I was provided with passes and a private tour of Gatorland for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
I think many of us have been looking for different, new, fun and exciting things to do in the Orlando area and I think I found it! Best yet – it’s just a short 15 minute drive from the “Disney Bubble.”
Gatorland Orlando is so much more than just a gator park! A free-flight aviary, petting zoo, one-of-a-kind animal shows, thrilling Screamin’ Gator Zip Line and the Stompin’ Gator Off-Road Adventure, all ensure your day will be so full of fun you’ll wonder why you waited so long to visit!
The History of Gatorland
1905 – Owen Godwin Sr. is born and spends his youth on the Kissimmee River east of Sebring, Florida. Part of a ranching community known as Kissimmee Island, they were serviced by the steamers that carried supplies and tourists to Palm Beach from the railhead at Kissimmee.
1930’s – Owen Godwin, Sr., builds an alligator pit in the backyard of his Sebring home, just south of Sebring, Florida. The pit is a sideline to Godwin’s other jobs as butcher and postmaster. His wife, Pearl, sells gator products – key chains, belts and the like – out of her kitchen. After making their purchases, customers step outside and stare in amazement at a gator mom with her babies. Watching them, Godwin dreams of an attraction that would showcase Florida wildlife.
1947 – After World War II, he buys a parcel of land off Hwy. 17/92 and 441 in nearby Kissimmee. Tourists were just beginning to travel to Florida. The road, then the state’s second most traveled highway, would be a good place for an attraction, he reasons. Years later, the area in the heart of Central Florida’s tourist district becomes home not only to Gatorland, but also to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Godwin’s 16-acre plot is actually a “borrow pit,” having supplied dirt for the new highway. At the time, he names his attraction the Florida Wildlife Institute.
Three people invest $100 each in Godwin’s attraction. Most think it is a crazy notion. No one will pay to view Florida wildlife in a “borrow pit,” they say. If people want to see alligators, they can just walk outside.
1949 – Florida Wildlife Institute opens fully and features alligators and snakes. What was to become Central Florida’s first major attraction houses its gift shop in a stockade-style building with a dirt floor covered in sawdust. The shop’s thatched roof is made by Seminole Indians who live on the property and wrestle gators as part of the attraction’s entertainment.
1950’s – Godwin begins to believe the Institute sounds more like a government-sponsored organization than a tourist attraction so changes the name to Snake Village and Alligator Farm.
Success comes in the form of a huge crocodile Godwin buys from a Miami breeder. Known as Bone Crusher, the leathery giant is approximately 15 ft. long and weighs 1,080 lb. Godwin bills him as the world’s largest captive crocodile, offering $1,000 reward to anyone who could prove him wrong. No one rises to the occasion. Bone Crusher remains a major attraction for years.
Building on Bone Crusher’s success, Godwin equips a special trailer with a fan, heaterand bathtub for 12-ft. alligator, Cannibal Jake. During the summer off-season, man and beast travel to the Carolinas. Working with Mason Lodges, Godwin sets up displays in towns. People pay a dime each to view the mysterious creature. Godwin and Jake spend several summers on the New Jersey Boardwalk, too. The former clad in jodhpurs with cowboy boots and hat, regale passerby with wildlife tales. These tours and the pile of dimes collected from children marveling at the giant reptile keep Gatorland going in the early years.
1954 – A new name again – Snake Village gets a new name: Gatorland. The gift shop is renovated. The thatched roof gives way to modern buildings.
1960’s – As the tourism industry grows, so do the crowds at Gatorland. The attraction adds exhibits, one of the first being Coon House. The Godwin children had found an enormous, 25-ft. log on their property. They put a spectacular house on top, with screen door and spiral staircase then set the log upright. The resident, a raccoon, presents Godwin with a new obstacle to his dream of showing animal life native to Florida. The nocturnal critter sleeps inside all day, venturing out only in the dark of night.
During the off season, Godwin’s wife, Pearl and the children run the business. Godwin goes on safaris worldwide — Africa, India, Honduras and Alaska — searching for animals for the Gatorland zoo.
Godwin’s youngest son, Frank, designs a unique entrance in the form of a gaping gator jaw painted in his father’s favorite color scheme — Florida aqua and white. In coming years, the signature mouth would be featured in movies, newspapers and magazines worldwide, beckoning tourists to take a walk on Florida’s wild side.
Over the years more acreage was added and today, Gatorland Orlando sits on 110+ acres. The little roadside stand is still family owned and now houses thousands of alligators, nesting, and many other special creatures and attractions for guests.
A Day at Gatorland
I love – love – loved it!
