On our family’s recent vacay to Florida, we checked out the Magic Kingdom, of course, but only for a day. I get waaaay too caught up in Disney’s world and find myself willing to spend any amount of money to keep the magic coming, but thank goodness my husband has more sense than that. Rather than getting a second mortgage on our house to pay for another day at Walt’s wonderland, he found another adventure for the family that was less-nauseatingly expensive, but still thrilling – Gatorland.
Our kids love animals, and have collectively consumed untold amounts of information on animals of all types – you name it, they’ve read a book or watched a PBS show about it. So, a whole day filled with reptiles seemed right up their little alleys.
We arrived at Gatorland right at opening time, and the crowds were small. But there were lots and lots of gators and crocs to be seen sunning themselves on platforms, lazing in pools, or out in the marshy swamp beyond the park’s heavily fenced wooden walkways. There were warnings, of course, about the dangers of the prehistoric beasts just beyond our reach, but when we bought our ‘Gator Chow’ (raw hot dogs – insert *shudder* here), the woman handing out the dogs told us to be especially careful of the birds flying around the place. ‘If you drop a piece of hot dog, don’t try to pick it up. The birds will fight you for it.’
Indeed, of all the animals we fed that day, the birds were the most lively, which was surprising. We’ve all seen gators on television devouring their prey in the wild, showing off those death rolls, attacking with gaping jaws, water spray flying in slow-motion. I thought we’d get to see some of that hustle when we got to tossing our food into the gator dens, but I think we could have been pelting them with pink erasers for all that they cared. Here, see for yourself:
My favorite part of that video is Hailey asking for hand sanitizer after handling those gross raw hot dogs. And, yes, we were treated to that background music all day (insert *shudder* here).
But there was more fun to be had at Gatorland than feeding captive animals – there was a zip line that ran over the park, and I was itching to get on it. Usually, Evan is too small for such things, but this park would let him ride in tandem with an adult, so all four of us could have some fun above the trees together. I hadn’t dressed that morning in zip line-appropriate attire (skorts are not made for harnesses), so I ran down the road to find something in which I could be comfortably suspended. (Side note – I’m happy to report that Target now sells yoga pants in ‘short’ seam lengths. I’m unhappy to report that I wear a size Large.)
As soon as I left, the ‘Rookie Wrestling’ gator show got underway. Trust me, had I known that I was going to miss what followed my departure, I would have stayed at the park and risked showing off my worst assets to strangers on the zip line. Watch this (except maybe you, Mom) :
My favorite part of that video is that no one got eaten. Perhaps I should be alarmed that my children apparently lack the good sense to saty away from wild and dangerous animals, but here’s hoping that they won’t be running into any gators in our neck of the woods.
I found the fam back at the park after Hailey and Evan’s death-defying gator rides, and all of us got geared up for some zip lining:
Hailey had the option of going tandem with one of us, but she wanted to try going on her own (surprise!). She was the first one in our group to fly on the zip line that day. She was fearless, as she usually is when it comes to physical endeavors. Evan got a little scared halfway through the adventure, and Jon had to bribe him with promises of a bigger gift from the gift shop to get him to continue (surprise!).
We have no pictures of our flying fun, as we couldn’t take our cameras. Gatorland wanted $60 for a cd of the dozen shots their photographer took of us (Who do you think you are? Disney World?). Just picture all of us in helmets and harnesses, suspended from a clothesline seventy feet in the air. It was exhilarating, and I’m grateful that we got to do it all together.
We left Gatorland happy and whole and returned to the condo for one last night before we made our way back to Georgia through the Florida toll booths and past the gauntlet of preachy highway billboards.
In four days, we packed in a lot of vacationing – we Karaoke-d, we fed wild animals, we met magic fairies, we rode roller coasters, we zipped along on wires, we risked our progeny to gators, we ate overpriced food, but most of all, we enjoyed being together.
When we got home, our neighbors asked the kids what they had done on vacation. They excitedly showed off their cheap toys from the gift shops and talked rapturously about the condo pool. What the—? I guess it’s up to Jon and I to remember the rest…