Exciting Excursion: Exploring the Everglades by airboat
Have you seen an alligator in the wild?
If you live in or have traveled to the Southeastern United States, I imagine you may have. Otherwise, your alligator sightings likely have been behind the safety of of a zoo exhibit’s glass wall or perhaps only on TV. Before I visited Fort Lauderdale, my closest encounter with a gator was at the zoo.
Now, I’ve been a few feet away from an American alligator in the Florida Everglades, and I felt perfectly safe being near a 9- to 15-foot reptile feared for its 70-some pointy teeth and wickedly strong bite.
Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat is quite remarkable and a unique experience I’d recommend to anyone visiting the South Florida area.
Ecotourism has become a HUGE attraction in South Florida, home to the Everglades, Cypress swamps, mangrove forests, manatees and, of course, alligators. It’s easy to find and book an Everglades excursion via TripAdvisor.
When my family visited Naples, Fla., in March, I looked into Everglades tours and found several offering airboat rides, lunch with alligator tastings, and manatee sightings. Ultimately, we decided to forgo the Everglades excursion, opting instead to take a sunset sail.
As tourists, we’re fortunate to see the alligators and other wild animals up close, so when the opportunity arose to explore the Everglades by airboat in Fort Lauderdale, I wasn’t going to pass it up.
Our foursome went on an airboat tour at Everglades Holiday Park, where most of the Animal Planet reality TV show “Gator Boys” episodes were filmed. In addition to airboat rides and boat rentals, there’s also an alligator presentation.
About 30 passengers (maybe more, I’m estimating) can fit on these covered-top airboats, so if you are uncomfortable with high speed thrills or getting too close to a gator, there is plenty of space in the middle. Leave the outside seats to us adventurous folk!
The airboat ride was thrilling. At top speeds, we zoomed across the grassy wetland — and our boat wasn’t always facing forward!
Our captain and tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna we passed. Unfortunately, he explained, the water lilies have been edged out by an invasive plant species native to South America. Our captain/guide also pointed out several species of birds including a committee of vultures and a Purple Gallinule he had trained to eat popcorn from his mouth. A funny sight to see!
Our boat encountered three alligators during the tour. I imagine the animals native to this area are aware of the airboats and have become accustomed to this invasion of their habitat. The first two gators wanted nothing to do with our boat, staying slightly hidden under the water and greenery. They weren’t agitated or excited even though two young girls screamed such high-pitch wails at the first sighting you’d have thought they fell out of the boat — or worse. The third gator was a bit of a ham, swimming in the open water, practically posing for photos.
You aren’t exactly guaranteed an alligator sighting, but if you keep your eyes open and your camera ready, you’ll find all kinds of animals and plants to see and photograph. Speaking of photography, I used my iPhone and my Canon Rebel with an 18-55 mm lens to shoot the photos in this post. I had wished I brought my telephoto lens along for more detailed shots of the animals. I’d recommend bringing one with you, if you can.
The whole experience is worth its ticket price of about $24, and there are discounts for Florida residents and children age 11 and younger. You might also check around at other area attractions and hotels for coupons.
After reading this post, would you go on an airboat ride? Let me know in a comment below!
Wish you were here,