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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

That Time I Fed Alligators and Then Ate One

I'm just back from Florida and this trip was definitely one of adventurous eating (for some). I tried at least two things I've wanted to taste for a long time and others I never knew I did. Guess what? I was pleasantly surprised by all of them! So, this trip to Florida, I finally made it to Gatorland. We had a free half day available to us and a 2-day GoCard, so there was no stopping us this time. What is Gatorland, you ask? Obviously, the name says it all. It's a whole land of alligators. 

Orlando Florida

Gatorland is available in the middle of gator country to educate people on these amazing creatures. Yes, they're kind of scary looking with their snapping jaws and scaly skin, but they are also beautiful, beneficial and intelligent. Usually, when I go to a zoo or a place that has animals in captivity, I can find something to nitpick about how they are being housed, but Gatorland provides huge water enclosures for the alligators that are full grown and need room to swim and live. It feels like a giant lake with little islands for them to sun themselves and nooks and crannies for them to hide and get some privacy. The baby gators are kept in smaller pools to allow them to flourish and enjoy the companionship of their fellow tiny gators until they are big enough to join the larger ones in the big enclosure. 

There are a few gators that get their own enclosures: Big Daddy doesn't get along well with anyone, so he has a smaller section for himself with a pool and room to enjoy his privacy. They also have four white gators - the largest group anywhere - that each have their own pens, because they can't survive in direct sunlight. One is albino, which we found out is a fairly common in the animal world and the other three are Leucistic, which is a rare genetic mutation. Only 12 Leucistic gators are known in the world, and three of them are right there in Gatorland. You can tell the difference between them and the albino gator, because they have some off-white patches as well and their eyes are blue instead of the albino pink. You'll probably never see something so rare and awesome elsewhere.

Want to see some gators in action? There are two shows you'll want to check out then. The Gator Wrestling show is not terrible and cruel as the name implies. You learn that gators are 90% muscle (and having touched one, I can tell you that you can definitely feel the power in that body). It looks like the trainer is sitting on the gator, though he's really only keeping himself behind the head and situated between the front and back legs, so he can get away if needed and can keep those teeth from biting off his arm (or face). He's not putting his full weight on that lovely creature, though he can manipulate the head if the gator is willing to cooperate. And the gator is the one in control there. 

The Gator Jumparoo show is funny, entertaining and educational as well. Did you know that an alligator can jump 6 feet in the air? No? Well, now you do. They can't jump quite as high from the water's surface, but their tail is so powerful that it can propel them quite a way out of the lake to grab food. Now, you can tell that all the gators are well taken care of and aren't malnurished, so any of the gators that participate in the show do so of their own accord. Once the crowd starts to gather, you can see as a few break from their groups or from just aimless floating to come get in on the action. Gators are quick and very precise and I saw one get at least four feet out of the water to snag a chicken on a line. Others were happy to wait for a piece of meat to be thrown to them and others still looked on as if they weren't really into it. 

If you want to try your hand at feeding gators, you can do so, but from a safe distance behind a fence. Purchase a pack of hot dogs from the park and you can feed any gator that you choose, with the exception of the white gators and Big Daddy. Our GoCard came with a coupon for a free hot dog each and we used ours to feed the babies. Obviously, they were well fed, because they weren't really jumping at the chance at some free food. If it was thrown right in front of them, they would snap it up, but otherwise the crazy mooching birds would swoop down and grab it first.

Gatorland is not all about alligators, even though the name implies that it is. There's a train you can ride (though don't buy an unlimited ride bracelet, because it's very short and not worth it) to learn more about the park and the animals that live there. You'll see deer and maybe some other critters that roam free on the land. Then when you wander through the rest of the park, see snakes, a blonde(!) raccoon, tropical birds, a Nile crocodile and more.  It can get really hot outside in Florida and they take advantage of that and have a splash area for the kids. Bring their suits, so they can jump around and cool off. There are changing rooms available.

You do NOT want to miss a trip to the snack bar, because you can get some yummy bites, including Gator nuggets. When else would I get a chance to try these on my travels? Probably eventually, but I planned on getting some on this visit, so we ordered those and some nachos. You know, in case they were horrible. It's hard to describe the taste of gator, but we agreed that it was somewhat like chicken mixed with an overcooked pork chop. It sounds gross and might be an acquired taste, but I liked it. My thought is that if a "theme park" can get it right, think of how good it would be made by an actual chef. It's definitely something to try at least the once.

If you aren't going in with a GoCard, make sure to download a coupon from the Gatorland website for your admission. And don't breeze through the gift shop either, as it's one of the largest I've seen and has so much to check out. Lots of gator stuff, including ornaments (I had to take one of those home) and gator snack sticks that are like a Slim Jim. You'll also find art, jewelry and locally made foods.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated by Smart Destinations for this post, I just genuinely love how GoCard can save you money on your travels. I also saved more by using Groupon to purchase my cards for this trip.

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