'The man leaned over the railing of the wooden dock. He stretched his arm over the murky water, his fingers curled around the leg of a raw chicken. The remainder of the carcass dangled above the water. A crowd had gathered around, watching as the meat juices dripped from the chicken, smacking the surface of the water one at a time.
A sweat broke across the man’s forehead as the water began to churn. The crowd gasped. A ginormous dark scaly head emerged. The creature lunged upwards, his large rounded mouth opened, revealing a gleaming set of sharp white teeth. His powerful jaw clamped down on the chicken carcass, dragging it back into the depths of the lagoon.'
- The Gator Jumparoo Show at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.
Fun Things to Do For Kids in Orlando, Florida
When parents start looking for fun things to do with kids in Orlando, Florida, huge alligators jumping for chickens probably don’t come to mind. But what they are looking for is something affordable and family-friendly. Celebrating its 70th anniversary, Gatorland has been entertaining and educating families since 1949.
The family-owned and operated 110-acre theme park combines education and conservation with clean humor and fun. When you step through the iconic giant gator jaws and into the park, you’ll begin to notice their subtle sense of humor, like when you spot the sign above the sleeping boa ‘This is the home of Cuddles’. A posted warning against throwing objects at the alligators adds that the offenders will be asked to retrieve them.
Alligators in Florida
Educating yourself about alligators in Florida (and all the Southeast) is vital for visitors and locals alike. Alligators inhabit all of the waters around the state- even retention ponds! They’ve been known to show up in backyards and even pools, especially during mating season. Get the low-down on alligators and their habits at the Alligators-Legends of the Swamp show. And before you assume that a big alligator is a slowpoke, check out gators in action at the Jumparoo show. It will give you a new respect and a wide berth for any alligators you encounter around the sunshine state.
Take a stroll on the boardwalks around Gatorland's 10-acre Breeding Marsh Lagoon. If it’s the right time of year, you may even spot baby birds in the rookery. 130 alligators inhabit the breeding marsh. Climb the observation tower for a birds-eye view of the lagoon. If you hang out long enough, you may even get to see guests zip-lining from the towers around the lagoon on the Screamin' Gator Zip Line, one of the add-on adventures at Gatorland.
Family Tip: Real life offers the best life lessons, and also a way to explain the tough things, like the food-chain. If you look around the nesting birds, chances are high you’ll spot a gator underneath, hoping an easy bite will fall their way. However, the birds choose to build their nests in the trees of the marsh because they are less likely to be messed with by raccoons or opossums and other egg-hungry predators. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the birds and the alligators.
Alligators are nocturnal creatures. They instinctively hunt at night. The Gatorland Night Shine is an eye-opening experience. The After Hours Gator Night Shine takes place at the Alligator Breeding Marsh, which comes alive with nocturnal sights and sounds after the sun sets. Shine your flashlight across the lagoon of the alligator breeding marsh and you’ll see the myriad of eyes staring back at you. It will definitely make your teens re-think that night skinny-dip in the river with their friends!
White Gator Swamp
Gatorland is home to not only to rescue gators, Cuban crocodiles and albino alligators, but also one of only 12 leucistic gators in the world, Trezo Je was discovered in a Louisiana Swamp, but unlike albino gators who have pale eyes to match their white scales, leucistic gators have blue eyes. Due to their bright coloring, albino and leucistic alligators don’t fare well against predators in their native swamps and tend to get eaten before they make adult-hood. Their blue eyes are said to bring luck to anyone who makes eye contact with them. You’ll find Trezo Je and other unusual alligators in the White Gator Swamp exhibition. .
Gator Tidbit At over 14 feet long, Chester is one of the largest alligators in the world. He was a nuisance gator that was reported in a Tampa for developing an appetite for the neighborhood dogs. Normally, he would have been put-down, but Gatorland swooped in and rescued him. Chester has since become part of Gatorland's educational programs and has also provided the voice-over bellow for the Dragon Smaug in the Hobbit movie: The Desolation of Smaug. Chester's home is located next to the White Gator Swamp at Gatorland.
