I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lived in Florida nearly 20 years and never set foot in one of the state’s original roadside attractions – until a few days ago.

My wife and I decided to take advantage of the Florida resident discount at Gatorland Sunday to see what it was all about. Even though she grew up in Florida, it was her first time too.

It was a crisp 67-degree morning when we got there, well before the gates opened. We waited at the famous gator mouth entrance. During the winter months (now thru March 21, 2016), Gatorland will knock 50% off the price of admission if each adult is able to produce proof of residency. Regular adult tickets are $26.99. This incredible deal meant one of us got in for free. You won’t find anything like that down the road at the Mouse House.

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Gatorland touts itself as being the “Alligator Capital of the World” with thousands of gators and crocodiles on-site, many of which were rescued from becoming a designer handbag or an appetizer at your favorite restaurant.

Walk around the 110-acre park and its clear how Gatorland can make that claim. They’re everywhere. From the multiple large pools at the front of the park, to the Breeding Marsh made famous in the 1984 film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, to the back area of the property housing mostly crocodiles from around the world, you can’t go five minutes without encountering a gator or croc of some type.

Three shows performed at various times throughout the day keep guests of all ages entertained. “Upclose Encounters” brings members of the audience face-to-face with snakes and spiders; the “Gator Wrestlin'” show where you can watch daredevils take on the fierce beasts mano a mano; and “Gator Jumparoo” where the reptiles partially jump out of the water for their meal.

There are plenty of other types of animals to see at Gatorland, some which even appear to be a little cuddly. Panthers, bobcats, parrots, peacocks, giant tortoises, flamingos and even a blonde racoon add to the zoo-like atmosphere. There’s also a snake exhibit and unbelievably large pythons, behind glass of course.

For an additional charge, guests can ride the Gatorland Express, a train that circles through portions of the park, or the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line which was voted “Best Zip Line in the USA” by AOL Travel. Kids can also cool down at Gator Gully Splash Park.

But arguably the best attraction at Gatorland is the Breeding Marsh. A very long wooden boardwalk allows visitors to view gators in their natural state, frolicking, sunning themselves, fighting pesky large birds for food. You feel that you’re so close to the gators that you might be tempted to reach out and try to touch them, which wouldn’t be advisable. We spent 90 minutes in this section of the park alone, just enjoying being observers to their daily lives. It was truly fascinating to watch their behavior, especially when they would squabble over a piece of hot dog.

Founded by Owen Godwin in 1949 and still privately owned by his family, Gatorland is a family-friendly throwback to classic Florida attractions of yore. While the park has grown over the years, it remains simple in its presentation and is true to its roots. If you’re looking for a fun, affordable place for the entire family that’s a genuine representation of Florida, look no further than a Sunshine State original – Gatorland Orlando.

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