Orlando Monday Jan. 21
After two early mornings, we slept in Monday. Our activity today was a two-hour air boat ride through the headwaters area of the Everglades which starts just south of Orlando. Our tour operator (Spirit of the Swamp) was chosen because it offers headsets for better hearing of the guide’s presentation and because it is the only operator offering a two-hour tour, instead of just one hour. We were not disappointed; our guide, Lynn, did an excellent job.
This section of Florida is critical to the Everglades, that 1.5 million acres of marshes, coastal mangroves, slow moving rivers of water, etc that crosses most of southern Florida where it had not been destroyed by encroaching urbanization and agriculture. Our air boat ride was not in the Everglades National Park, that is farther south. We were in the headwaters area where Shingle Creek, which flows southward out of Orlando, runs in to Lake Tohopekaliga. Through various lakes, rivers, and canals (much of the water is southern Florida is controlled by various watershed management agencies), the water flows into Lake Okeechobee and down through the Everglades to the Gulf. The land in this area seems to be divided between ranches, urban development, and conservation areas. I am sure there are in-depth articles on the battle between various groups to use and conserve water, I do not know how this area ties in to that. So I won’t go there.
Lynn, our captain, took us through a canal system into Lake Tohopekaliga, a shallow lake with numerous marsh areas. The air boat is able to go into areas with just inches of water or even areas of low grass. This versatility offered a wide variety of options as we covered marsh, grass, and open water. We saw the expected diversity of birds. We rode over a large swath of the lake area while Lynn identified numerous birds. The temperature, high of about 60 with a good wind, made us concerned whether we would see any alligators.
Of course, a major highlight was seeing alligators. Mothers and hatchlings were not evident today but numerous large male alligators were sunning themselves. Most ignored us, one disappeared under the water as we got closer. With the air boat, we were able to come up within three feet of several of them. They just laid there, sometimes with an eye open, sometimes not, just enjoying the warmth of the sun on their backs. A few turtles were sunning themselves.
The two hours went by quickly, we never tired of looking around the next corner to see what bird or animal would be present. Through it all, the landscape of water, trees, and grasses was a constantly changing backdrop of gorgeous greens and blues.
Tuesday, Jan. 22
Back to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Early arrival brought us to the gates around 8:30; gates were opening then. However, we had a glitch again and had to have guest relations re-authorize Sarah’s and Chris’ tickets to enter. We still made it to Na’vi River Journey before 9 AM and were able to easily enter the ride. From there we headed to Kilimanjaro Safaris Expedition and once again were ahead of the crowd for the 20 minute ride through various African terrains. Our ride was about 3 minutes longer as a rhino decided to park itself blocking the road just in front of us. We had to wait until it decided to back up enough for us to pass.
We wandered back and forth though the park trying various park experiences and had a great time. Lunch was at Satu’li Canteen with tasty and healthy meal combinations. In the afternoon, Sarah, Sarah and Daniel decided to separate and take a chance waiting in line for Avatar-Flight of Passage. They felt the just over two-hour wait was worth the experience, although a second ride would not have been.
We ended the day with a second ride on Kilimanjaro Safari Expedition and riding Expedition Everest (only 3 rode, you can guess which ones). As Expedition Everest ended, the evening river light show was beginning and we watched it from a bridge over one of the water channels. It was a pleasant way to finish enjoying the park and our two weeks in Orlando.
Ed and Chris Jan. 23