Saint Cloud, Florida – December 17, 2013
For Leslie’s birthday dinner last night we went to Charley’s Steakhouse on Parkway Boulevard in Kissimmee, Florida. It was a little pricey, but it was sure good. Leslie and I shared an excellent bottle of Tikal Amorio. It was a Malbec wine. For my main dish, I chose the filet mignon. I have had many filets in the past, but the one last night was by far the best. My steak melted in my mouth. The lobster was not quite as good; it was quite tough. I have never had a tough lobster.
Today we all opted to go on an airboat ride. After doing a little research the day before, we selected Marsh Landing Adventures in St. Cloud. We chose the 90-minute tour, which cost $55 each, including our $4-off on each ticket because of a coupon we had found in an Orlando vacation magazine. The price indeed ended up being worth every penny.
The people in the office were very friendly. After purchasing our tickets, we were directed to drive about 1.2 miles further down the road to the starting point.
The airboat was waiting for us at the dock when we arrived at the parking area. As we boarded, the driver said those without coats might want to get them (I had brought mine). Since no one else had brought one, we were lucky he had a couple of extra jackets for Leslie and Lorraine.
Our captain, driver, and provider of cold-weather gear was Cap’n Bill. He got us all situated on the boat and gave us a safety briefing. He also shared that the site where we were beginning used to be a sugar cane processing plant. It was long gone, replaced by a county park.
Cap’n Bill and his boat.
The canal on which the boat sat was dug initially to allow for transporting lumber to the mills. Following the series of canals, lakes, and waterways, Cap’n Bill said one could make it to the Florida keys. However, since that would take more than 90 minutes, we would not get that far today.
We were all provided with ear muffs so we would not go deaf from the fan motor. Cap’n Bill started the engine, and we began heading south on the canal.
The throttle for the airboat was just like a gas pedal in a car. To go faster, Cap’n Bill would depress the pedal. During the tour, the airboat hit speeds of 35-40 mph.
Cap’n Bill rested his left hand on a tall pole that looked like a giant gear shift lever. That was used to steer the boat. Moving the pole forward deflected the rudders behind the fan blade to turn the craft to the left. By pulling the pole toward the rear of the boat, it turned right.
In just a few minutes, we left the canal behind and found ourselves in a marshy area. The vegetation varied from lily pads to small grasses; from small, skinny trees to tall, cattail-type grasses. As the boat skimmed along, the ducks in our path would scatter. It was interesting that they never indeed took flight. They would run atop the water, flapping their wings. At most, the ducks would get no more than two feet above the water.
Cap’n Bill stopped the boat in a grassy area. He explained what we should see. Since the morning had been relatively cold, the alligators, if they were out, would most likely stay still because they would be sunning themselves. He also said the name of the lake we were on is known as Toho. The full title is Tohopekaliga, quite a mouthful.
He started the boat again, and within minutes, we found ourselves looking at a seven-foot alligator sunning itself. The gators trample down the grass to make a comfortable spot in which to sun. They always leave an “escape” hole that allows them to submerge when they deem it necessary quickly. Even though the boat was within eight to ten feet of the reptile, it never moved; even when Cap’n Bill started the motor again.
Zipping across the water again, we stopped near an island, actually idling and moving slowly. As we approached a small open area, Cap’n Bill quickly pointed off the right side of the boat. I was only able to see the back of a gator disappear underwater.
A little farther along, Leslie spotted a black snake sunning itself. Cap’n Bill spun us around so we could take some photos. It may have been about five feet in length. He said it was a cottonmouth. Another 100 yards along we saw several young, two-foot-long gators sunning themselves.
We ultimately ended up at Big John’s spot. He was a massive, fourteen-foot long gator. Much like the first gator, Big John did not move.
Shortly after that, we ended up at our starting point. We gave Cap’n Bill a tip as we left the boat. We all very much enjoyed the tour. I would highly recommend it to anyone.