the four of us began outlining plans for a recent trip, certain
things quickly came into focus. The costs of travel and potential
daily options being kicked around… either because of past visits
we enjoyed or because we had been gazing at that list of locations
for some day… eventually directed us to Fort Lauderdale, Miami
and the Florida Keys. And as we talked more about it, above and
beyond everything else for this trip, one adventure stood out
as an unquestioned must for all of us. It involved two things…
we investigated our options, we eventually found Coopertown
Airboats and gave them a call. And while the
dry weather took away some of the things we might have experienced,
there is no doubt that riding through the Everglades on an airboat
was worthy of the status we gave it while preparing for our vacation.
~ ~ ~
Malaluka trees. In a strange way, that’s what I’ll remember most
about this trip to the Everglades. So much of it was awesome on
this brilliant May morning. But the Malaluka trees were stunning,
interesting, perplexing… and completely unexpected.
was an early morning drive from our rooms to Coopertown, and as
we followed the instructions of our GPS along some back roads,
we found some of the straightest and longest segments lined with
Malaluka trees. It’s a strange sight… they all seem stripped bare,
striking in color as if bleached by the sun, with several branches
occupied by vultures. Later, we learn from our tour guide that
the trees were planted by plane and ultimately, intentionally,
killed off with plans to remove them. Apparently it was a good
idea gone bad… with thoughts of helping to control the water in
the area. (Dry it out… don’t dry it out… the government involved…
hilarity ensues. You get the picture.)
itself was pretty much an accidental find for us. We had been
searching for options, wanting to combine an airboat ride with
a visit to the Everglades. Established roughly 60 years ago, the
property has an alligator exhibit out back and a restaurant up
front. It has been used for several movies and television shoots,
and… funny enough… if I asked you to draw a picture of what a
low-key, small operation, Everglades airboat company looked like,
Coopertown is exactly the kind of small, weathered, shack on the
side of the road building you’d place in the scene.
drive out to their offices adds to the atmosphere. Having left
interstate travel long behind, the roads seem to get a bit dustier
as the travel continues, and the combination of the barren Malaluka
trees and the occasional vulture sitting on a branch only adds
to the feeling that you’ve never been any place quite like this
before. So when you arrive at that shack… yeah… the setting is
just about as perfect as anything your mind could create.
to know if you’ll see wildlife? Well… as we close in on our destination,
we start to spot them… heads in the water. There’s an alligator!
And another… and another. So yeah… there will be wildlife. (And
amazingly, at this point we still really had no idea what we were
we arrived and were introduced to Mike, who captained our ride
through the Everglades. We met a few members of the staff, and
everyone was very personable and friendly. They talked if you
wanted to talk… joked around at times… and let us explore the
area as we walked through the small exhibits and tried to get
a grasp on the fact that we really weren’t in New England any
boat itself wasn’t really what you could call a surprise. It looked
just like the ones you see in pictures and movies. Sort of felt
like it too… a floating plank with a huge fan on the back. In
addition to seeing hundreds of alligators, we were also treated
to lots of other wildlife. Here are just a few Mike named for
Black headed vultures
the trip we got up close and virtually personal with lots of alligators.
Mike navigated the waters, stopping often to point out birds,
foliage, and… of course… to set up some great pictures. He was
a fantastic guide for our day. We rattled off a ton of questions…
and he easily answered them all.
only problem we encountered was a drought. When we left on our
journey, we were gliding over a layer of water. When we returned,
the chocolate pudding under our boat let us know that we were
lucky to leave the dock at all. Mike had told us up front that
the low levels of water would prevent us from doing several things
they normally try to incorporate, including some of the high speed
turns and fooling around.
yet… all and all… it still turned out to be a great day even without
some of the things Mike would normally treat passengers to.
were no problems with our day. Our reservation with Coopertown
was easy to make, and it was handled smoothly. The boat was ready
for us on time, and the ride itself was an amazing experience.
~ ~ ~
Airboats is located slightly over 10 miles
west of the Florida turnpike. To give you a good idea of what
you are getting yourself into, if you click on the link they provide
at their web site for directions, you will be taken to a page
that says your search criteria doesn’t exist and it offers an
alternative. Yeah… exactly. It is a dizzying drive, but not because
it’s difficult (actually, it’s not, and on different dates during
our vacation we drove into the very same area three different
ways for different reasons). Instead, it’s because it’s so amazingly
easy for north to become southeast, west to become north, straight
ahead to become change lanes and look out for crossing reptiles.
a private tour, but the truth is, for a first visit you should
have a great time on many of the group tours available. We ended
up taking a private tour and extending it by an hour. Both the
private tour and additional time cost extra. Our group had decided
that this was the biggest splurge we wanted to make for our trip,
and if it weren’t for the drought it would have been well worth
it. (It was worth it in the end anyway. What I mean is it would
have stepped from very good up to exceptional.)
said, if your goal is two-fold… Everglades and live alligators
that aren’t in captivity… that is just about without question
going to happen on the group tour. No doubt in my mind about it,
though I would confess that I have only been once and can’t swear
for every place out there offering you a ride. Since the difference
can range from tens of dollars per person to hundreds, it is definitely
worth knowing up front that a great time is available for lower
easily recommend Coopertown to you, but there are other places
out there and many of them access the Everglades in other places
while offering alternative sights. That means I would do this
again, but don’t know if I would definitely return to Coopertown.
I certainly wouldn’t say no to pulling over into their parking
lot again in the future. Think it over… airboats dock at several
places… each and every one promises a slightly different, and
yet immensely similar, experience. Some operators have wildlife
exhibits… some note television and movie sets/locations… some
travel to different parts of the Everglades. Do some homework.
almost lost out. Why? No water. Drought. Sure… when visiting Yosemite
in late October, it occurred to me to ask if the weather, say
snowfall, might close parts of the park or change tours we were
considering. For this trip though, it never dawned me in the slightest
that the Everglades would run out of water. But it does. According
to our guide, Coopertown was one of the only operators that was
still able to leave their dock and head out the day we visited.
places will offer to bring coolers and beverages along. Ask. You’re
going to want to bring at least some water for each member of
your group. Breakfast would be a good option if you travel in
the morning. We found a few options nearby for eating lunch.
and yeah, this should be obvious… cameras and sunscreen. If you
bring a hat, be prepared to hold it in place.