Check out Gatorama for some amazing hands on experiences with that old Florida feel!
We were able to participate in Gatorama’s annual hatching festival. This had been something that I had wanted to do for years! I was super excited to be able to hold a baby gator as it emerges out of its shell for the first time. Gatorama is one of the oldest Florida roadside attractions. It opened in 1957 and was one of Florida’s first Alligator attractions. It is a longstanding family attraction as well as an operating alligator farm.
The annual hatching festival only takes place a couple weeks every year in August/September. The dates all depend on when the baby gators are ready to hatch. Alligator’s lay their eggs in a nest made of vegetation in late June/early July. The female alligator lays between approximately 35-50 eggs. The eggs are then covered with the vegetation. Gatorama is required to go into the nests and carefully collect the eggs… while keeping the angry momma away! The gators have a better chance of surviving by them removing the eggs from the nests and being able to monitor them. They bring them into incubators while they wait out the 65 day incubation period for them to hatch. The sex of the alligator all depends on the temperature of the nest. Cooler temperatures of the nest yield more females, while hotter temperatures yield more males. After that 65 day incubation period, the alligators begin to make a high pitched noise that lets us know they were ready to be hatched. During the festival they will hatch over 5,000 baby gators!
When we arrived at Gatorma, we were told to meet down at the Crackin’ Barn. We started off down the wildlife boardwalk. There were alligators and crocodiles swimming around below the boardwalk on both sides of us! When we arrived at the barn we were given numbers. Remember the saying the early bird gets the worm… its true! Hatchlings are dependent on mother nature. Gatorama has an AM and PM hatching session. Since we were part of the AM session we started our training at 10:00 AM. They started by explaining how they retrieve the eggs out of the nests. They then went over step by step how to help hatch the baby gators. Explaining that there were staff available that would help us along the way too. They showed us the different variations of colors of alligators that can be produced. They were also very excited since earlier that morning they had a albino baby gator hatch. We were the first group to see it!
We were now ready to head over the the hatching stations. We gloved up and awaited our baby gator! When they hand you your baby to hatch, the gator already has its egg tooth outside the egg. It is a tough piece of skin on the end of its snout, that when its ready to hatch, it uses it to break through the inner membrane of the shell. My baby gator was chirping and ready to make its debut into the world! We carefully followed their directions of gently peeling away the hard outer shell, peeling open the inner shell membrane where its egg tooth was, and holding it while our baby gators came squiggling out of its shell. We were allowed to take selfies with our new friends, which I named mine Chompers, and I got to set it down in the hatching station to see it walk around a bit. Our babies were then put in the nursery. Gatorama then made it official and we got a birth certificate with our gators name on it. It is a great family experience, letting parents teach their children about this amazing process. This educational opportunity is priceless.
After we were done hatching our babies, we decided to check out the other things Gatorama has to offer. We continued down the boardwalk to see many other animals and various species of alligators and crocodiles. They have an experience called Uncle Waders Catch a Gator, where they release juvenile gators into the pond, and you have a chance to wrangle a live gator. Don’t worry their staff will be there to help you get the right technique. Another cool opportunity they offer is the bareback gator photo op. You are able to jump on the back of one of their large gators wrapping your hands around its powerful mouth all while smiling for the camera! We decided to venture further and came to a petting zoo with goats, baby pigs, and a baby deer. We had fun feeding the little piggies!! Next, we came to the Big Bone Fossil Dig, where you can be challenged with the task of excavating real alligator bones!
Their most famous experience, is called Fast hands or No Hands, where you get to get up close and personal with the large gators, practicing your feeding technique. I decided to let Jason have fun with this one! Participants have to be 18 years old and older. These gators come up half way out of the water to catch those chickens! If your lucky, you will get a hole in one, hear their powerful mouths snap shut, and walk away with both of your hands! If you don’t want to participate, they have daily gator feeding and jumping shows that take place off the boardwalk, where the pros take care of feeding the hungry participants. If your stomach is grumbling, don’t worry, they have a snack shack. It has a wide variety of food, beverages, and snacks. Yes, you are able to taste gator for the first time too!
Unfortunately, hurricane Irma did a lot of damage to Gatorama. They are currently closed and in the process of re-building. The boardwalk was found to be completely covered by water, wildlife enclosures were damaged or flooded, and there is a ton of clean up that needs to be done all while taking care of all the baby gator hatchlings. They are looking for volunteers to help and donations to keep them going. You can follow them of facebook, twitter, and instagram to keep up with their process and to find out when they will be re-opening.
Gatorama is located on 6180 US – 27, Palmdale, FL 33944. They are usually open 7 days a week, rain or shine, 10:00 am till 5:00 pm. If you have any questions you can call their gift shop at 863-675-0623. Reservations are suggested, especially for the Hatch and Hold experience. Some of the additional experiences are available at an extra charge.
For additional information and fees check out their website here.