Racing through marshy and grassy areas in an airboat and spotting alligators seems to top the list of things to do for tourists during a Florida vacation. Heck, even after living in the Sunshine State for more than two decades, I still enjoy the thrill of zipping and spinning over marshy areas at speeds up to 45 mph and admiring flora and fauna.
Did you know, Alexander Graham Bell invented the fanboat? Today, they are also called airboats and they are important to Florida’s tourism industry. The airboat was invented in 1905 and the one was built in Nova Scotia to test engines. It was called “The Ugly Duckling.” The first airboat in Florida was introduced in 1920.
Airboat operators are a dime a dozen, just like palm trees and seashells. But, following are five reputable airboat operators in Florida.
Peace River Airboat Tours & Charters, Arcadia
Staying in Punta Gorda, Englewood, Port Charlotte, North Fort Myers or Arcadia? Check out Peace River Airboat Tours & Charters in Arcadia. This one-hour adventure travels about 20 miles down the lower Peace River.
Boats accommodate up to six passengers so you are guaranteed for an intimate and unforgettable journey which includes wildlife viewing at a thrilling speed. Combine an hour-long airboat tour with a 30-minute buggy ride for the Surf & Turf package. (4192 SW Adventure Way, Arcadia, Fla. 34266; Tel: (863) 444-0693; www.peacerivercharters.com)
Twister Airboat Rides, Cocoa
Spending your holiday on the Space Coast such as Cocoa Beach, Titusville, or Melbourne? Take a ride with Twister Airboat Rides in Cocoa. See a natural cypress swamp and speed over the grassy marsh of Lake Poinsett and Saint Johns River during a 30-minute ride. You’ll reach speeds up to 45 mph but the captain will slow down for wildlife as birds, alligators, and maybe wild pigs so you can snap a photo.
Twister Airboat Rides departs from Lone Cabbage Fish Camp which has an old Florida feel. Munch on alligator tail, frog legs, or catfish. A 30-minute ride for an adult is $24. Visit the website and download a $2 off coupon. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (8199 State Road 520, Cocoa, Fla. 32926; Tel: (321) 632-4199; www.twisterairboatrides.com)
Everglades Alligator Farm, Homestead
Vacationing in Miami, South Beach, or Key Largo? Or planning a trip to Everglades National Park? Add Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead to your must-visit list. Located near the main entrance to Everglades National Park, hang onto your hat as the guide twists and turns in South Florida’s oldest alligator farm.
More than 2,000 alligators and crocodiles live on the farm. A 20-minute airboat ride is $28 for an adult and includes general admission into the farm which includes the snake and alligator shows, gator feeding, and access to the nature trail. Check online for coupons. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (40351 SW 192 Avenue, Homestead, Fla. 33034; Tel: (305) 247-2628; www.everglades.com)
Marsh Landing Adventures, St. Cloud
Spending time in Orlando, Kissimmee, or Central Florida? Step away from the theme parks and hop into an airboat with Marsh Landing Adventures in St. Cloud. Glide over portions of Central Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga which is known for bass fishing and birdwatching. Unlike many airboat operators, Marsh Landing Adventures offers tours with a maximum of up to six passengers. This means more personal attention and one-on-one time with the captain.
If you are traveling solo, you may be able to sit next to the captain like I did. A 60-minute ride for an adult (11 years old and older) is $49.95. Open Monday – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 5 p.m. (4275 Neptune Road, St. Cloud, Fla. 34769; Tel: (407) 624-0973; www.orlandoairboattours.com)
Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours, Ochopee
If Naples, Fort Myers, Sanibel, Marco Island or Everglades City is where you’re soaking up the Florida sun, then Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours is near you. This operator will always have a special place in my heart because it is the first airboat ride I ever took. I was a kid and distinctively remember the boat operator shouting, “This is the highlight of your Florida vacation.”
My first trip was more than three decades ago and it has evolved over time. It is more eco-focused versus solely entertainment. Upgrade to a package that includes a swamp buggy tour and walk through the animal sanctuary, watch a live alligator show, and hug an alligator. A 30-minute airboat tour for an adult is $32.50. Online specials and coupons are available. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (32330 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee; Tel: 1-800-282-2781; www.wootenseverglades.com)
Before You Go…
Before embarking on your airboat adventure, research and find the best outfitter for your needs. Visit www.visitflorida.com to find additional airboat operators.