Discover the intriguing world of alligators in the Florida Everglades during an airboat ride and get up close with one of the most fascinating eco systems in the world.
After almost 20 years of living in Southwest Florida and hearing people raving about the airboat rides and the great wild life in the Everglades, I thought a tour would be the perfect gift for my very adventurous husband.
I researched a few local airboat ride tour companies and ended up picking Wooten's because quite frankly it was half of the price of other airboat ride tour companies and they had just as many great reviews online and if you know me, you know I am all about reading the reviews. Maybe because I am Google maps local guide and Yelp aficionado and know how important reviews can truly help others ( and myself).
We opted for the combo package which included Airboat Ride Tour, Swamp Buggy Ride Tour, Entrance to the animal sanctuary, gator show and a picture with a baby gator for $58.75 per ticket.
Now, we had never been on a airboat and had no idea what to expect but we did know the following:
It was going to be HOT and HUMID! After all, it so happened to be summer time in Florida and the temperatures can be as high as 100 degree Fahrenheit so here are a couple of things to keep in mind when preparing for your trip in the Florida Everglades.
What to wear and bring
Bring cold water - While plastic bottles may be okay, I'd highly recommend a bottle that will keep your water cold. Plastic bottles start to melt in the extreme heat and can be very dangerous if kept in the sun for too long. Not to mention your water will get hot very quickly.
Wear long shorts - I made the mistake of wearing short shorts for the trip. The seats to the rides (Airboat and Buggy ) get extremely hot so if you are wearing short shorts that aren't covering all your thighs, you may experience quick burns as you first sit. I had to sit on the tip of the chair while I waited for the entire seat to cool down so I wouldn't burn my thighs ( although I did burn them the first time I sat on the airboat - ouch ).
Hat - I am so glad I wore a hat. I am not a big fan of sun block ( in fact I don't wear it at all but that's a personal option and you do what is best for you) and the hat really helps to keep my head cool while protecting my face from the harsh UV rays.
Closed toe shoes - While it is totally okay to wear whatever shoes you want, for maximum comfortability I would highly recommend closed toes shoes. If you wear sandals you may run into the risk of getting a foot tan with undesired tan lines.
Light clothes - Did I mention it gets hot? Even during the winter time you may experience high temperatures in the Everglades and you may also get a little wet during your airboat ride depending on where you sit so wearing light clothes will help you keep cool and dry faster if needed.
Small backpack - You don't necessarily need a backpack for this trip but if you were to take one, I'd consider a small and compact bag just to fit your water, couple of snacks and wallet as you may not have optimal space in the rides to place a large backpack.
Did you know that the everglades is slowly disappearing ?
The fact is that the Everglades has been disappearing for the last century. Today the area is the size of New Jersey, half of the size it once was.
The Everglades boat tour
The entire ride is about 30 minutes and you get to learn more about this beautiful area and the wild life that inhabits it.
Our captain was awesome and very informative about the Everglades, the environment and the animals as you can see in this video.
Here are a couple of things we learned during our airboat ride:
Fifty years ago most of the area in the Everglades was grass land which is now being taken over by mangroves that were brought here by men. They estimate 10 to 15 years on the west coast of Florida, and the grasslands are going to be gone because of these trees. Now, these are federally protected; it's a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail for cutting down one of these trees.
The good thing about mangroves is that during a hurricane or tropical storm, these trees decrease the wind from one side to the next by 30 to 150 miles an hour. So, you want these around your house especially if you are living on an island in Florida.
The sad part is is as they take over these areas and it's going to chase away a lot of our wildlife; deer, whatever wild boar the pythons haven't eaten ,Black bears, Bobcats and so on.
But as long as boaters continue to run these trails they'll stay open, they quit running these big boat trails for one year and the mangroves will all close up.
Finally, as for the ride itself, not only it was an amazing experience to get to see the beauty of the Everglades so closely, but it was awesome to drift on an airboat. All the passengers got a kick out of it, especially the kiddos.
Gator show & Animal Sanctuary
After our amazing airboat ride, it was time for the gator show. Needless to say it was the activity I was excited the most for! Why ? Oh, I don't know, something about getting really close to wild animals and getting to experience them with the naked eye is just simply fascinating to me.
We got to meet DJ, the gator trainer, and Charlie, the 20 year old, 9 1/2 feet, 400 pounds Florida alligator.
The show was great, we got to see DJ demonstrating how an alligator senses work by placing his entire hand in the gator's mouth without actually touching it and then using a hat to actually touch the tip of the gators mouth causing it to snap shut. You can see that live demonstration on this youtube video.
We also learned quite a few things about Florida alligators such as they have a total of 80 teeth; 40 on the top and 40 on the bottom. Alligators can run faster than man on land, about 11 miles per hour but they can only do that in straight lines so if you are running from an alligator best thing you can do is run in circles because they cannot properly and quickly make the turns.
Now, on water is a different story, not even an Olympic champion could out swim an alligator, they can swim as fast as 20 mph. We also learned that alligators are very shy creatures but what makes them so dangerous to humans is when they lose their fear and start to associate food with man due to being fed by humans.
At the end of the show we had the chance to take a picture with one of the baby gators. They are much smaller than Charlie but their bite can also cause great damage so make sure that whoever your trainer is that they properly guard the gator's mouth so it won't snap one of your fingers away.
As for the animal sanctuary, there is a seal, a couple of gators, turtles which lay right along amongst gators with no fear of being prey and quite a few vultures that just hang around the area.
Swamp Buggy Ride
If you are familiar with the Florida Everglades you know that there are two different ways you can explore the area and each way is going to give you a completely different experience.
The first experience was on the water via airboat and as the boat can properly move on land and water we can really get to see the side of the region that is near the ten thousand islands and closer to the gulf, also known as the water lands.
The second way is via buggy ride. This ride consists of a tall vehicle that allows for hunting and exploration of the swamp part of the Everglades which is further away from the gulf, hence, less water land but filled with tall grasslands and water that accumulates from the rain and/or comes in from the gulf, also known as swamp land.
One tip I would give about this part of the trip is to strategically set the time for the swamp ride because unlike the airboat ride where you get the wind bursts and won't feel the heat as much, on this ride there are no winds and when it's hot, it is not as pleasant, take it from a Floridian who is accustomed to the heat!
Although we spotted a deer during our ride, many animals seek a cool shelter during the hot months and it is also unbearable for them. We were able to capture the deer only because the creature so happened to be looking for a shaded area where it could rest.
The same goes for gators, as the day gets hotter, they tend to go to the bottom of the water to keep themselves cool, so if you go on a very hot day, or part of the day that it is excruciating hot, you may not be able to see as many wildlife as you would, had you went during a cooler/not as hot and humid time.
Overall, our trip was amazing and we had so much fun. I simply cannot believe that I waited all this time to go air boating in the Florida Everglades and if you are looking to see exactly what Florida is all about as far as nature and wild life can offer, then I highly recommend a trip to the Everglades, you will not be disappointed.