Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Wooten’s Airboats, Swamp Buggies and 16 ft Gators: A Perfect Way to Spend a Cloudy Day with Kids

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Grandkids on their first Air Boat adventure

Grandkids…love ‘em until, “What are we going to do today? Can we go…”  “I wanna see that new movie! The one about the pets!” “Nah, I want to go to Gametime.” “No, let’s go to Bounce!”

“Maybe tomorrow, but today we have the perfect plan,” (that’s my friend talking.) We both have our grandkids for the day and WE have plans for adventures. It’s overcast, there was rain last night and the temperature seems down about 50 degrees (okay, maybe 20 degrees, but that’s good enough!)

“We’re taking you to the swamp to take a boat ride and a buggy ride,” I say with enthusiasm. If that isn’t enticing, I don’t know what is, but the looks on their faces were at the opposite end of the “Excitement Meter. Grab your stuff and let’s go! (Sound of grumbling…”who wants to go to a swamp, probably lots of bugs and, besides, there are great cartoons on TV today…” “Grammmmmmy!”

“Zip it, we’re going, it’ll be fun!” we said. The kids talked the whole way to Wootens and seemed in better spirits when we arrived. We headed for the ticket booth and verified our reservations, while Sara, John and Milo looked around.

“What the heck is that thing?” one asked and pointed to the air boat. “That’s the boat ride we talked about.”

“Doesn’t look like any boat I’ve seen before.”

“Then this is your lucky day! Let’s look around and see if we spot any alligators!”


We all headed for a shaded area next to a body of water.

“There’s one and it’s coming this way,” John was first to spot one and we all marveled at its size and speed until it was time to board our tour boat.

Captain “J. R.” reviewed safety procedures, we donned our headsets and off we went. He broke us in slowly and confidently, skimming in and out of waterways bordered by red mangrove islands. It was stunning. When he upped the speed and turned corners on a dime, the kids (and adults) were thrilled as water cascaded over the bow and quickly drained out the stern. J. R. had an “allig eye” (eagle eye) for gators and sidled up next to them so we could peer over to check their length and girth.

Amazingly, the recent rains had raised the level of the water enough that gators that had lived farther out in the Everglades were returning to their usual habitats because of the return of fish and birds, (aka, “take-out.”) J. R. informed us that two weeks ago they didn’t see any gators on their tours so, thanks to the recent deluges, we were fortunate to see several huge reptiles.

The grandkids show no fear, it’s part of the adventure!

I’m pleased to say that our grandkids loved the air boat and wanted to go again, but we had reservations for a Swamp Buggy tour. My grandson gave the Air Boat a 9.9 on a scale from 1-10.

We walked across the road to the Swamp Buggy and boarded in time to see a small herd of deer browsing nearby, not the least bit concerned about the people and Buggy noise as we bounced to the entrance to the grasslands. This side of the road was completely different from the other side and our guide, “Jimbo” was quick to point out the differences, The Swamp Buggy tour on the north side of Route 41, encompasses fresh water, which as it progresses south, joins with salt water to form “brackish” water, which the gators prefer.

Since I’m confident you’ll want to take your kids or grandkids out here, I’m not going to spoil the tours for you. However, we learned about the need to have “controlled burns,” the residences of the local Indians, types of trees that grow in the tropics and the types of animals or animal signs you could expect to see. We noted the recent scratch marks on a tree from a black bear and a waddling racoon not too far from a sign that said “Racoon Crossing.” “Jimbo” said they were trying to teach the racoons how to read!

We learned how to recognize, via their spots, the gender of a deer from a distance; an alligator-hunting camp, an old distillery, epiphytes (air plants), orchids, Indian-carved trees used for directions when in the thick jungle-like swamp forest.  I could go on, but you probably don’t want to hear about the snakes – we didn’t see any, by the way!

After the two tours, next we had an enlightening demonstration from Andrew with facts about alligators, back on the other side of the road. Wootens has a small zoo with a variety of animals and lots of HUGE alligators behind a tall, sturdy fence. The gator that Andrew was demonstrating was 35 years old and about 13 feet long and they have some even bigger and much older. Wootens opened in 1953 and some of the gators have lived there since it opened. Do the math! There was an opportunity to hold a baby gator or a teenage gator if you wished. (We did!)

If you’re looking for experiences that enable you to stretch your mind, learn more about the Everglades and south Florida, and enjoy an amazing experience with friends, relatives and grandkids, consider Wootens. It was a blast! It’s not cheap, but if you go on-line you can get a discount. Going east on 41, it’s past Everglades City, about 5 miles on the right. Have fun!

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

Hope to see all of you at Wootens, I’ll keep an eye out for you!


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