“Get up-close and personal with gators & crocs, birds & bears, parrots & turtles, goats & llamas and much more at the Alligator Capital of the World!
Ride the new Gatorland Express train and kick back and relax at Pearl’s Smokehouse.
Explore the Miniature Water Park, Petting Zoo, Bird Aviary and the 10-acre alligator Breeding Marsh, at Orlando’s Best 1/2 Day Attraction.
Enjoy the one-of-a-kind shows including the Gator Wrestlin’ and Gator Jumparoo Show, the Up-close Encounters Show, featuring snakes, insects, and all things unexpected plus live hand feedings of huge crocodiles.”
– Full-color GATORLAND pamphlet
Of course, I’m kicking myself for forgetting my camera. Every instant at GATORLAND screamed out to be photographed — every llama, every snake, every goat buckling nervously in a gator’s jaws. Fortunately Orlando’s Best 1/2 Day Attraction (1992-1994, 1996) publishes a hell of a nice color pamphlet complete with splendid full-color photographs; as a companion to my written remarks, this pamphlet (which is sculpted along the top to match the contours of a gator’s brow, so that if you close your eyes and touch the top of the pamphlet you could literally swear there’s a gator in the tub with you) will serve marvelously.
Pictured on the front is the magnificent main entrance to GATORLAND.
What they’ve done is crafted a huge gator head for you to walk through to get into GATORLAND (pretty appropriate, actually!), and the thing is so well done it gives you the creeps. As the shadows of those 5-foot teeth darken your shirt, you start to understand what Judas must have felt like when, in the Bible, he was swallowed by the alligator (you just hope that, as in Judas’s case, God will wrap his mind control around the gator’s brain and cause it to expel you after a reasonable period of time for you to think about what you’ve done).
Once inside, there’s plenty to do. I hopped right onto the Gatorland Express Train and took a tour of the grounds. It was a lot of fun because the train truly is an “express” — it zips around GATORLAND at over a hundred miles an hour. We hit an old man!
Next I checked out the Gator Jumparoo Show, which was not up to GATORLAND standards, in my opinion, as it’s literally just a bunch of gators competing for points in jumping-related track and field events — long jump, high jump, and hurdles. I haven’t been so bored since the last summer olympics!
The Petting Zoo was great, chock full of all the animals advertised. Amazingly, they’re paired just as the pamphlet says they will be: birds and bears in one pen, turtles and parrots in another, even gators and crocs. But this is the “Alligator Capital of the World”, and crocs seem to know it; they tend to slink around on the periphery of things, minding their own business, obviously sort of watching their step, well aware that they’re merely tolerated oddities in this, the international epicenter of gator culture and civilization.
At GATORLAND’s south end lies the 10-acre alligator Breeding Marsh, which I explored. Shit it’s terrifying. Just ten solid acres of gnashing teeth and pale rubbery bellies and gnarled gator cock and splashing mud and shrieking turkey vultures and tall grass and churning marsh and buzzing insects and sticky sunlight and gaping gator cunt. It seemed like days I spent in there but when I found my way back to Pearl’s Smokehouse I learned I had only been gone for a little over a day.
I was further enervated watching the “hand feedings of huge crocodiles.” There I sat with half a dozen other dazed tourists as brave, brave men fed their hands to huge crocodiles, to no apparent purpose.
But the main attraction at GATORLAND is The Magician, shown front and center on the pamphlet in his trademark khakis and straw hat.
The Magician’s specialty is gator-based magic; in the photo we see him at the culmination of his most popular bit, in which he borrows a baby from the audience and turns it into a caiman, and then extorts money out of the parents, assuring them that yes they will pay if ever they want to see their baby in human form again; but it’s all just a trick — The Magician doesn’t know how to change the caiman back into human form (you can bet the parents aren’t let in on the trick aspect until they’ve handed over the five grand).
On the back of the pamphlet, at the bottom, The Magician displays his command over the animal will with ‘The Guillotine’. This gag blew me away. What he does is he holds open a gator’s mouth and then applies mind control to an egret kept handy by The Magician’s assistant. The egret walks slowly, deliberately toward The Magician, a look of profound concentration on its face; clearly somewhere in the deepest inner core of its mind the egret is leveraging all its remaining might in an epic attempt to expel the possessing magician — but The Magician is far too strong.
Almost daintily the egret walks to the gator and places its head inside the gator’s mouth, holds it there. The Magician looks around the audience smugly, a sarcastic “uh oh!” expression on his face. Once he’s milked what seems like all available tension from the scene, he ratchets everything up a notch, pretending that his hand, his hand that holds the top of the gator’s razor-lined mouth open, is starting to slip. The “uh oh!” expression widens. The egret remains still, the point of its beak disappearing down the gator’s throat. Horror mixes with anticipation on the audience’s faces. Children are heard to murmur, “Mommy, no…” And then suddenly there’s a great snapping sound as The Magician lets go and the gator’s jaws clap shut; the egret’s headless body sways for a moment then slumps onto the grass.
My favorite part of GATORLAND, though, was finding out that all of it was in my imagination. Because if I can imagine a place like GATORLAND, then why not PUMALAND or COWLAND?
Walking to my car to leave GATORLAND, I was filled with a sense of contentment, secure in the knowledge that all I would ever need in order to turn a boring rainy afternoon into an exciting adventure is the kernel of a good idea, the rich farmlands of my imagination in which to plant that kernel, and some acid to use as a sort of fertilizer for the kernel.