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I sort of thought to myself that it would probably only take a couple of hours to get through the park since how many alligators can you look at – right?
Boy was I wrong!
Sanitation and Safety
In this post pandemic travel time, the first thing everyone wants to know about is the sanitation and safety of places we visit. Gatorland Orlando is on top of it all!
There is plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the park as well as hand washing stations.
The overall cleanliness of the park is amazing. I could tell that’s the way it always is – not just now when people are so much more aware.
Social distancing with Skunk Ape – you never know where he’ll turn up! Who better to remind folks about the merit of keeping a safe distance than this Florida Cryptid, who tends to be even more elusive than his cousin, Bigfoot?
Gatorland’s Social Distancing Skunk Ape remains “insistent, that you stay distant”, reminding guests to stay 6 feet apart. But he’s more than just an expert at keep away! Gatorland’s Social Distancing Skunk Ape is all about keeping your hands clean and sanitizing regularly!
What To Do at Gatorland
One of the things that really impressed me was the concern the park has for their guests. There is no doubt the Florida sun and heat can be an issue for many visitors. Most walkways from one area of the park to another are not only covered but also have fans to help guests with the heat.
The list of things to do is long. Along with watching the gators you can have a full day of fun.
Screamin’ Gator Zip Line (extra charge)
Standing over seven stories tall, the amazing towers feature multilevel launch pads and breathtaking views. You can soar through the air over some of the park’s star attractions – Cuban and Nile Crocodiles and the Alligator Breeding Marsh with over 130 giant alligators below!
Gatorland Orlando is also home to one of the only wheelchair accessible zip lines in the country!
Stompin’Gator Off-Road Adventure
Absolutely hilarious! Guests board a 12-foot-high custom-made, off-road monster vehicle for a 15-minute rugged and hilarious adventure. The is chocked full of wacky Gatorland characters, singing tour guides, swampy adventure, and, of course, lots of alligators. Each vehicle is specially branded and named after iconic real alligators and crocodiles at Gatorland, including Bonecrusher ℠, Cannibal Jake, and Swamp Ghost ℠.
This was definitely a highlight of our day!
There are different shows throughout the day (always check the daily park schedule) to entertain guests that include gators, tropical birds, snakes and more.
This was definitely another highlight of the day!
Venture into the Alligator Breeding Marsh for a behind-the-scenes tour you’ll never forget and feed the gators!
Home to hundreds of alligators, you’ll have the opportunity to safely venture within a few feet of hungry, giant alligators and create a thrilling feeding frenzy.
Then pose for the cameras in front of your dinner companions, and be glad you weren’t dinner.
Amazingly, the alligators are trained not to cross the line in the sand! I never knew alligators were trainable.
Other Available Adventures at Gatorland Orlando
Some other available adventures include: a petting zoo, Trainer for a Day, Gator Night Shine, and Meet a Gator. Make sure you don’t miss the giant tortoises!
On really hot days Lilly’s Pad, a children’s play area offers fun and relaxation with slides, jungle gym and an adorable splash area to cool off. So be sure to bring a change of clothes for the little ones (locker/changing room available).
Pearl’s Good Eats, named after the founder’s wife, is open for lunch and dinner.
The menu is full of family favorites including hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, ice cream and more. But the true guest favorite is definitely the fried gator nuggets – no, they don’t use their own gators! Everything is priced affordably so as not to break the bank while you’re here.
Note: They offer gluten free items!
There are also several snack bars throughout the park offering cold drinks, coffee, ice cream, etc.
Looking for a gator inspired gift? Look no further! Part of the Gatorland Orlando complex features over 19,000 square feet of retail, meeting and office space along with an open-air admissions pavilion that incorporates the historic gator mouth entrance, state-of-the-art meeting facility and classroom, and a cleverly designed shopping area featuring unique gifts ideas and a pictorial timeline outlining the rich history of the theme park.
Gatorland hosts thousands of school field trips every year and logs thousands of hours of community outreach as well.
Gatorland provides baby alligators and education programs to numerous science centers and educational institutions across the US.
Gatorland continues to do research in alligator farming with the University of Florida (UF) and the Florida Wildlife Commission.
Admission to Gatorland Orlando is one of the most reasonably priced adventures in the Orlando area. They also offer different packages that allow you to get a discount on different add-on experiences.
I can’t wait to take my grandson to Gatorland. It will definitely be a day full of adventure and make great memories!
I honestly feel I haven’t told you all you need to know about Gatorland Orlando. It’s a great way to spend a day and an adventure you should really take your family on the next time you visit Orlando.