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The Alligator Capital of the World: Gatorland
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Gatorland is a 110-acre attraction with plenty of – teeth. Alligator teeth, that is. The animal attraction which also features a zipline ride, animal shows, petting zoo, and of course alligators has added a new attraction recently as well, the Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure ride and Gator Joes Adventure Outpost. Part of the park's $2.2 million dollar expansion, the attraction allows guests to meet Gatorland characters, see the alligators, and hear the patter of singing tour guides. Visitors ride 12-foot-high monster off-road vehicles custom made for the attraction. The ride lasts 15 minutes.

Another new addition is a kookaburra bird named Marshall, joining animals including birds, wildcats, tortoises, and the park's other recent new addition, two capybaras. The parks thousands of alligators can be viewed at entertaining shows or from the zipline which soars guests above them.



Gatorland began small in 1949, becoming an iconic roadside attraction. The park weathered a pandemic closure last spring, reopening in May 2020, with social distancing and masking in place.

President and CEO Mark McHugh says it is difficult to describe which attractions are the most popular at the Florida mainstay. “That's a hard one because there are so many fun things to do at Gatorland.  For just pure entertainment, our three shows are fun and educational.  Kids love our petting zoo, free-flight bird aviary, train ride, and splash park.  For those with the spirit of adventure, our Screamin' Gator Zip Line and Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure are incredibly popular.”

This year, new plans are afoot. “We have a couple of fun rides on the drawing board that we're not ready to release yet.  The pandemic in 2020 was incredibly hard on our industry, and I do not expect us to implement anything ‘big' this year as we grow our capital reserves.  This pandemic has taught me that we must maintain significant reserves in order to weather the most unimaginable storms.”



The park has made some pandemic related changes that will continue for the present, McHugh explains. “Naturally, we implemented a massive amount of safety and disinfection processes throughout the park, and I do not see us slowing down on these critical cleaning protocols any time soon.  Hopefully we will control the virus to the point that mask and social distance mandates relax.  Those are the two areas that our guests question the most.” 

Pandemic or no, Gatorland is still a big part of the entertainment experience in the region. “Gatorland is still owned and operated by the family of Owen and Pearl Godwin, who opened the park in 1949.  Guests quickly feel our family-style, southern hospitality.  Gatorland is deeply woven into the fabric of the Central Florida community for 72 years, and we provide guests with a real, Florida experience.  There is nothing else like us in the theme park industry,” McHugh asserts.
 
Over the years, despite changes, some things have not changed, like the park's commitment to sharing natural attractions with family fun. “Like many attractions in the 1940's and 1950's, Gatorland was opened as a ‘roadside' attraction, catching folks traveling from north Florida to Miami.  The park's founders had a goal of sharing Florida's beauty and wildlife with guests, and the park was more of a zoo-style attraction with static animal exhibits for many years,” he relates. “In the mid-1990's, the park began to focus on adding entertainment to all park activities and creating ‘low tech' adventures like the zip line and swamp buggy rides.  So today, guests can experience everything from quiet, peaceful walks through swamps and alligator marshes, to fun and entertaining shows, to exciting rides with experiences you won't find anywhere else.”


 
Because of the pandemic, for now McHugh is focusing on local Florida residents until vacations and travel experiences rebound, he explains. That focus includes “many [locally oriented] events and specials that worked well for us in the fall, and I expect us to remain focused on that demographic through the spring.  We provide a 50% discount to Florida Residents, and promote weekend events to attract the locals.”

That said, a fun early summer event is being planned that has a strong draw to all guests. “We will host our Second Annual Gatorpalooza May 15 and 16, which is an awesome event with live music, specialty foods and beer, and lots of vendors with unique gifts and foods for sale.” He adds “Hopefully, tourism, and especially international travel, will begin rebounding by summer.”


 
And, no matter who is enjoying the fun, Gatorland remains, Florida's leader in alligator safety and education since 1949, and as such has attractions that are unique for guests in Orlando's theme park mecca. Where else could guests view thousands of alligators, including exotic white alligators, and crocodiles, along with an aviary and breeding marsh, and take a nature walk. Gatorland also offers reptile shows such as the Gator Wrestlin' Show, Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show. And, the park also features the Gatorland Express train and Gator Gully Splash Park, where kids of all ages can engage in waterplay. The park also offers dining with Pearl's Good Eats diner and a snack bar location.

Currently the park is offering a local residents a discount admission of $9.99.
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