A Long long time ago when I was much younger I remember a family vacation to Florida. Some of our extended family also came down to join in the events, and one of those days my sister and I went to a scary but amazing place with our grandparents. Recently I decided to take my daughters to this very same place and in the 20 some years since my first trip it was not what I remembered which is actually a good thing.
Gatorland is exactly what the name implies. Everything gator related can be found within its walls. As a child I remember big pits filled with gators jumping out of the water to try to grab a snack. But perspective is interesting how it can change with age and as you get taller.
As you first walk in past the ticket window area there are various boardwalk style pathways that allow you to see different areas with various sizes and ages of gators. The railings are solid, and secured with fencing to prevent any too close for comfort encounters. There are also a lot of staff on hand to answer your questions and give you all sorts of information about these creatures.
As with most of the tourist attractions in Florida there are my favorite souvenirs Penny Presses. This machine was close tot he area with the smaller sized gators.
This set includes images of a Gator head, a Bear, a Flamingo and a Snake.
I was curious how my two girls would take to this place, but they really enjoyed it. Being new to Florida I figured any safe encounters with gators I’ll chalk up to a learning experience.
Remember that memory I mentioned earlier about gators jumping out of the water to catch a snack? Well that actually does still happen, but it’s not in the form of a deep pit. Instead there is a pool of water with some pretty large gators swimming around and as part of a show called Jumparoo they leap out to try to eat pieces of chicken from a wire.
Seeing those large creatures snap up those chicken pieces is really quite a show and my girls were cheering them on throughout the whole show.
One of the extra experiences here is to get your family picture taken with a large snake. I am not a snake fan so this was not something I was going to do, but nearby was the second penny machine. I pressed these coins with my eyes always on the snake making sure he didn’t escape from the handler.
This second set of pennies had the following designs: the Gatorland Logo, Gatorland Park, a Gator and a Snake in a tree. Along the way we found other interesting activities like feeding gators, and a bird aviary.
The gators had already been fed so that wasn’t available when we were in the area, instead we checked out the birds. Once inside you can buy a popsicle stick covered in birdseed. Then as you walk inside with all the birds they immediately flock to the stick and start chowing down. My daughter Hanna didn’t like when they would stand on her hand, but it was still a cute thing to do.
After we finished feeding the birds we made sure none escaped and continued on our pathway and found a little gift shop called the Bayou. Outside this store was the third and final penny machine to be found inside the park.
The third set of coins is my personal favorite, and are pretty detailed. Each has a gator as part of the design, but the slogans on these are what make them great. 3000 lbs of Bone Crushing Jaw Power! Oh Snap!, Drop in any time you’re in Florida, Trespassers will be Eaten, and Gator X-ing. By this time everyone was getting a little hungry so we decided to stop for some lunch.
They have a BBQ style quick service location here with things like chicken fingers, pulled pork sandwiches and if you can believe this Gator nuggets. We couldn’t resist getting some and trying them. I really hate to say this but they really do taste like chicken, and my girls didn’t mind them either.
After lunch we checked out a train ride around the park, and also spent some time with a couple large tortoises. The park also has a nice kids playground and water park-ish area. Before leaving we had to stop for one last photo-op you can see above.
Other than having gators this place was not at all like I remembered, but was still a lot of fun. Everyone had a great time, and he entrance fee is pretty reasonable for everything you get to experience. The penny designs were a nice addition to my ever-growing Florida collection. These are some really extraordinary reptiles and everyone should learn a little more about them, especially if you like visiting Florida.