Before "Jaws" There Was Gatorland!

by Greg May
(Orlando, Florida)

Kids At Gatorland In Kissimmee

Kids At Gatorland In Kissimmee

Before Mickey Mouse came to Orlando, the only tourist attraction around to entertain our company was GATORLAND.

Walking through the immense open jaws at the entrance was big fun for a kid - and the adults got a kick out of it, too! I often wonder how many snapshots have been taken of families in those jaws?

Back in the day, GATORLAND was a free attraction - you were asked to make a donation at the exit.

The star exhibit in those days was "BoneCrusher" - a 16 ft. Florida Keys crocodile purchased by Gatorland's founder, Owen Godwin. The famous publicity photo taken of Godwin and his new acquisition was a tourist publicity icon for many years and the story goes Godwin almost lost his life posing for it!

But the photo that fascinated me the most was the one of Jayne Mansfield and Owen Godwin that hung on the wall of the original gift shop amid the alligator purses.

Read about the Jayne Mansfield photo at

I can still remember when my little girlfriend, Linda Higgins nee Ellis dropped her hairclip in BoneCrusher's pen and she sweetly asked my brother if he could crawl in there and get it. I can also remember when my Uncle Jimmy May - the family practical joker - stroked his finger across the back of my cousin Miriam Lee's neck while she was cringing at the snake exhibit. Cousin Miriam promptly delivered a resounding smack across her dad's face!

Since I am so nostalgic, there is a special place in my heart for GATORLAND since it is still around. When I was working in television and hosting my show, "Central Florida Spotlight", I was honored to have Owen Godwin's son, Frank, on my show a couple of times to promote GATORLAND.

Although Gatorland has expanded and improved over the years- and yes, today there is an admission charge - one thing has not changed and that it the feeling and spirit of the Golden Days of the Florida tourist industry.

See here for current admission fees:

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Feb 22, 2019
Birds at Gatorland
by: Kitty Pugh

I don’t know if March edition has gone to press yet, or maybe you do the e-zines months in advance, but I was going to suggest something about the sea bird breeding marsh at Gatorland.

I read your info on Gatorland and some of the responses, but there does not appear to be much about the sea birds that go there in the spring to breed and raise their young. (Or maybe I missed it).

For people who love birds, that is a WOW event! And it is happening now, Feb-April. I should have written you earlier, but I didn’t think about it until I looked at my calendar and saw my "Nesting" reminder.

We have been there in March and it is awesome. Last year we went in April, it was good but lots of the birds had already moved on. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), you have to go into Gatorland and go thru the gator pits to get to the breeding marsh, and that is a whole different world!

Thousands of seabirds screaming, building nests, feeding babies, scrapping with their neighbors over nesting materials.

The boardwalk goes around the edge of the swamp, about a third way around, and has benches on which to rest. Some of the nests are built within 2-3 feet of the hand rail.

You can actually look into the nests and see eggs and babies under the birds, parents desperately trying to fill 3-4 mouths, and gators lazing around underneath watching for an "accident." A fall overboard becomes a tasty snack. However, the birds feel safe(er) there because of the gators…there are no ground predators like coons, possums and snakes to steal the eggs because the gators guard the swamp.

There are also special early admission days for people who want to photograph the birds.

You are probably already familiar with the breeding marsh, but it seems most advertising about Gatorland has only a little bit about the nesting season. And people who are interested in birds but not especially gators may just pass on Gatorland and miss out on the birds.

Nov 11, 2017
This is a great half day park
by: Anonymous

We enjoy going to Gatorland. It only takes half a day to see most of the park. I especially like going on my birthday. I turn 70 this year. I tell people that I enjoy spending time with the "other" living dinosaurs.

Jun 30, 2014
Highly Recommended to See Gatorland!
by: Anonymous

I highly recommend at least one visit to this awesome attraction! It is an educational, jaw-dropping experience and well worth the admission price. The guides are well-informed and the exhibits are wonderful. The gators in one pen appeared "stone-stiff" in one exhibit. The guides warned us the gators are extremely fast and not to let their lethargic appearance fool us. He dropped something in the pen and that huge gator went from 0 to 60 mph in a heartbeat! It made us jump. Then the gator settled right back into it's almost inert position. Wow! We'd like to visit this place again soon! Thank you!

Jun 09, 2014
by: Anonymous

I remember my dad taking us to Gatorland back in the 60's. I took my daughter in the early 90's and so would love to go back soon with my grandson. It was always one of my favorite places to go and I have been to several attractions in Florida!

Sep 07, 2013
does any one remember "big jake"
by: Anonymous

I remember an alligator named big Jake? I don't recall how big he was. But they also had a great snake pit.

Sep 14, 2012
Thanks for the memories
by: Anonymous

My father loved to take me to Gatorland when I was very small....back when the bridge was wooden and Bone Crusher was at the bottom of his green painted concrete pit..Dad used to sit me on the edge of the pit so I could look about your chills and thrills.......

Dec 23, 2011
Gatorland Zipline
by: Willy Johnson

Somebody recently told me that Gatorland now has a fantastic zipline attraction. I think you zip over the gators, well out of the reach of their jaws but close enough to get a thrill.

Have any of your readers tried that zipline yet?

Oct 01, 2010
In the Jaws
by: Petie Greenwell Hoover

Hi Greg, Fun reading your story of 'our' Gatorland. It was a part of all our lives growing up, wasn't it ? Remember when Mr Waldo drove the train there? Thanks for the memories.

Oct 01, 2010
Sans a Hairclip
by: Linda

Yes, I too, will never forget the early days of Gatorland! And yes, some of my earliest memories are of watching my hairclip fall deep into the alligator's domain.

Sometimes it is all too easy to long for the days when tourism in Orlando was ahh so much simpler. But since tourism - and ALL -it has to offer is now, I won't linger too long on days gone by.

Gatorland is still my number one recommendation to tourists when they ask what to see when visiting Florida - in order to experience the REAL Florida.

I have talked with people as far away as Belgium who love all the thrills and chills it offers. Keep on the look out - next Spring, Gatorland is adding another great thrill to their park!

You may soon find yourself zipping across the very place my hairclip was laid to rest, oh SO many years ago.

Sep 25, 2010
by: Anonymous

Love the nostalgia - I remember Gatorland the same way!

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