on January 1, 2009
The Everglades Day Safari is based over in Ft Myers, but also serves visitors staying on the Atlantic Coast in and around Ft. Lauderdale. We were picked up at 7:15am at Ft. Lauderdale Beach with another guest and after another stop at the Weston Vacation Villages Resort for four more, we were off for our day safari in the Everglades. The large 15 passenger van was quite comfy with just seven passengers for the day.They call this a full day safari tour because there are four components: airboat ride, nature walk, Big Cypress drive and boat tour; mostly along the Tamiami Trail (US Highway 41). While the two boat tours met our expectations, we did feel that the nature walk and Big Cypress drive aspects fell short of the published literature.Our first stop was in the Miccosukee Indian Reservation for our airboat ride through the Shark River Slough, a sawgrass freshwater ecosystem within the Everglades. The 20 minute ride out to a small hammock (island) containing several chi-kees - thatch topped dwellings built by the local natives for their living quarters. Here we walked around and learned about how the Miccosukee people lived in the past and today. Here we were able to observe some local wildlife including a turtle and several alligators. There were native artisans selling their hand-made jewelry items here as well.Upon our return to the airboat dock we received a short presentation of other animals found in this area of the everglades including snakes, geckos and young alligators that were approximately four months old.With potty breaks behind us, we continued our drive tour through the Big Cypress area of the Everglades via the westbound Tamiami Trail. Our next stop was at Clive Butcher's gallery, a nice location to see some of the local plants found here. Inside the gallery, visitors had the opportunity to view and purchase photographic art taken in and around the Everglades. Butcher and his wife are photographers who bring still photos to life. Many of the pieces were limited edition, signed and number . . . and all were quite expensive! We took a pass on buying a piece of art to take home with us.As we continued our drive west, our guide Michele continued to tell us about the Everglades ecosystem and the animals that call this area home. At the Big Cypress visitors' center we pulled off onto the shoulder of the road to view several large alligators basking in and soaking up the sun's warmth. Further on down the road about a mile or two, we pulled off where there was a nest of eight or nine baby alligators. While there was no momma to be seen close by, we were assured she wasn't far away and to get too close would be asking for trouble.Moving on down the Tamiami Trail, we made the left turn towards Everglades City where we would have the opportunity to shop for books about the area and have lunch at the Seafood Depot a block away. The hardware store where we stopped for books, also seemed to be a nice little tourist trap with a lot of local teeshirts, hats and postcards.With a 12:30pm lunch appointment, we arrived at the Seafood Depot on schedule. Earlier in the day we preordered our lunch from a selection of hot and cold sandwiches or the salad bar. Served with a small appetizer of alligator nuggets, homemade garlic bread and soft drink of our choice; lunch was a pleasant experience. I was actually impressed that with our tour group and the other one from the same company stopping here at the same time, that everyone's food was prepared correctly and served hot.Well fed and rested, we were next heading over to the Everglades National Park site where we would take our 90 minute boat tour of the Ten-Thousand Islands - - a narrated nature ride from the dock out to the closest edge of the Gulf of Mexico. On our way out we saw several manatees coming to the water's surface for air. Further on out, we picked up a dolphin that wanted to play in the wake of our boat.Throughout our entire day we saw a lot of birds including blue herons, egrets, wood storks, red shoulder hawks and osprey. It was especially interesting to see some of them spreading out along the canal on Hwy41 to dry out. You see, some birds cannot fly with wet wings so they must dry them before heading out elsewhere for the day.After our boat trip out at Everglades City we headed back to Ft. Lauderdale via Interstate 75, approximately an hour's drive back. We were dropped off at 5:15pm, which did make this a full day. Many were tired and took advantage of the return trip to take a nap.All in all, we did enjoy the day and felt it was worth the $140 price tag which also included the price of lunch. If you shop around, you can pin down discounts of between $10 and $20. Including (optional) gratuities for our two boat guides and Michele, the day was $145 per person.More information can be found on their website at www.ecosafari.com or by calling 1-800-472-3069.
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