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Date a Gator and get some old Croc!
Gatorland (Florida, USA)
Member Name: angusreid
Gatorland (Florida, USA)
Advantages: Educational, natural and inspiring amongst the plastic alternatives
Disadvantages: Not quite a full day and the heat can get to you.
Let’s face it, the Mouse has an annoying squeaky voice and after you have heard a hundred kinds trying to mimic this, it becomes like scraping your fingers down a blackboard. Hence the reason to look further a field to find ways to compensate for the humongous steak or unlimited lobster you will consume come evening fall.
I try and earn this right by running for half an hour every morning in the scorching heat and unrelenting humidity, and trust me; you can lose a couple of pounds quite easily doing this. So how does this fit into Gatorland? Simple, we look for places to go where we are outdoors, active and not bored. We have tried horse riding along trails, airboat rides on Kissimmee lakes and various other activities just to keep the motion going and not standing in queues all day. It was about this time that we saw a leaflet for Gatorland in Kissimmee, some 10 miles due east of Disney on Orange Blossom trail. The advert mentioned over a hundred acres of swampland and miles of walking trails, so we jumped into the convertible and headed out.
Getting there was easy, we drove along the H192, Irlo Bronson Highway, past our favourites, Old Town and Walmart and then missed the turning as orange Blossom trail is called Main Street where it crosses the 192, but a swift “uee” (U Turn) got us back on the right road. 5 minutes later we pulled into a long stretching car park and made our way up to the giant Gator mouth that made for an interesting entrance to the park. If you are travelling from International Drive, take the 417 and turn off on Orange Blossom Trail South.
It cost $19.95 to get in but we had some $5 off vouchers that we acquired from a hotel lobby somewhere in amongst a dozen other money off coupon booklets, a must for any traveller. Once inside the “mouth” the actual entrance is a long one way shop, full of plastic gator products and typical tourist souvenirs, and although tempted to buy a Gator ashtray, a firm elbow from Sherry made me rethink my values.
Open 9 until 5, Gatorland is not a full day attraction unless you are a diehard nature fan so there is no need to rush to get there in the morning. The main part of the park is built like giant decking or raised timber platforms over the swamp with the gators swimming underneath your feet. We were fortunate to arrive just as the main show of gator feeding was taking place and we witnessed ten feet long gators jumping out the water and grabbing a leg of some unfortunate road kill victim. It was quite an awesome experience and you will never get close to a zoo gator tank ever again after seeing this. They tie a lump of meat to a length of rope and dangle it mid-lake and the gators all swim like crazy to get to the middle and jump up and grab it.
There are three other shows as well throughout the day, gator wrestling is fun and an enjoyable escape from the beating sun. Good commentary and the kids loved getting close up to the gators as well, worth watching for sure.
Close encounters is more bugs and reptiles and not for people who are a bit afraid of spiders. Made into a bit of a story/pantomime, this show is quite entertaining but the sun was very hot and shade was only available at the top of the pavilion which meant you were away from holding the 20ft snake they had, shame.
They had a show about crocodiles as well, Florida being the only place to my knowledge where you get both crocs and gators wild, well bloody livid if they get caught I guess! I do not remember too much about this and may have missed the show for some other display I think.
There is a massive gator breeding ground with some 15ft plus monsters in view. There is a multi-level wooden observation tower for your viewing pleasure, as they say and it commands some memorable views of the plethora of crocs there are. This is a natural breeding ground and it was established back in 91 to help alleviate the dwindling numbers of wild crocs due to the development of Orland and central Florida in general. You learn all this in the education centre that is also on sight here.
There is a small zoo in one corner of Gatorland and it allows you to get away from the fierceness of the gators and see a calmer, more subdued side of what the Gatorland is trying to achieve. The train ride is good but then I enjoy train and boat rides, it’s the British in me. There just seems to be something relaxing about sitting there and chugging along slowly while taking in the scenery, the exotic birds and the rest of the evergreen scenery Florida has to offer.
There are no real rides here other than a couple of kiddie’s slides and such in a dry playground. This is actually a great idea as the kids get a bit bored of looking and listening to gator stuff and it lets them run wild and get the Mouse out of their systems. They can also pet a few animals in the farmyard or pets corner, whatever you prefer to call it. I never go into kids activities too much as mine are 17 and 15 and don’t do kids things, so I only mention them in case you are considering taking young children as I know it can be a priority for some people.
The swamp walk is very surreal and relaxing. Just take your time and listen to the noises the animals and birds make, it’s really quite fascinating and enchanting at times. I find it best to have a bottle of water with you and sip regular so as not to dehydrate in the sun. Resting on the wooden railings of the trail, you can stare into what you think is just swamp and see frogs, lizards and various reptiles slithering along the trees and fauna.
The food is quite American, as in burgers and hot dogs, corn dogs and BBQ pork etc, but fairly reasonably priced at about £3 including fries. Drinks are about £1 to £1.50 a time but in fairness they are so big you can easily share one. Souvenir mugs are available with free refills which are great if you are a family of four as you just share them and fill them up again.
I liked Gatorland as it gave a whole new dimension to a day out in Disney’s backyard, something I found I needed after a few visits. Voted best non-Disney attraction only 2 years ago, it shows they take pride in aiming to please their visitors and quality is good. I doubt I could last a full day here but coupled with the shops on the way there and the shops on the way back, it will make a good day out. I think we stayed in the park for about 5 hours and the only problem we had was the heat.
Check out their website if you are going to Orlando, it makes for an interesting day out and also an educational must if you want to bore your friends over a curry one night, of that I can guarantee.
The website has a web cam on the breeding lake and if you hit it about 12.30 midday, the gators are waking and most active before the sun gets too hot.
I can go into detail about this place and tell you so much more but I think that for the sake of keeping this within the realms of readability, I will just leave it as it is with a recommendation from me and a link for those more interested.
Summary: You will learn more here than the Mouse could teach you.