Roadside USA – Gatorland

After more than two years of living in Florida, I knew it was time to make a trip that I had been dreading.  I had completely run out of excuses.  My sister was in town and we were looking for inexpensive things to do, and it just so happened that we had a few free tickets.  It was time for.. Gatorland.

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I’d been hearing about this place since we moved here, and while everyone said we had to go, what they said after that made it sound kind of horrible.  But I’m willing to giving almost everything a try eventually, so my sister and I packed up the kids and headed over to Gatorland.  This is a small park – there’s no ‘gate’ or parking garages.. just a modest parking lot and a giant alligator head in front of the gift shop.

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Pretty much immediately after getting sorted out at the ticket counter and heading into the park proper, I realized I had misjudged Gatorland.  Was it cheesy?  Yes.  Was it a redneck version of Animal Kingdom?  Absolutely.  Was it ‘roadside’?  Of course.  What I didn’t realize was how much I’d enjoy that combination of things.  The first thing you see when you get inside are giant ponds (?) full of alligators both big and small.  There’s a food counter with a bunch of picnic tables on a raised ‘boardwalk’ surrounded by what must be hundreds of alligators.

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The cool thing about Gatorland is that they don’t just have alligators.  They have panthers, pythons, a giant tortoise, more snakes, parrots, bobcats, owls, raccoons, several different types of crocodiles and alligators, emus, flamingos, and probably more.

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They have multiple different shows, and the performers (at least the ones we saw), were pretty entertaining.  They’ve got plenty of food, a playground and splash pad, an enormous zipline, and Niall’s favorite, a train that goes around the park.

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Overall, we had a pretty great day.  The kids would definitely be happy to go back.  I don’t know if I’d say that it’s worth paying full price, but if you can get a Groupon or another discount, definitely go.  There are several upcharges (photos, train, and zipline are not included in admission) which is a pain.  We did not do any photos or the zipline, but Niall would have been devastated if we hadn’t splurged on the train.  For the most part, the animals seemed fairly happy.  I always have mixed feelings about zoos and keeping animals in captivity, which is one reason we usually avoid animal attractions if they’re not highly credentialed.  I felt bad for the alligators that were ‘wrestled’ and sat-upon by guests.  I don’t know how to tell if alligators are stressed, but the other animals did seem okay.

As always, we put together a video of our adventures!  Check it out!

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