Florida is recognized for its pristine beaches on each side of the state’s coastlines, its oranges that are made into delicious orange juice that we can often find in the aisles of our grocery stores, its resorts and amusement parks, its tropical thunderstorms, and its alligators. What now– alligators?! Yep! During this spring break trip, I was able to finally see some alligators from my whole life that I’ve been traveling back and forth to this state and what better way to experience them than through an alligator-themed park and wildlife preserve called Gatorland.
I’ve talked to some Native Floridians and they’ve told me that an encounter with alligators is the norm. Sometimes, they just show up on their backyards and that thought is just terrifying. However, alligators are respected by them (besides by hunters 😦 ). My thoughts on this park, Gatorland, are actually mixed, which you’ll find out as you keep on reading.
Upon arriving, you can see little areas of water with so many alligators swarmed around. There’s a mixture of adult alligators to baby ones and they were all over their swampy water and land habitat. Don’t think these shallow waters are worth walking over to though… so it says in the sign below, “Trespassers Will Be Eaten!”
The theme park is pretty interactive; there is also this small water park for kids to have fun in, which would be ideal for those hot sticky days in Orlando.
You can find huge tortoise turtles interacting with each other and then when you walk past them, you’ll find panthers in this closed habitat with glass walls called the Panther Springs. Gatorland is technically 95% a zoo. These panthers are a brother-and-sister pair that live in this habitat surrounded by cypress trees, a pond, things to climb on, and grass. These panthers are a mix of the endangered Florida Panther and the Texas Cougar. I was kind of sad to see them behind their habitat because I always felt wild animals like these should live in the open wild where they belong but then I read that Florida Panthers are nearly extinct because of habitat loss, roadkill, and human intolerance. According to BigCatRescue.org, there are only 120 to 230 panthers remaining in Florida but on this sign that talks about who these panthers are states that biologists believe there are roughly 80 to 100 Florida Panthers remaining… Whatever the real number of these endangered wild beauties, that is a significantly low amount of their species left, which makes them one of the most endangered animals in the world. Having these two panthers in Gatorland is to educate people of how this is a problem to the biosphere.
With these hundreds of alligators closed in too, I was not as worrisome because they can live in swampy waters to the spaces they’re given and roam around within those areas.
My friends and I saw a live show at an open arena where tour guides would let visitors pet a less-than-adult alligator. This is what got me quite upset when I was there, I couldn’t stand to see these alligators with their mouths closed with tape and when they didn’t want to be in the same spot held by the tour guide anymore or touched by visitors, they would try to shift around then they would still get adjusted to where it is comfortable for the visitors by the tour guides. I felt like they were tired of being used for entertainment so overall, this was quite upsetting to have witnessed.
I have heard that Gatorland has alligator nuggets and that those are considered a Southern delicacy. Alligator meats is apparently supposed to be healthy source of meat for people because of the high protein and low fat, so we headed on over to one of the only food places in the theme park called Pearl’s Patio. The food here are suprisingly not overpriced and expensive as other themed parks (ahem, Disney World), which makes it all the better, however, we only ordered one thing and those were the alligator nuggets. Ironically, being in a wildlife preserve and having the meat of one of the animals in this preserve might not make sense and I question it too, especially, where do these come from? I read that it is illegal to hunt them and they are only sourced from alligator farms.
I wanted to just try it at least once and I must say — they’re pretty good at the first couple of bites but then it’s not the type of food you’d probably want to eat on the daily. It had an acquired saltiness to it, almost like the pores of the alligators took in the swampy water they lived in. The outside is definitely cooked like chicken nuggets with their golden breaded coating.
There were more animals to see in Gatorland like emus!! They’re so beautiful.
After, we found ourselves by the Breeding Marsh, which is a couple miles long of a wooden walkway over the habitual waters and bird sanctuary, where you’ll see many more alligators and white egret birds in a more natural setting. There are hundreds of trees in there and many alligators just swimming and lounging around this part of the park. There is also an interactive activity here where you can go zip lining on top of the swamps and there’s also an observatory tower that you can walk up to for a better view (unfortunately, we skipped on it).
My favorite part of the park would have to be the Swamp Walk. The Swamp Walk brings you to a REAL swamp setting that you would have to walk through a wooden walkway again. This was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my trip because I have never experienced the Florida swamps yet until this very trip and it was just the most peaceful place you’d want to be in with the ultimate sounds of nature and atmosphere. You will be surrounded by hundreds of tall trees, luscious greenery, and even picnic tables every now and then appearing — this would quite honestly make a lovely first date. The walkway makes it a lot more enjoyable instead of, imagine, walking through the sticky grounds with plenty of poison ivy and other plants touching your body. This swamp also has real snakes like the rattle snack and the cotton mouth and to be honest, I was really hoping to get a glimpse of them through the walk!
Gatorland is a great place to experience with your friends and family and to learn beyond your knowledge of wildlife. I think it puts your mind in perspective to really observe these blood-thirsty, scary looking, fast approaching predators in the biodiversity of this state along with the others you can find within Florida!