After my rather quaint and leisurely scenic boat ride through Winter Park, a rather different boating experience was in store for me: a high speed airboat ride through Lake Tohopekaliga, provided by Boggy Creek Airboat Rides. We got started early in the morning and took the first tour out. The temperature must have been about 45 degrees Fahrenheit or so, and in wise anticpation we both wore our Canadian winter jackets.
Good thing, because it gets pretty darn cold zooming along at high speed on the airboats. We were the first ride out of the gate, and fortunately we were provided with white blankets which kept us reasonably warm. Off we went on our 6-passenger airboat, exploring the coastline of Lake Tohopekaliga, getting a glimpse at various types of wetland birds, including bald eagles, ospreys, egrets and cranes that live here in the Central Florida Everglades. The name of the lake means "sleeping tiger" and it extends over 11,968 acres.
Our captain, "big and beefy Chad", took us around to give us an idea of an authentic Florida lake experience. At one point he drove the airboat onto land and got out of the boat to take a picture of us. After the picture he really cranked it up as he went northwards on Lake Toho.
At the northern end of the tour he took us into some sidearms of the lake where we got see the marshy wetlands up close. On the way back he took his foot off the brake and firmly put it on the gas pedal. He mentioned that airboats can reach speeds up to 65 miles per hour, I think we must have been pretty close. He even did some gentle turns with the boat which turned into an exhiliarating high-speed slalom experience for all us in the boat. I looked over at my husband, and he had a strange smile on his face. After the ride was finished he admitted that he was really scared, for one thing he doesn't swim and he was worried about exiting our high-speed vessel.
But not to worry, Chad brought us back safely, and I for one, being a bit of a high-speed freak myself, was glowing with the experience - I truly had a blast! According to Michelle Peters, who works at Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, the company was founded by her sister and brother-in-law, Margie and Chris Long, in 1994 and operation was started with one 6-passenger airboat. Today, the Boggy Creek Airboat Rides are among the top 10 Orlando attractions according to the Orlando Business Journal. The company now has eight 18-passenger boats and two 6-passenger boats.
The company is AAA approved and all of its captains are Master Captains who have to undergo a one-year apprenticeship. The Coast Guard does surprise inspections to ensure compliance with all safety regulations. Michelle also mentioned that the Water Management Authority uses their airboats because they virtually float on the water and are less invasive to plant and wildlife than regular propeller driven boats. In addition, the company has added swamp buggy rides to their offerings about 4 months ago.
The swamp buggy was completely custom built by a company that regularly builds monster trucks. We entered this monster vehicle from its rear end over a ramp and started our swamp buggy tour. Chad, being the all-round talented individual that he is, also took us out on the swamp buggy, this custom-built monster contraption.
We went through some solar-powered remote controlled gates onto a working cattle ranch. Florida actually still has a pretty sizeable cattle industry, and the historic term for Florida cowboys actually is "cow men". On our swamp buggy ride we saw a variety of wildlife, including cattle and some awefully cute baby cows. We also caught a glimpse of the very tail end of an alligator, who was doing its best to hide itself under the leafy vegetation surrounding a little pond. We also saw some deer and a whole range of different birds, including the tall sandhill cranes who seem to be totally unafraid of human beings.
The ground was pretty wet in some areas, and I was amazed that our vehicle was capable of plowing through all the muck - we even crossed a river! Boggy Creek Airboat Rides and Swamp Buggy Tours is a great family outing, and the high-speed experience will even soothe teenagers' cravings for high adrenaline fun. Airboat tours are generally half an hour long, are offered every half hour and don't require reservations. In the summer, the company offers night rides that are an hour long. Michelle mentioned that on one of the night tours last summer she saw 17 alligators, who are nocturnal creatures and come out in full force at night time.
Well, we didn't really get a good view of any alligators, but the combination of airboat ride and swamp buggy tour really kick-started our engines for the day! .
By: Susanne Pacher