Go BIG or Go Home
What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

World’s Largest Airboat: Sarasota, Florida

Myakka Wildlife ToursIf you live in Florida (and I have), alligator sightings are about as rare and exciting as observing a squirrel in its native habitat here in the northeast. But Floridians know that northerners think it’s thrilling to see gators while we visit their sunshine-y state, so a whole subset of the tourism industry has evolved to give us that opportunity. One such business, Myakka Wildlife Tours in Sarasota, sweetens the deal further with a ride on the world’s largest airboat.

During our December visit, the weather was perfect for outdoor exploration; sunshine, breezes, and low humidity. We spent a happy, restorative day in Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s largest and oldest state parks. Follow the signs to find the tour boat dock and ticket booth.

The world’s largest covered airboats are actually two identical twin boats, the Myakka Maiden and Gator Gal. Both are 53-feet long and 16-feet wide. Each can seat up to 57 people for the 45-minute cruise. There are three cruises offered daily in the slower (hotter) summer season, June 1 through December 15. Four or more cruises, depending on demand, are offered during the high season, December 16-May 31.

The Gator Gal

The Gator Gal

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Gatorland: World’s Largest Collection of White Alligators, Orlando, FL

Gatorland“Family travel” is a term conjuring images of theme parks and children’s museums, in between stops at local ice cream parlors. As a helicopter parent, I’m all for that safe, reliable model of away-from-home entertainment. So I’m still trying to figure out what came over me when we visited Gatorland in Orlando, FL this summer.  I brought my two kids into a pen containing a white, ten-foot alligator.

Of course, Gatorland — one of Florida’s oldest attractions – is a wholesome family outing; one which I highly recommend to get off the beaten theme park track. And we could have stayed along the sidewalks to passively view the gator habitats and the “wrestlin’” shows with their campy yet endearing theatrics. But on this day, we met Trezo Je. And I loosened my death grip on the apron strings, more than a little.

Here’s how it happened: I contacted the local tourism office, which I normally do before we travel, to request assistance in planning our visits to the area’s attractions. They’re always willing to help travel writers and bloggers find great adventures, so they arranged for us to meet Tim Williams, the “Dean of Gator Wrestling,” when we arrived at Gatorland.

Tim immediately put all of us at ease with his obvious experience and knowledge about all of Gatorland’s residents, which include all manner of reptilians, as well as birds, zebu, deer, and emus. Before we even left his office, our kids were wearing baby alligators on their heads. And not freaking out.


We were there expressly to see the world’s largest collection of the extremely rare Leucistic alligators. Only 15 are known to exist in the world, and four of them live at Gatorland. They have white skin, but unlike the more common albino alligator, have some color variations, as well as steely blue eyes instead of pink. While albino gators have other genetic mutations and tend not to survive to adulthood, Leucistic gators are strong, healthy… and mean.

Leucistic alligator

Tim brought us to their pens. Trezo Je lives alone, because apparently he doesn’t warm to company. (Get it, warm? Cold-blooded? Still with me?) He and the other white gators were relocated from Louisiana bayous, so his name honors his Cajun Creole “roots.” Trezo Je means “Treasure’s Eye.”

Tim introduced us to the animal trainer who works with these gators, and asked him to bring us in to the small space surrounded by wood and plexiglass walls. The trainer opened the door, Tim waved me in, and I …just…went. No dramatic protests, no time to wish my husband farewell. Then he sent my kids in behind me, and those chickens from my own gene pool followed me blindly.

Trezo Je

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World’s Largest and Deepest Freshwater Spring, Wakulla Springs, FL

FIRST, an announcement that Linda B. is the winner of our latest giveaway, a copy of Walt Disney World Extreme Vacation Guide for Kids by Kathleen Reilly. CONGRATS!!

This morning, the outdoor thermometer read a whopping 2° F. That’s why I especially enjoy this month’s guest post about a warm, sunny place. My friend Rebecca Roberts lives in Tallahassee, FL, which is close to Wakulla Springs, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring. We met way back in elementary school, when we both lived in the Middle East. She still lives in a warm climate, while I’m stuck in this frozen tundra.

I lived in Tallahassee for three years, just out of college, and unemployed. My parents graciously opened their home to me, then charged me rent! (Something about a valuable life lesson, blah blah.) So, I’ve been to Wakulla Springs myself, and even got to ride on the glass-bottom boat, which isn’t always running, depending on the weather and water quality.

Wakulla Springs


What left the biggest impression on me? The signs warning that alligators are attracted to pets and small children. Yikes.

But Becca the Brave didn’t let the threat of harm prevent her from providing this report from the field:

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Becca and her boys!

This August for our last “field trip” before the start of school, I took my sons, Will (8) and Sam (5) to Wakulla Springs.

WHY did you go there, exactly?
We had all been there before as a family and on a kindergarten field trip, but it is one of those day trip destinations from Tallahassee that we try to do at least once a year.

Okay, what was so cool about it?
We went to the springs to go on the 45 minute boat tour and take a dip in the freezing cold spring. The water is 70 degrees year round and on a 98 degree day in August it will take your breath away. Wakulla Springs is very unique to the area and a cool trip for the day. We packed a picnic lunch, our swimsuits and made a day of it. The boat tour is a must-do. On every visit we have had a tour guide that is both entertaining and knowledgeable about the surroundings. The boat winds down the river, which is lined with Cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. We saw various birds, alligators, turtles, snakes (ugh!), fish, and we even saw two manatees on this trip.


I leave the death-defying reporting to my guest bloggers.

A little background info about the place:
Wakulla Springs is located on the Florida Panhandle near Tallahassee. On average, more than 250 million gallons of water flow from Wakulla Springs forming a nine mile river that reaches the Gulf of Mexico.  If the water is clear you can see the fossilized remains of a mastodon resting on the bottom in about 80 feet of water. There are miles of caves and tunnels under the water.

And, this is where I would start worrying about that alligator warning sign…

Wakulla Springs is a state park, so it is available to anyone that would like to visit, and it is open 365 days a year. The springs also has a lodge and restaurant that has been open since 1937, and it still appears as it did back then.

FUN FACT…… Scenes from the movies ”The Creature From The Black Lagoon” and “Tarzan” were filmed at Wakulla Springs!

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):

9. Wakulla Spring is a must-do if visiting the “Big Bend” area, and we typically bring visitors from out of state because it is so unique.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!:

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
Friends of Wakulla Springs

550 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs, FL 32327. (850) 926-0700


Sunbathing sounds really good right about now.

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