The National Parks are certainly America’s greatest idea as has been stated many times. Our family, in recent months, have decided to conquer as many of these as possible. The order in which we choose to explore has centered on the uncomfortable premise of which ones may be disappearing. Whether you choose to believe in global warming or not, the fact remains that, the Everglades water is rising and the glaciers are receding. I have no intent on swaying political or environmental agendas, as my agenda is the family vacation. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for us to visit the Everglades over a weekend getaway to Miami, we jumped at the chance to make it worth our while.

I must admit the vision we all had in our heads was screaming through the Everglades at a high rate of speed as alligators scrambled for cover from the sounds of the flatboats. Suffice to say, I was quite disappointed when I realized that airboats are not permitted in a vast majority of the National Park. In fact, on the NPS website it states that you can take several trails where you may even catch a glimpse of an alligator. That is nice, but not nearly enough. Not letting that derail the original image in our heads, I discovered a savory nugget the National Park Service includes on their website below as an offering to us adventure junkies looking for more than a nature walk.

Everglades

Suddenly the dream is alive again and the gators can begin chomping at the bit to sink their teeth into our oblivious rear-ends. In researching our options, we realized many of these airboat operators could be found within the confines of the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. One of these, Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours offered exactly what we needed which was a quick trip through the Everglades with an experienced guide. Not only could we make it out there quickly, but also when you are on the time clock for a weekend getaway, we do not have the luxury to spend a couple of days or even half a day to our excursion.

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Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours is about 30 minutes from the beaches of Miami. Even though the distance is negligible, you do feel a world away from the bikinis and excess of South Beach. The divide between civilization and the Everglades is sudden and stark. You certainly know when you have made the transition from dry to wet. Down this stretch of highway separating Naples to Miami called the Tamiami Trail you see several airboat operators. Many of these seemed quite crowded as we made our way past them to Buffalo Tiger. My guess is that many people simply go for a day trip, which would explain why some that are closer to the city limits are so crowded.

Probably the primary reason we chose Buffalo Tiger was the pricing structure. We were not planning on making this adventure our entire day. Their flexible scheduling allowed us to not only have fun with this excursion but get back to the beach for some serious R & R. They offer a 45-minute standard tour for a relatively low price of $27.50 per adult with children 6-10 paying half of that amount. Anyone younger rides free. There are additional options for those wanting a longer and more detailed trip. These include a 1-hour private tour for $200 for a group of 1-4 people and a 1.5-hour trip for $300 for up to four people. Being that we wanted to purchase in advance, we chose to pay the additional money for the standard tour. We did not want to be held to a specific itinerary, as our schedule was tight.

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Once you arrive at the location, it is a first come first serve to get on the boats. In being one of the first people to show up, you also assure yourself of a front row seat on the boat. Don’t let this be priority though as the boat only holds about 16 people. Not to mention that before we even get on the boat, an alligator makes its way to the dock. As for the checklist of seeing an alligator? Check!

Get Ready to See Some Gators!

Back on the boat, the seats are staggered by height so you have the full range of view throughout the tour. After a few pleasantries, such as “mandatory”earplugs and how not to get your hand snatched up by an alligator, (obviously this is said in jest but…it is gators) we’re on our way.

Before we ever set foot on the boat!

Before we ever set foot on the boat!

The engine roars to life and we quickly accelerate as we hold onto our hats. As we skim effortlessly across the water and incidental plantlife, you begin to understand the beauty of the Everglades. The fact that this treasure is suffering with water levels rising and seawater creeping into the daily life of all the species who call this place home is discouraging.

For the Guides, This is Home

The guides grew up on the Everglades which is a bonus to all of us who would deem the trip unsuccessful if not for a gator sighting. They know where to go and exactly how to attract the alligators. Much like any other tourist area, the sound of the boat alone has a Pavlovian effect on the reptiles. They move slowly but assertive towards the boat. What you generally would perceive as frightening becomes more palpable with each encounter. And there are several. By the conclusion of the trip we had spotted, and acquainted, ourselves with 10-12 alligators.

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The guide takes measures to ensure every seat gets a upclose view of these mighty creatures. I will say that the alligators are more than used to human interaction, but I wouldn’t test them by any means.  The guides have spent countless hours getting to know each and every one of them. I’m a yokel from Tennessee that is quite ignorant of their moods or mannerisms, so I didn’t step out of line. Plus, that old Waterboy reference of being ornery because they have “so many teeth and not enough toothbrush” raced through my head.

National Park or Airboat Tour?

The decision to spend our day at a local business instead of taking our time to visit the National park was not an easy one. In a previous 12 months that has seen us visit many National Parks, we opted for adventure instead. We must chalk it up to another visit to a jewel of our country, even though we technically didn’t enter the park. But the adventure for our kids and of course us parents was more than worth. The fact that we wrapped up the experience with some Alligator Tenders was a nice touch, and no, it didn’t taste like chicken.

Now you see em...

Now you see em…

Now you don't!

Now you don’t!

But I must say that having the ability to be sipping on a cold beverage on a 90 degree winter’s day at the beach only an hour later? Well that made the whole experience even more fantastic. The weekend getaways can be so much more if you simply do a little research. Look for some cheap deals and the adventure can leave your kids with a heck of story to tell their friends about. Either way, make the effort to see some places that truly have no guarantees of existence in the future. It could be a million years from now, but you never know.

Live within your means, travel beyond them.