At Everglades Alligator Farm, airboats zip nearly 4 miles through shallow "rivers of grass," splashing visitors as they catch glimpses of wildlife between fast spins and hairpin turns. On the shore, alligator handlers lead demonstrations with the animals—injecting humor along the way—before letting audience members hold and take pictures with a baby alligator. Snake handlers help brave visitors pose for snapshots with a snake draped around their shoulders. Audiences craving more wildlife after the shows and tour can also explore the farm's nature path, check out the captive collection of pythons and crocodiles, and watch alligators in a feeding frenzy over the last bag of Fritos at lunchtime.
It's a "compact adventure" in the Everglades, says CEO Matthew Thibos, whose family bought the farm in the '90s from a Baptist preacher who originally raised alligators off the side of US-1. Today, the staff keeps up to 2,500 gators on 200 acres of everglades wetlands, close to the entrance of Everglades National Park. "It's an off-the-beaten-path little gem that most people enjoy," Matthew says. "Kids love it—they have a fantastic time." Matthew stresses that the farm is a great place for pictures; National Geographic has been known to drop by, and the likes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Bobby Flay have filmed there on-location. The farm sees plenty of visitors from the area, as well as domestic and international travelers, including the 2008 Miss Hong Kong contestants.
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The passionate wildlife guides at Tours in the Glades usher nature-starved sightseers into the lush wetlands and past the stunning marine wildlife of the Everglades. Captivating facts about the Everglades’ ecological and cultural significance abound, as do anecdotes about some of the birds and reptiles that call the wetlands home. All tours include the proper gear for watery odysseys and transportation into the park, thereby obviating the need to hitch rides on the backs of water-walking lizards.
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Perched on the floor, a dog cocks his head, listening intently to his owner's voice, which is filtering through the telephone a worker holds patiently next to his ear. Though it's not clear whether the pup understood, when the staff member returns to the call, the owner seems more at ease. According to hospital manager Nicole Pierre, putting four-legged friends on the phone is just one way the crew at Homestead Animal Hospital comforts guests and patients—and their owners.
The kennel staff escorts overnight guests to the boarding area, which was recently expanded and renovated to look like a cartoon town. Each private dog condo has its own mailbox and welcome mat, letting pooches continue to feel at home. Cat condos are two levels tall, with window perches that allow felines to observe one another as they lounge. As staff members supervise, all guests romp in species-specific play areas with obstacles that challenge all four legs, soft areas to wrestle upon, and perches to perfect pouncing postures.
Veterinarians employ technologically advanced tools to foster good health among furry companions. Digital x-rays impart almost immediate images, and laser-assisted surgeries minimize discomfort and healing times. Techs walk from an in-house lab, which shortens the waiting time for test results, past an x-ray machine for analyzing pups’ internal health and a high-tech bandanna for analyzing external cuteness.