Beyond the Gators
Although the park is called Gatorland for good reason, it’s not all scales and reptiles. Gatorland has a soft and fluffy side as well and animal lovers in the family will adore the cuddly creatures in the petting zoo and the opportunity to hand-feed the birds in the free-flight aviary. Try and spot the Florida panthers at Panther Springs near the Gator Gully Splash area, discover the story behind the bobcats at Bobcat Bayou or guess the age of the giant tortoises. Follow the bright blue winding path through the park to lead you and the kids to adventure.
Monster Trucks and Swamp Adventures
If your kids love monster trucks, the Stompin’ Gator Off-Road Adventure is not to be missed. You board a 12-foot high off-road custom-built swamp vehicle with cool names like “Bone Crusher” and “Cannibal Jake”. They’re actually named after the most famous gators and crocodiles in Gatorland's 70-years of history. Off you roar into the wilderness, riding alongside wetlands that feed the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. This is wild side of Orlando that tourists don’t usually see.
They’ve added a few ‘fun settings’ to spice up the wild ride, like a gator graveyard, and end with a drive through a pond of live gators. A bouncy, bumpy ride kids & parents will enjoy.
All Aboard the Gatorland Express
Yes, there’s a train! This miniature train runs around the park, and offers a good opportunity to rest your legs while still enjoying the park. The train is an additional $2 per person, but you can ride the Gatorland Express as many times as your heart desires- or your train-fan child insists .
Keeping Cool at Gatorland's Gator Gully
If it gets too hot, you can let the kids cool off at the Gator Gully Splash Park- a wet play area with dumping water towers, spraying sprinklers and more, all guarded by a pair of sunbathing crocodiles- the concrete kind. There’s also a dry-playground area for those chillier months (though they are far and few ) Bring swimsuits or an extra set of clothes. You can change in the convenient bath house nearby.
Wheelchair Friendly Zone
Gatorland made their train handicap accessible in 2001, but it in 2016 when they created the first handicap accessible zip-line that they gained a fandom. The Gator Gauntlet takes mobility challenged guests 350 feet across the alligator breeding marsh. It’s a single zip, and you ride in a sitting-down position. Gatorland worked with FDOA (Florida Disabled Outdoors Association) on the design and construction of the Gator Gauntlet and now people from around the world come to Gatorland just for this zip line experience.
There are so many areas around the park, if you don’t pick up a map you may miss them, like the Swamp Walk. You can stop for a bite at Pearl’s Smokehouse, named after Gatorland founder, Owen Godwin’s wife. Try their Gator Bites- (they’re snappy). And then leave civilization behind for The Swamp Walk, a wooden boardwalk winding through swamp wetlands. It's a good place to walk off lunch and for the littler children to take a nap in their strollers.
Once considered a way to spend an hour or two, Gatorland is definitely a full-day of fun for families.
- Gatorland is located at: 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail Orlando, Florida 32837
- Contact number: 407.855.5496
- You must reserve your space ahead of time for the full Screamin’ Gator Zipline Adventure. 5-ziplines and a 150-foot suspension bridge over the alligators and crocodiles. This is definitely a heart-pounding experience. There is a single-zip option across the breeding marsh also available, which is good if you are short on time.
- Save 50% off with their Florida Resident Deal. They tend to run this fantastic offer every year (usually June). This year it ran June-July. Not a resident or going at a different time? They always offer a coupon-see the specials tab on their website.
- Homeschooling? Gatorland provides the perfect opportunities for hands-on learning. Visit their website before you go and follow their educational links for useful lesson-planning and ideas.
This article was made possible by a collaboration with Gatorland in Orlando, Florida.
About the Author A motivational, parenting & award-winning outdoor writer, Sally White has been dragging her kids on educational and exciting experiences since they were born. You can read about her family travel adventures throughout the Southeastern United States on her blog, Adventures of Mom.
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