|Giant concrete jaws greet visitors at the entrance to Gatorland|
|Sun bathing gators lounge in the Florida sun|
|Pearl's Patio Smokehouse Restaurant at Gatorland|
You can’t bring food into the park (for the animal’s sake) but there are two main dining establishments within the park: the snack bar and Pearl’s Patio Smokehouse. Both serve the same basic menu consisting of your typical snack bar fare – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, nachos, ice cream, etc. Gluten free options and beer are available.
The snack bar offers diners lunch seated at covered tables surrounded by pools of sun-loving gators lounging on concrete decks. Pearl’s offers picnic tables in a screened enclosure protecting diners from the reptiles, but mostly from the gaggle of seemingly wild birds that flock about ready to snatch from you any morsel they can. Those birds are serious thieves. Be warned.
|BBQ Pork Sandwich and Fries at Pearl's Patio in Gatorland|
I chose to dine at Pearl’s, away from the pesky birds (and their droppings).
The menu items at Pearl’s are priced lower than what you might find at the larger attractions in town. No $11 mugs of Butterbeer here (Budweiser $3.99). That’s a very nice thing to find in a city of amusement parks run by corporate giants Disney and Universal. Gatorland is truly an afternoon of adventure a family can experience together and not spend a fortune. Thank you Gatorland.
|Gator Nuggets at Orlando's Gatorland|
Being that Pearl’s Patio has “smokehouse” in the name, I chose the Bar-B-Que Sandwich ($4.09). But let’s be honest, this is barbecue pork scooped from a big tub bought from a food distributor. Smokehouse is just part of the restaurant’s name. But it was a big scoop, the bun was fresh, and for what it was, it wasn’t bad. I enjoyed it.
A side of fries ($2.29) and a Large Dr. Pepper served in a souvenir cup ($3.99 with $1.19 refills), rounded out my lunch. A whole lunch for the price of a single Butterbeer. Not bad.
Okay, okay, I had to. I tried the Gator Nuggets ($7.99). The fried alligator bites blew my lunch budget, but you know I had to try them.
|An example of the once ubiquitous Gatorland sign|
Munching on bites of fried gator meat, while surrounded by hundreds of blood thirsty, vicious, man-eating, terrible reptiles, I couldn’t help but feel master of all I survey and king atop the food chain. I did, however, wish the nuggets had come with some kind of dipping sauce. Can the king please get a side of ranch?
Oh, and yes, alligator tastes like chicken – tough, chewy, gamey chicken.
For a nice morning or afternoon with your family, whether you’re a Florida resident or a visitor from another continent, Gatorland is a nice, inexpensive alternative to the big seven theme parks in Orlando . There’s just enough kitsch, just enough education, just enough history, and just enough fun for everyone.
The Park: 4 Teeth out of 5
Pearl's Patio Smokehouse: 3 Tails out of 5
Pearl's Patio Smokehouse
14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL 32837
Open Daily 9-5