Almost everyone who visits Florida asks what Orlando has to offer other than the theme parks. People are in search of cultural or Floridian things to do. There are hundreds of options from springs to historical forts and back! But my all-time favorite crowd pleasurer is an airboat ride! And contrary to popular belief, you do not need to go to the Everglades to enjoy this Floridan experience. I would even go as far as to say the airboat rides here in Central Florida are better than those in the Everglades, and I am speaking from experience. We take an airboat ride at least once a year, and it’s a must when people come and visit! Step out of the tourist crowds and enjoy what Central Florida offers by taking an exciting and educational airboat ride and enjoying one of the five best airboat rides near Orlando.
About thirty minutes away from Orlando. We’ve been going to Airboat Rides at Midway for years. What makes this place number one for us is the actual ride and the guides. It’s a very rustic non-commercialized tour that takes you into the deep into the backwoods of the St John’s River. We have never been on this tour and not see alligators; many times, we have come close to some big boys! The guides grew up on the water and are knowledgeable! On one trip, we were lucky enough to have the guide show us snakes! And, on every trip here, we have seen numerous bald eagles. At Airboat Rides at Midway, you can sip on a beer while you wait for your ride. Check out their enormous snake collection, handle a small gator, or hang out with Porkchop the Pig.
The only drawback is there is no restaurant on site. We typically go here, have a couple of beers, ride the airboat, and then head out to Cocoa Beach for a bite to eat. You can easily combine all the fun on this trip into a full day out by mixing the airboat ride with the beach.
They are slightly more expensive than some, but I think they are well worth it. You can view current pricing here.
Address: 28501 E Colonial Dr, Christmas, FL 32709
Lone Cabbage Twister Airboat Rides
Another favorite that is also roughly thirty minutes away from Orlando. Twister Airboat Rides operate from the Lone Cabbage. A lesser-known spot that many of us locals frequent with guests. It’s west of Cocoa Village on Hwy 520. The airboat rides here are just as thrilling as others, but the body of water, the Indian River, is much denser. So once you are on the water is does not feel quite as remote as Midway. You can dine here and watch the alligators from the deck. Yes, often, they are right there waiting. If you are feeling adventurous, try eating some fried gator here.
The Lone Cabbage features live entertainment every Sunday from 1 pm until 5 pm, be sure and check out the entertainment schedule!
Twister Airboat rides can be more affordable if you only opt for a 30-minute ride. You can view current pricing here.
Address: 8199 State Road 520 Cocoa, FL 32926
Black Hammock Airboat Rides
Depending on where you are, this might be less than ten minutes away for you. Black Hammock Airboat Rides are in Oviedo on Lake Jesup at The Black Hammock. This one is interesting for a few reasons! Lake Jesup is home to over 10,000 alligators and is considered to support one of the state’s densest populations of alligators. Legend says Lake Jesup’s gator population is so large because, years ago, wildlife officers would capture nuisance gators and release them in Jesup – disputed by many as it’s believed they would have thrived here no matter what.
I take the bridge over this lake on my way to work. On a calm day, when there is no wind, you can see gators everywhere, hundreds of them. You might think your odds are better here – not necessarily so. Lake Jesup is shallow and has a thick layer of sediment mud. The alligators often retreat down below if they hear the boats. It does not mean you won’t see one; you probably will. But I have experienced not seeing one here.
Once you have done the airboat ride, head to the restaurant, you can taste a sampler platter of gator cooked four ways!
They have free live alligator and bird exhibits. And, on Saturdays, you can watch trainers feed the 12-foot resident gator Hammy on Sunday afternoons.
Black Hammock Airboat Rides are a little more expensive than some, but they offer coupons, and they always have specials. You can view current pricing here.
Address: 2316 Black Hammock Fish Camp Road Oviedo, FL 32765
On route to Cocoa before you hit Jungle Adventures, A Real Florida Animal Park approximately twenty minutes away from Orlando. If you pass the gigantic green alligator entrance, you have passed Switchgrass Outfitters & Airboat Tours. This company stands out for a few reasons:
They only run small six-passenger airboats which almost guarantees you a private tour
The smaller the airboat, the easier it is to navigate into otherwise unreachable backwoods areas which are where you will get up close and personal with gators
If hunting is your thing, you can hunt the gator here as well!
Their ninety-minute tour is the most affordable one on this list.
The drawback is lack of facilities – no restaurant or anything else on site, although they are more than happy to take you to a local joint via airboat!
The guides here are locals; they know the area inside and out. They are incredibly knowledgeable about wildlife! You can view current pricing here.
Address: 1320 Cupid Ave, Christmas, FL 32709, USA
Central Florida Airboat Rides and Tours
On the way to Daytona, Central Florida Airboat Rides and Tours is a great option to take in some nature if you are heading to Daytona. Located halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando attractions, they operate out of Jolly Gator Fish Camp. Just like Switchgrass, smaller boats that only accommodate six. You will ride in between two large lakes, Lake Harney and Puzzle Lake. There are gators here, lots of them but not necessarily swimming in the open on the lakes. The sighting all depends on the season and weather. I prefer to airboat on rivers, but this is a cool place. Once you have finished your ride, enjoy a drink or eat some gator!
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.