Gatorland used to be my favorite Orlando theme park. It's a total tourist trap with lots and lots of gators; what's not to love? With all of the best intentions of rekindling my love, Dan and I spent a morning at Gatorland on New Years Eve 2015.
We arrived shortly after park opening and it was packed. On my previous visits, the park had always been fairly empty, but this time, we were lucky to find a parking spot. We even had a long queue at the ticket counter. Gatorland is a half-day attraction at best, and the base tickets ( you can add on other experiences, like zipping over a pit gators= no thank you) were 26.99 for adults.
Here is what you see as soon as you walk inside. Gators Galore!
And brave birds who hang out with the gators.
We arrive just minutes before the first performance of Gatorland's famous Gator Jumparoo show was about to begin. The show takes place around a stage set up in the middle of a lake. There are no seats for the show, it's standing room only around the perimeter of the stage/lake. Since we were late, all of the prime viewing areas were taken, and we found a spot behind the stage to the side, which gave us a view of half of the gator action, and mostly the backs of the performers.
The whole idea of the Gator Jumparoo show is to get the gators to jump out of the water and grab pieces of meat. The performers ring a dinner bell and the gators come swimming to be part of the show. I don't really remember the characters in the show from previous visits, but this time they had two guys playing dumb hicks, who bumble around the stage and make you feel like they are about to do something really dumb and get hurt. A MC comes out and he gets the two hicks to compete for who can get the gators to jump the highest, splitting the audience in half to each root for a guy. They go out on a bridge in the middle of the water and dangle meat, with the gators just narrowly missing their fingers.
The characters in the show are ridiculous, but that wasn't the issue that turned me against Gatorland. As they were warming up with a preshow, one of the guys walked close to where we were standing, and I think he thought that it made him look tough, but he kicked a gator that was sunning itself, trying to get it to hiss or be aggressive. He kicked this gator several times, and we even thought we saw blood. We were horrified. I have no problem with the jumping gators, as they are being enticed, rather than forced to participate in the show. However, if a gator just wants to sleep, leave it alone and certain, don't abuse it. It was upsetting. I wrote a letter to the park, and unlike the quick response that we received from Universal Studios Orlando, we received no response from Gatorland.
Here are pictures from the Gator Jumparoo show, the blonde guy was the kicker. I wanted to kick him back, see how he liked it.
The Gator Jumparoo left such a bad impression, that it marred the rest of our visit. We did not take the kids here during our summer trip either. We spent about another hour touring the park, leaving much earlier than we would have, if we had not had that negative experience.
Gatorland is home to non-gator animals too, like Florida panthers, goats, and ducks. They even have a petting zoo with animals that you expect to find at petting zoos.
One of my favorite parts of the park is the Breeding Marsh. Even on a busy day, this area was quiet. and we were alone on the giant observation platforms that overlook the swamp area. I like this, because it feels like you're in the middle of nature, but it's lacking the element of danger. Sure, Gatorland is park that feels like it's one step away from a safety catastrophe, but I get the impression that it's the vibe they are wanting to portray, rather than the reality. It's fun to feel like you might be in danger. In any case, it's a pretty view from the observation deck and fun to look for gators swimming or sunning below. Make sure to bring quarters for fish food.
Dan doesn't like snakes and I'm allergic to mosquito bites, so naturally we went on the Swamp Walk. We lasted about five minutes, when reading the warning signs, and realizing that we were alone out there, made us chicken out. It was creepy in the swamp.
I love this sign.
And this species of bird...I have no idea what it is, but isn't it the most "Jurassic Park looking" bird you've ever seen? It's not pretty and it wasn't even remotely fearful of humans. If an animal is going to take over the world, it's going to be these guys. They already rule Gatorland.
Gatorland has pretty birds too and more fabulous bird signage.
Fun facts or fodder for Gator themed nightmares? You decide.
A beautiful albino gator.
As we left, I gave a nod to Owen Godwin, the founder of Gatorland. I didn't hear it during this visit, but the park used to play a recording of Owen's Gatorland Theme Song. It was just as corny and fantastic as you're imagining.