Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sea Ya' Later, Alligator! Visiting Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach

Fresh from our lovely week in Sunset Beach, I have been reflecting on the many fun things we got to do. Yes, there was plenty of rest and relaxation by the fountain, out on the beach, and poking around the boutiques in town; but we also took a little time for an easy drive over into busy and bustling Myrtle Beach, SC, for some excitement.

My daughter (now 5 years old) is currently fascinated with animals, so our family trips usually must include a visit to some sort of zoo. And there are several fine options to chose from nearby. After just a 30-minute drive straight down US-17 South, we arrived at Alligator Adventure in North Myrtle Beach. The entrance to the parking lot is right on the busy four-lane road, and I was afraid at first that we were wasting our time with a tacky roadside attraction. But once we passed through the buildings that form the gateway into the park itself, the noise of the traffic was muffled by the high walls and lush vegetation; and it suddenly felt like we were a long way from anything urban.

Alligator Adventure is home to more than 800 alligators, most all of which can be easily viewed by kids (no matter how short) and adults alike as you stroll over broad wooden decking throughout the park. We were pleased to catch the feeding time for the alligators, and learned many interesting facts about their habits from the well-informed caretakers in charge of the spectacle. In addition to their wide-ranging selection of both alligators and crocodiles (and let's not forget snakes, frogs & lizards) from all over the world, we were treated to close-up encounters with some fuzzier creatures as well. We watched a very energetic Beaver busily inspecting his dam, waved hello to a baby Zebra, and stood just feet away from two enormous tigers "huffing" (their version of purring) softly while rubbing their heads against the chain link fence like two friendly and enormous kittens. And then there were the exotic birds, albino alligators, ring-tailed lemurs, and brilliantly-colored frogs . . . but the high point of the entire visit for me was Gabby!

Gabby is a 52-year old, 450-pound, Galapagos Tortoise, and the sweetest-natured creature in the place. It is said that the caretaker in charge of the tortoises there describes them as "puppies with shells." Gabby was one of a group of about 5 tortoises hanging out together with nothing between them and us but a single low rope suspended a foot off the ground with a few stakes. Obviously your average tortoise isn't much of a flight risk, but I wasn't prepared for how close we were allowed to get. And Gabby, obviously the most gregarious of the bunch, wanted to be close! She had parked herself firmly against the straining rope, like a friendly boulder, waiting for a pat. As Emily and I cautiously patted her head, she stretched her neck out longer so we could continue stroking down it towards her shoulders, while she gazed at us impassively with her watery brown eyes. I have never felt more affectionate towards a reptile in my life!

I could have sat and petted Gabby the whole day long, but everyone else was getting hungry for lunch; so we said goodbye until our next vacation. We could have stayed for a hot meal in the park, but Alligator Adventure is right next to the famous Barefoot Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment destination worth a blog post of its own. Keep your eyes on this spot. I'll have the next article written in a bit.