#SoloTrip: My First Time Riding an Airboat in Naples and Chillin at the Zoo
It’s funny how this trip started. A couple months ago I wrote an article for Creative Loafing about my summer travel bucket list with things I was interested in doing. The next morning I woke up to an email inviting me to Naples to scratch one thing off my travel bucket list. That was the last thing I’d expect from just saying my plans so, of course, I couldn’t say no!
I’ve never been to that part of the state before (only if you count driving through both on the way to Miami) so I was excited to finally experience riding an airboat in Naples. The entire trip is a dream come true. For me, driving between Orlando and Tampa is nothing since I’ve been doing it for a decade now. I was a bit nervous driving from Tampa to Naples because this is the first time I’m not in the passenger’s seat. Also, this is the first trip where I’m solely responsible for myself so that was new for me too.
Where Did I Stay?
My accommodations were at the SpringHill Suites Naples hotel right off I75. When I checked in, it made me feel extra special (or maybe because I’m goofy) because I had a goody bag with some treats waiting for me at the desk. I appreciated the note left in my bag The first night I was there, I was tired from driving and plus it was raining; definitely wasn’t getting caught in that. I hardly ever get a chance to just sit but being surrounded in silence felt almost meditative. I was able to get some writing done and edit a video. My boyfriend always says it’s great to get a change of scenery sometimes for mental health. Idk what is about sleeping in a big bed but I felt like a big kid sprawled out across it night after night.
Hanging with the Gators
Riding an airboat is a goal of mine that I’ve had for years. Whenever South Florida is featured on any kind of travel show, airboats are always a thing. I’ll admit it…I was nervous because the boats looked so light and like they’d flip over. Swimming with gators isn’t something I’m trying to do. Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours is a 40-minute drive from the hotel. As I’m driving, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the area looked like a century ago when the area was super rural. Driving to Wooten’s can be a shock for some folks because on one side you have developed areas then turn the corner and it’s mangroves and wooded areas. Seeing signs saying “panther crossing” or “bobcat crossing” is the biggest shock I had; the last thing I want to do is pull up to my house and see one of those large cats in front of my house.
Riding the airboat is such an experience. The boat is loud so riders get a pair of headphones to drown out the noise a bit. Our tour guide managed to show the group a couple gators in the water but they were chillin in the foliage so you’d have to look really hard to find them. I’m a Florida native and that’s the closest I’ve gotten to an alligator ever in my life. We saw fish, soft-shell turtles, and eagles also. There were a few times during the tour where the guide was whipping the boat around and my eyes got big. I knew he knows what he’s doing so I didn’t worry too much.
After the airboat tour, I walked around the animal sanctuary while waiting on the alligator show to begin. That’s when you meet Charlie. He’s been doing shows his entire life so it’s nothing to him at this point. His trainer scared me a bit a few minutes prior to the show when he unlocked the gate and stepped in with Charlie. The ironic part about the show is when the trainer says he’s gotten bitten only once last year on Friday the 13th. The crowd learned how the Native Americans caught alligators and a few other things. Seeing how the Native American’s caught gators years ago was a tad bit nerve-wracking.
Afterwards, I drove around Marco Island and it’s funny that although it’s in a different part of the state, it looks just like St. Pete and Clearwater Beach. It didn’t feel like I was out of town. I stopped at a bridge to get out when I saw people fishing (I’m not sure why I didn’t think to pack a bathing suit to go to the beach). The closest thing I can do in that moment is stick my feet in the Big Marco River. The water is so clear and cool. It’s so relaxing.
Final Hurrah at the Zoo
The final day of the trip ended at the Naples Zoo. I’m such a big kid at heart so being at the zoo was a thrill for me. The zoo wasn’t like the typical one we all go to. The Naples Zoo is like a huge fancy garden in someone’s backyard with animals in it. I can just casually walk around and get some future backyard inspiration. The funniest part about the zoo is definitely the giraffes. I was interested in feeding them because it’s something I’d never done before. I don’t know what it was about that day but the giraffes were not up for it at all. A couple in front of me tried to feed them and the giraffes just looked at them like they were crazy. I’m pretty sure they were like that all day.
There’s a lake in the middle of the zoo where the ducks, turtles, and fish all hang and visitors can feed them. There was one little boy who was trying to feed the fish but each piece of food he’d throw in, this one duck would just take it. An older lady and I eventually told him the correct place to throw the feed to get away from the duck.
I can’t wait until the next time I’m able to visit Naples again. Checking this entire trip off my bucket list is like a goal I never thought I’d accomplish. Thanks to everyone at the Naples/Marco Island/Everglades Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for giving me this opportunity and for reading my story. It was definitely fate.
Check out a couple galleries to see everything I was up to that weekend: