida Caverns State Park
If you’re coming down through the panhandle, just a few miles off Interstate 10 in Marianna, FL, is Florida Caverns State Park. More wondrous than weird perhaps, this New Deal–era nature attraction is pure splendor and truly of another world. As the only state park in Florida to feature tours of air-filled caves for the public, it’s a subterranean voyage into an illuminated limestone wonderland that will probably be one of the most transporting 45 minutes of your life.
The Devil’s Den
Near University of Florida college town Gainesville, the otherworldly cave experience gets even more stunning underwater at the Devil’s Den Spring. A mecca for the scuba and snorkel set, the natural underground chamber, a karst window, is heralded as one of the most unique and gorgeous experiences around. The water of the underground river within is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s a viable option regardless of season, and the only time it closes is Christmas Day. A liability waiver is mandatory, so you know it’s worthwhile.
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
Only 35 miles north of Orlando, just off Interstate 4, is a porthole to the supernatural world: Cassadaga. Since the late 1800s, this historic spiritualist camp has functioned as a living, and perhaps otherwise, community of psychics and mediums. But unlike carnie town Gibsonton, this hamlet welcomes curious visitors. In addition to in-home readings and other such ceremonies from more than 50 certified mediums, Cassadaga also offers seminars, classes, spirit tours, and orb tours.
The Sausage Castle
The Sausage Castle, the insane roving party den of provocateur and self-proclaimed king of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery Mike Busey, would probably be permanent were it not for a constant chain of evictions. Just as the previous spot south of Orlando was consumed in a suspicious fire back in January, the current, eighth iteration was settling into its new digs about 45 minutes northwest on an 80-acre compound in rural Lake County. Featured by the likes of Vice and WorldstarHipHop, this pornographic cartoon kingdom is essentially a warped Playboy Mansion in the swamp.
From the South
Skunk Ape Research Headquarters
Here is exactly where the line between faith, fiction and fabrication lies. The skunk ape, in case you didn’t know, is the Floridian manifestation of Bigfoot. And like Bigfoot, its existence is widely doubted. But not by Dave Shealy, an Everglades native who has dedicated himself to studying the creature ever since he was 10 years old and first saw it. He’s gone so far as establishing the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee, FL, a tiny community boasting the smallest post office in the US. The research headquarters is also, conveniently, an attraction, featuring a gift shop where you can find all manner of skunk ape souvenirs, including Shealy’s own skunk ape research field guide. You can also take eco tours of the Everglades on pole boat, kayak, swamp buggy, canoe and paddleboard.
About an hour and a half south of Orlando, in Lake Wales, is Spook Hill—a spot of road that’s seemingly a true freak of nature. There’s a whole local legend behind it involving a battle royale between a native chief and an alligator, but the reality is that it’s a gravity hill, an optical illusion that scrambles the perceptions of uphill and downhill. On the northern end of N. Wales Drive, there’s a city-sanctioned sign telling you exactly what to do to experience the phenomenon. Just pull up to the white line marked on the road, set your car in neutral, and watch as it appears to defy physics and roll uphill on its own.
From the West
When you think of state parks, the attraction tends to be pure nature. But Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is an entertainment attraction featuring mermaids. A relic of Old Florida formerly owned by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) for a time, the splashy, classic roadside attraction opened in 1947 as Weeki Wachee and went on to become one of the state’s biggest pre-Disney tourist attractions. Only in Florida could something like this become an official state park, which it did in 2008. Here, “mermaids” perform shows in a submerged 400-seat theater 365 days a year.
If you haven’t already been dreaming your entire life of the opportunity for a Jurassic selfie, at least now you know you can finally make it happen here at Dinosaur World. An easy exit off Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa, this place features more than 150 life-size sculptures situated in a natural park to replicate a wild environment.
The walk on the wild side doesn’t even begin to slow once you arrive in town, and we’re not even talking about the obvious Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction.
Carmine Oddities Boutique
In sheer style and degree, this is no average curio shop. Featuring an extraordinarily well-curated collection, Carmine Oddities Boutique elevates freakiness to high art. Much of the macabre stock on sale is anatomical, including, but definitely not limited to, mummified bats, raccoon penis bones, and formaldehyde-suspended critters. The real bones and skulls on the shelves go from rodents on up to, yes, humans. They also offer devices like vintage surgical tools, in case you’re in the market for that. But one of the most notable things, among an entire menagerie of striking items, is the level of artful and even whimsical style of the taxidermy on display. That goat-headed maiden statue you were always looking for? It’s here. And if you kneel long enough while browsing a lower display, the resident hairless Sphynx cat, Gary, may hop onto your shoulders. In the back—behind a red curtain, of course—is a library and event space used to host meet-and-greets, taxidermy classes, and special events for its members-only BDSM club.
The Holy Land Experience
Ever felt like amusement parks are just too dang secular? Then the spectacularly eccentric Holy Land Experience will be like manna from, well, you know. Owned by the world’s largest religious TV network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, this attraction is a full-on Christian theme park just down the road from Universal Studios. In addition to exhibits, they offer live shows—including a lurid crucifixion of Jesus, who is doomed to repeat his fate here daily like poor Prometheus, only with the added indignity of a paying live audience. In the world capital of theme parks, this one is definitely the kookiest.
You can have a close encounter with an alligator in almost any reasonably sized hole of water in Florida, but it would be on terms pretty unfavorable to you. At the ultra-Florida attraction, Gatorland, you can at least see them coming, and jumping, and wrestling. Besides zones that allow you to get within feet of the living dinosaurs, you can also zip-line over them or even mount a muzzled one yourself.
Written by Bao Le-Huu
EDC Orlando 2018 takes place Friday, November 9, and Saturday, November 10, at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. Tickets are on sale now.