I have been to Gatorland dozens of times. When Gabi (now 16) was little, she was obsessed with Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. She wanted to be his daughter. But keep her parents too of course. We used to go to Gatorland so often that we became annual pass holders and even had Gabi’s 4th birthday party there.
Yes! She even wore a vest. Damn, time flies!
So this time when I went to Gatorland, I got to experience it a little differently. Being on a press trip, or in this case hosting one, you get to see things and do things that get you excited to share with your readers right? Well, when we found out we were going to Gatorland, not to just see the hundreds of ginormous alligators, but to also give their new Screamin’ Gator Zipline a try, my adventurous self did a cartwheel (well in my head), and couldn’t wait to spend some time in a park that I love so dearly.
Gatorland with a Storyteller
When my fellow #KissCanada group and I arrived at Gatorland, we were greeted by Tim Williams. I had heard about Tim from my friends at Experience Kissimmee, but had no idea just what I would be in for on this perfect Florida weather day. After gearing up and experiencing the dangling through the air above the gators on the zipline, Tim took us for a walk around the park to give us the highlights, seeing that time would not allow us a full day to experience all the shows and exhibits.
Tim, Gatorland’s “Dean of Alligator Wrestling”, is a man with an infectious smile and a heart of gold. His stories captivate you and give you an appreciation of not just the gators, but the birds and tortoises as well.
Tim has been with Gatorland for over 20 years and has over 30 years experience in the alligator business. He has appeared on shows such as Good Morning America, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Maury Povich and The Today Show. But as “celebrity” as he may be, he is the most down to earth man with a love for these animals that too is as infectious as his smile.
He took us into the area with “Chester” – us and a 1000 pound dog eating gator. He talks to it as if it’s his dog, and the gator responds. While in the pen, the gator hisses, and opens it mouth and slams it shut. Heart stopping? Yes! But worth the thrill. He also got us up close and personal with the white gators. These were not the more common pink-eyed albino gators, but are called leucistic (loo-SIS-tic), which is basically a genetic defect. Again, with ease Tim talks to the gator as it comes to where he directs and then we all enter the enclosure, trusting him and feeling safe, as we take some photos up close with this rare reptile.
The most heart melting moment of the day was when a family with a sweet, young girl in a wheelchair asked to have her photo taken with the white gator. Ted not only arranged for her to come in and have her family photo taken, but then obliged the same privilege to other guests in the area. Gracious and kind, with quotes of wisdom rolling off his tongue.
The best part of the day for me would have to be the tortoises. There were two, and they were so cool. Looking a lot like ET, the large male would push it’s 800 pound body up on all fours to eat some leaves right from our hands. It closed its eyes as we rubbed its head. Totally spoiled. The tortoise too. 😉
We also had a chance to feed the birds, and even got some one and one time with Tim’s baby – Molly! This gorgeous bird danced with excitement as Tim began to walk its way. We all got kisses – and all have a new perspective and love for the animals we were introduced to.
“Don’t be a teacher or a boss – be a coach.” Wise words from a man that shared many stories. I could only hope that everyone could visit Gatorland on a day that Tim is there and spend 5 minutes with him.
Here’s a video of a little of my day spent with Tim, the incredible story teller at Gatorland.