There is no mistaking what you are in for when you visit Gatorland. The famous blue and white alligator mouth entrance is indicator enough of what is in store when you walk past those ‘welcoming’ teeth. Self-titled the ‘Alligator Capital of the World,’ Gatorland in Orlando is a sanctuary for over 4,000 alligators. They also have four extremely rare leucistic "white" alligators.
What comes as a bit of a surprise though is how much else, besides alligator watching, there is to see and do in this 110 acre of Florida swampland. There are also crocodiles, a free-flight aviary, a number of American Flamingos, a petting zoo featuring an outgoing-photo-happy llama and a goat. The park also has a variety of snake species (mostly harmless to humans) including pythons, lizards and Western Pacific lorikeets.
The interesting part to visiting Gatorland is you just don’t get to see a bunch of large, fierce pre-historic monsters dozing in the heat. There are informative and extremely interesting educational programmes on the various creatures in the park. Obviously the emphases of the sessions are on the main feature – alligators. They put on a hands-on-training session with the monsters. You get really close up to the creatures and appreciate their size and strength.
Gatorland also puts on ‘gator-related shows that show off the animals’ jumping abilities. Some of them leap about five feet out of the water. Makes you think that does. Then there is the famous wrestling show where ‘gator wranglers get on to the back of the creatures and point out their various features.
Your tour around the facilities will take you to the breeding marsh where about 100 or so adult alligators hang out – courting, I suppose. However, the best place to see the biggest of the guys is at Alligator Island. There are other areas where they keep crocodiles and a lagoon where the American Flamingos nest.
Gatorland is not merely an amusement park but it is also a preserve for rescued alligators and a breeding ground for them. Its educational sessions help us get a better understanding these dangerous creatures and their habitat.
Located on the South Orange Blossom Trail, Gatorland is a welcome change from Orlando’s other theme parks and offers a relief from the long lines and crowds of those attractions. Memories of Gatorland will linger long after those of the thrills and spills of Orlando’s typical offerings have faded.
Image credit: Ricymar Photography