Friday, April 7, 2017

Boggy Creek Air Boats - Kissimmee, Florida

During early March we decided to wander on over to Kissimmee - a cute, touristy area near Orlando, and about 40 minutes by highway from our place in Cypress Lakes (Lakeland). We'd been to Kissimmee on our first trip - a little section called "Old Town" with the usual tourist type shops - flea markets, restaurants, hotels/motels, discount stores. Places that usually cost more than tourists really want to spend, but still ... the draw is there to pick up momentos or tchotchkes (uh, nick-knacks). It's just an interesting place to wander around.

We'd been there on our first trip a year ago, and stopped in at the Ponderosa Steak House for lunch. The food was amazingly good - much better than we'd had at Ponderosa's in Pennsylvania (no longer any in existence there) or at home in Orillia (also gone many years). Actually, it surprised me to find a Ponderosa so we hustled in, more out of nostalgia than anything else. Back home, when our kids were small Ponderosa was something we could treat them to, and a place they liked to eat. After thoroughly enjoying the food our first trip, we realized it would be a place we'd go back to.

Since we had to go through Kissimmee to get to the Boggy Creek Airboat venue, we figured we'd stop back at Ponderosa after the ride. If you're not far from Kissimmee, Ponderosa is worth a try for a decent meal and buffet.

Sorry, onto the airboats. The Boggy Creek Airboat suppliers have a website, that tells you most of what you'd probably need to know (map, fees, schedules, etc.) and provides contact information if you have any other questions. But good heavens, it really doesn't do itself justice!

True, the facts are there but the experience is so much more. It's pretty hard to put it into words because, of course, each experience is personal. For myself, it was a no-brainer from the beginning. When it comes to some things (boats, skidoos, amusement park rides) I have a serious "need for speed". It's a little weird ... I figured as I aged and got to "seniorhood" that sort of thing would become a long-ago thrill, only to be remembered, rather than still to be experienced, but that's not the case. I still love the speed (oh no ... not particularly in a car since I'd like to live a while longer) and excitement of sometimes moving so fast the surroundings are a blur. Guess that isn't something that fades with time (not always anyhow).

My bigger concern was for my husband. He wanted to go (he loves boating and we've owned a speed boat for much of our married life) but his recent surgeries (neck, back, hip replacement) coupled with his other health concerns (heart) really made us wonder if he could do the trip without being re-injured or causing some other physical issue (we also weren't sure he could get on and off the boat). As it turned out, they said he'd be able to manage boarding and de-boarding, but they weren't sure about the back/neck thing. Depending on how windy the day is, the water can be rough, and boats can bounce a lot. That day was was fairly calm with nearly no wind, so we paid for our tickets and entered the park.

To be fair, it's not a large area so "park" would probably give someone the wrong idea. The grounds have reasonable sized designated parking area, a "hut" for purchasing tickets; a small (separate) gift shop (oh yes we did, lol); the landing area and open boat docks; a small restaurant (smelled delicious, and was very hard to resist) a "photo-booth" area (sort of ... see the pic); a fenced pool with some small alligators, and a unique native village (more on that later).

There's a good-sized covered pavilion where you can wait your turn at the air boat. There are several boats running at a time, and you're given a time when you purchase your ticket. For us the fees were about $55 US for two seniors - we didn't buy the add-on feature for Gatorland (we see gators every day at the resort here) but they have that option, and they have prices for families and groups as well. Check their site for the fees.

We booked the 30 minutes ride, which we figured was long enough but honestly, both of us felt we could have done a longer ride. It was thoroughly enjoyable (if you like boating that is). For me, it was the first time I'd ever been on air boat (noisy) but the ride was much smoother than any of the speed boats we've ever been on. Our ride had padded seats, and there were about a dozen of us that loaded onto the boat. It was equipped with ear protectors (the headphone type), and life-jackets. The airboat pilot was also a knowledgeable guide, which really made the trip a learning experience too. He knew about the wild-life indigenous to the area (see Birds of Kissimmee-Orlando Watershed), and some of the rarer birds that are there, like the "Snail Kite".

These birds eat only snails ... a certain kind of snail. It was really tough to get a decent shot of this bird, because of the tree branches. The snails that it eats hatch from these weird pinkish pods growing on trees in the wetlands areas. One of these ponds can have something like 20,000 snails hatch from it. Sorry about the pictures - I was in the last row of the airboat's seats (so, there's heads in the way of my camera).

The other thing that really astonished me were the cows ... neck deep in the water some of them. I'd never seen this before. I mean, we live in cow country back home - every field has a heard of cows, but I've never seen them even step in a puddle, let alone wade in up to their bellies and necks, but the wetlands were full of cows. I nearly fell out of the boat trying to get a picture the first time I saw a cow.

There were a couple of gators in the water, which I missed but somehow, after spending 4 months with a gator living in my back yard (in the pond of course) ... they are like just another cow/dog/cat - ordinary critters I'm used to seeing. Now, if that gator were to come out of the pond and crawl up a fence, or sun himself on my chaise lounge ... that would get me running for the camera in a flash. Seriously, unless you go in the water and poke them with sticks or something, they just sort of float around the pond. Don't go in the water, don't invade their space and don't feed them. They're pretty well behaved if you mind your business and let them mind theirs. Maybe the gators in the resort are used to people.

There were lots of different bird species and the pilot was very good, he'd slow and stop every time he spotted a flock of birds, or specific species and let us take pictures or ask questions. I felt the half hour was more than worth the money we paid - not only did we just enjoy the ride (me, the thrill seeker) we also learned things about wildlife that we didn't know. We're planning to go again another time.

The native village is probably not what you'd be expecting. It wasn't what we expected either. What's there is not a lot, but it's very ancient - it isn't the the "wild west" type of village, it's from a pre-pioneer period, but it's very interesting to see the stone implements and tools, and worth a look.

All-in-all, this is a trip we'd recommend to anyone who can handle the boat ride.

More Pictures from the Day

And, finally ... our little mementos.

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