Best Tourist Trap - 1999
The great magic of the Everglades can be found in the subtleties of life there, though subtle is about the last word that comes to mind as you pull into Jon Weisberg's over-the-top roadside attraction. The anomaly is as it should be: We don't trap our tourists, boy, we trap gators. It is the illusion of an illusionary Florida. For eight years Weisberg and his staff have pulled off the improbable trick of creating a fake Everglades in the middle of the real Everglades. To differentiate Gator Park from the Tamiami Trail's lesser draws, its entranceway boasts a giant Coke can, atop which rests an airboat, atop which rest a stuffed bear, bird, and deer. Next to this improbable sculpture stand totem poles, a chickee, an American flag. Jutting from the thatched edifice is a big green wood gator head, so goofy-looking that real gators retreat into the swamp from embarrassment. A humanized, human-size gator (jeans, boots, dress shirt) sits in a rocking chair on the front porch, greeting tourists much as a live gator would: with a stony silent stare. Enough tables for a tribe are set up on the porch, the patio, and inside for dining on gator, frog legs, or venison (most meals cost less than ten bucks). The souvenir shop offers what you'd expect, but more of it: shirts and hats with gator logos, gator claws, jewelry (some of it Indian), books and postcards, ceramic gators, raccoon caps, Indian pottery, and other stuff, mostly employing the gator motif, including plastic, rubber, and puppet gator replicas. For a taste of the real Everglades, Gator Park provides five airboats piloted by guides ($12 for adults, $6.50 for kids) who will take you beyond the façade.