Lynn Bruno | Dec 02, 2009
Orlando has become synonymous with Disney, but before there was Disney there was Gatorland. The locals thought Owen Godwin was crazy when he started building Gatorland as a roadside attraction in 1949. Why would anyone pay to see alligators when they were running around on your back lawn?
Gatorland went on to become Florida’s first theme park, and is still owned by the Godwin family. You won’t find any thrill rides, but the park is squeaky clean and has maintained a charm that harkens back to an earlier, more innocent age.
Best of all, it’s affordable. Tickets for a family of four are less the price of an adult ticket at one of the larger area theme parks. To get there, take the Orange Blossom Trail toward Kissimee, an interesting ride, but not for reasons the name suggest.
These big lizards are not the languid creatures you’ve seen in zoos. These gators are active. They play and socialize with each other, and with their trainers in jumping and wrestling shows. And in most unzoolike fashion, you can actually feed the gators in the lake here, with turkey dogs available for purchase in the park.
One reason these gators are so happy is that they have their own breeding marsh, populated with complementary bird species. For a special treat, take the birding tour offered in the early morning before the park opens and again in the evening after closing.
Be sure to stroll through the cypress swamp, a 15- minute walk through a completely unspoiled swath of the native ecosystem. No manicured bushes or masses of colorful flowers here. This is what much of central Florida looked like before they started draining the wetlands to build farms, homesteads and theme parks. Thank goodness the Godwin family had the good sense to preserve a bit of it.
Filed Under: Conference Attendees
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