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GATORLAND: Have You Braved Florida's Wildest Theme Park?

4) Gator "Wrestling"

Image: Gatorland

In a post-Blackfish world, perhaps you can see why Gatorland's "Gator Wrestling" show has adopted the much less provocative title, Alligators: Legends of the Swamp. However, rest assured that the tried-and-true classics of one of the park's most spectacular shows remain. The show still features a Gatorland daredevil going "mano-a-gator" in a gator-encircled sand pit in the center of an 800-seat stadium. 

Of course, the show has never really been about "wrestling" a gator ("wrastlin', maybe), instead using the surprising title to get guests to learn more about the unique adaptations and survival skills of these reptilian predators. For example, guests learn more about how alligators hunt, the strength of their bites and jaws, and the role that alligators play in Floridian life.

Image: Gatorland

Afterwards, guests can even pose with the gators (for a price) to remember the sensational experience.

5) Pearl's Smokehouse

The newest, hottest trend in themed entertainment design is all about dining and immersing your guests into new worlds. While Pearl's Smokehouse mostly serves up your standard theme park fair, there's one particularly memorable product on its menu: Gator Nuggets. Of course, the park doesn't use its own gators.

Image: Gatorland

And despite any initial revulsion, remember that "alligator" has been a product of Florida for a very, very long time. The animals are hunted for sport, and just as alligators' skin can be used for leather, its meat can be served for food. While the most commonly eaten part is the ribs, the "nugget" version feels more palatable for theme park crowds. As for the taste? Take a guess... Yep, "it tastes like chicken." Perhaps no surprise as chickens (and all birds) are technically classified as reptiles, and in fact the closest living relatives to birds on the tree of life are the order crocodilia, containing alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and gharials.

6) Screamin' Gator Zipline

Image: Gatorland

One of Gatorland's newest signature experiences is the Screamin' Gator Zipline. We're talking about a combined 1,200 foot-long course made of five ziplines up to 56-feet high, plus a 150-foot long suspension bridge. And it should be no surprise that this 30-mile-per-hour zip course carries you directly over the Cuban Crocodile and Nile Crocodile exhibits before a final run across the Breeding Marsh with plenty of alligators waiting below.

7) Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure

Image: Gatorland

If you're ready to tackle the real thrills of the Florida wilderness, you'll be surprised by Gatorland's newest expansion (the largest in its history), the Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure. Mix the scale of Kilimajaro Safaris with the humor of the Jungle Cruise and the irreverence of Universal's Lost Legend: JAWS, and you'll get the basics of this new off-roading thrill ride.

Guests take a seat in 12-foot tall custom off-roading vehicles and set out to climb hills, trudge through mud, and drive directly through a pond populated by hundreds of alligators. Along the way, a live narrator proves that Gatorland is... let's say... less corporate than Disney. In fact, the ride and its colorful cast of on-board narrators manage to take a few good-natured swipes at their competitor up the road (for example, by starting the "unapproved" off-road adventure in a now "stolen" vehicle by deciding against following the prescribed route through "Gator Gardens: A Really Really Totally Realistic Florida Experience.) You can watch a full point-of-view view of the experience here.

Roadside Wonder

Image: Gatorland

Those seven standouts are just the beginning. Gatorland is a full daytrip from the sanitized worlds of Disney and Universal, giving guests to Central Florida as close to a natural experience as most would like to get. Gatorland has done the impossible... it has evolved from a roadside tourist attraction in Florida's earliest heyday to a reputable, standalone theme park – and in fact, the only such park to celebrate the actual, real Florida and its most ancient inhabitants. 

And just as our earlier trip to Weeki Wachee Springs introduced us to the visionary entertainer Newton Perry, here it's really the story of Owen Godwin and his family that underscores the growth and development of Gatorland. It's evolution from a "tourist trap" snake house to an entertainment park to a legitimate showcase of Floridian wildlife is worthy of its own in-depth exploration. A little rough-around-the-edges, "yeehaw"

A Florida institution, the park is – for many – a must-visit for any Orlando vacation... and like the alligator itself, we expect it to be around for a very, very long time.

If you haven't make the jump to our Roadside Wonders: Weeki Wachee Springs feature to soak up the tale of another naturally-inspired Florida tourist attraction that's entirely different, yet born of the same era. Then, let us know – have you been to Gatorland? Is this Florida attraction truly the gem we think it is? What's your most memorable experience at this one-of-a-kind park?

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