Essential Florida Travel: Touring the Everglades by High-powered Airboat

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Few experiences are as quintessentially “South Florida” as an airboat ride through Florida Everglades National Park. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s wild (literally and figuratively) and … it’s just so damn fun. Since we found ourselves in Fort Lauderdale last month, I thought it appropriate to take Mrs. Vagabondish on her very first, one-of-a-kind airboat ride.

Sunset Florida Everglades
Road Through the Florida Everglades © John Spade

As a Viator Ambassador, I found the ideal opportunity in their Florida Everglades Airboat Tour and Alligator Show. It promises an (almost) all-inclusive experience with hotel pickup and drop-off in Fort Lauderdale beach, transportation to the Everglades, an hour-long airboat ride and even a bonus alligator show afterward.

Airboat Marina at Everglades Holiday Park, Florida
Airboat Marina at Everglades Holiday Park, Florida © Mike Richard

Barely an hour after leaving our hotel, we found ourselves in the hot, wild swamps of the Everglades aboard a 700-horsepower airboat dubbed Renegade. Captain Todd was simultaneously tearing around cattail-lined corners while calmly instructing us on the safety “recommendations” of his airboat tour. The golden rule: “For the love of all that is holy, keep all appendages inside the boat at all times.” Sound advice in an area with one of the densest populations of alligators in the world.

Wild Alligator in the Florida Everglades
Wild Alligator in the Florida Everglades © Mike Richard

It didn’t take long before we spotted our first gator – a seven-foot long, young adult swimming hard toward the front of the boat. He drifted mere feet from Mrs. Vagabondish, giving her a cold, reptilian stink eye as if to say, “Hop on in … I promise I don’t bite.” The sighting set the tone for the next hour where we spotted endemic plant life, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and of course plenty of gators.

Closeup of an Alligator in the Florida Everglades
Alligator in the Florida Everglades © Jamesy Pena

Captain Todd regaled us with a brief history of the Florida Everglades, including how the Army Corp of Engineers had attempted to turn it into a network of marine roads. Conservationists invariably stepped in and kindly explained the importance and fragility of the Everglades ecosystem within the context of South Florida. It was quickly turned into a national park — the third largest in the country as a matter of fact — and remains among the most wild and inhospitable in the United States.

After a windswept hour on the water, we found ourselves back on dry land just in time for a live alligator show. Animal Planet’s own Gator Boys got their start in Everglades Holiday Park where they still perform daily shows to a packed house.

Gator Boys Alligator Show at Everglades Holiday Park, Florida
Gator Boys Alligator Show at Everglades Holiday Park, Florida © Mike Richard

The presenter of our show was a bold, young, spitfire of a girl who had no qualms about letting us know that she was every bit as badass as her gator boy colleagues. After wrangling up a female gator who was easily larger than her, she educated the crowd on alligator habits and behavior. She liked to punctuate her speech with a gator wrestling move that put her life in imminent peril (her face in the alligator’s mouth, the alligator’s closed jaw tucked beneath her chin, etc.).

Afterward, they presented the crowd with a three-year old gator and invited everyone to have their photo taken. Well, when in Florida …

In the end, the airboat tour and alligator show brought back so many childhood memories from my time growing up in Florida. Whether you’re a first-time visitor to The Sunshine State or a decades-long native, there’s always something so damn cool about visiting the Florida Everglades.

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