My son, Benson, has lived in South Florida for over 5 years and in all of my trips there, I have never experienced the Everglades. That was a huge oversight. When my kids and I planned to spend the end of 2019 in Miami, I told my son that I wanted to take an airboat ride in the Everglades, and I am glad I did. I have suggested that we visit the Everglades before but it was always met with resistance. I get it. Holiday crowds, parks promising that you can hold an alligator and who wants to spend the day in the middle of a huge swamp getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? I wasn’t interested in spending hours in a tourist trap; and based on the advertising I saw on the internet, I asked Benson to make the arrangements. I figured a local could figure out which of the options was the best for us and he did not disappoint.
Here is why our trip to the Everglades was so magical:
First of all, I wouldn’t have selected this airboat ride based on the name alone. I wanted to go to the Everglades, not Miami. Well, Miami is right next to the Everglades. The three main airboat ride providers were about 10 miles outside of Miami city limits. I mistakenly believed that the only way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Everglades was to drive an hour or more outside of the city. That was a false assumption. Airboat Rides Miami also had ample parking which at least one of the airboat providers we passed did not. There is comfort in knowing that if they could get us parking, they could handle the crowds that were lined up to take an airboat ride. In retrospect, Airboat Rides Miami also had the highest trip advisor ratings. I’m not sure why my son chose this provider but it was the right one for us.
When Benson was setting up the ride for the four of us, he asked if we wanted to pay $25 per person on a large boat or spend $305 for a private boat. I decided that a private boat seemed like it wasn’t too expensive, and we would have a more customized ride. This was the right decision. While we watched hundreds of people lined up waiting for airboats that held upwards of thirty passengers, we waited for our private boat. We did have a fifteen-minute wait but it sure was worth it. The difference between the large boats and private boats is that the large boats have all their seats on one level about a foot off the water while the private boats have seats that are elevated on levels anywhere from 3 feet to 6 feet off of the water. In the private boat we could see for miles above the glades and it lent itself to a feeling of floating above a carpet of grass. If you have a choice, select the private boat.
When we started our trip out to the everglades, we went down a main canal with many other boats coming in and out. Our guide pointed out a heron on the left-hand side of the boat. I swear to you, I saw the bird standing there like a statue and thought, “What the heck, have they stuck a stuffed bird there so that we can “see” a heron.” I really thought it was fake as it perched unmoved with all of the boat traffic. I found out when we returned that it was a live heron; I saw it walking through the grass. The more amazing part is that as we flew through the grass, there where egrets, herons and snail kites that magically rose from the grass alone and in pairs. It was like a ballet; each bird took off magically as we approached to pirouette across the sky. I had contemplated kayaking in the glades but we never would have seen so many birds as we skimmed across the water.
My daughter and I were nervous about potentially seeing alligators on our trip. I think the height we were sitting above the water, but we saw upwards of 5 alligators. They were especially predominant along the canal close to the beginning and end of the tour. It made me wonder if they liked seeing humans.
There is something about watching alligators sunning with their eyes closed that makes you feel like a lucky observer’ not in danger. I was surprised that I wasn’t scared. I guess if the alligator was being aggressive, I would feel differently. It’s like I was the voyeur passing through their bedroom as they napped. Like I was on a moving sidewalk as we passed through their home.
I have always liked the Disney movie Aladdin and its magic carpet ride. That is the closest metaphor for gliding smoothly over the water and grasses of the everglades. There are no seat belts, no walls, no roof, no barriers between you and the abundance of nature that surrounds you. There was no turbulence or bumps in the road (water). We glided over grass and water and grass again with seemingly no boundaries. Our guide, Gary, would bank hard to the left or right and I never felt unsafe or as if I would topple over. There we were practically doing donuts in the everglades and I felt as light as air.
My advice to you? If you are in Miami, go to the Everglades. Experience the 1.5 million acres of diverse flora and fauna in southern Florida. If you can, take an airboat ride whether it be a large or small boat and go in the dry season which is from November to March and has a lot less bugs and the largest variety of migrating birds. Do not miss this treasure.