FLORIDA’S ORIGINAL GATORAMA

FLORIDA’S ORIGINAL GATORAMA

Hatching Festival

BY MARIA IANNUCCI

Alligators: they are a big part of Florida’s culture. With over 500 lakes across Polk County alone, chances are that you’ve seen one or two in the past. But if you’ve ever wanted to not only see one up close, but actually hold one as it hatches from an egg, Patty and Allen Register can help this become a reality.

The Registers lived in Haines City for over a decade and are both graduates of Haines City High School. Allen’s family has lived in the area for several generations, so their roots were pretty deep.

When Patty’s father, who lived in the Okeechobee area, decided he needed a new challenge, he made some considerations. It was the year that alligators were taken off the endangered list, and a local attraction featuring these animals was put up for sale in Palmdale. He bought the attraction outright in 1986 and established a commercial alligator farm in tandem. As the years passed, the business became more work than what he had envisioned.

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“Dad asked us if we had any desire to join him in business,” said Patty. “I used to work in sales and loved working with people.”

They started helping Patty’s father in 1989, and the family would eventually work out a deal to sell the Registers the attraction and farm in 2004. “We jumped in with two feet,” said Patty.

Relocating to Palmdale to handle direct operations for Gatorama, the Registers got more than one helping hand. Their son, Ben, and nephew, Caleb came to work at the attraction; while their daughter in Ohio, Erica, does most of the writing for the website and marketing department. Allen manages the farming operations, and Parry handles the marketing, promotions and website. Allen is also a nuisance alligator trapper and Ben works as his agent while also holding the role of head trainer, doing most of the shows in the attraction. “We all wear many hats,” said Patty. “Our 7-year-old granddaughter comes every summer and wants to run the gift shop.”

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Florida’s Original Gatorama Alligator & Crocodile Adventure originally opened in 1957. Steeped in old Florida charm, Gatorama is one of the few remaining original Florida roadside attractions. Thousands of gators and crocodiles can be found between the attraction and the farm in the swampy southern lowlands. A visit to Gatorama includes an exciting walk along bridges and boardwalks teeming with alligators, crocodiles, bobcats, panthers, birds, and other Florida wildlife, all set in a natural hammock. There are exciting animal shows; the opportunity to add on to your adventure by being a “keeper” for a day and feeding the giants at one of the shows. There’s also a wading pond where one can catch a small “taped” gator, as well as gator calling contests just for fun.

But it’s their annual special event that takes the proverbial cake. The Hatching Festival was Patty’s brainchild: a guest had witnessed a baby alligator being born and yearned for the hands-on experience. For each hatching festival, they maintain about 5,000 eggs that will hatch over the course of a 4-5 week period. The eggs come from both their breeding stock and from the Florida Wildlife Commission.

The Registers

“It’s the most incredible experience,” Patty said. “We look forward to it all year long. Our guests come for an adventure that they often share with their children. As a part of admission, guests see the program and can observe a live hatching; but for a small additional fee, they can hold the eggs in their hands as the little guys work their way out of the shell and into the world. They have no teeth when they are born; they are beautiful.”

Gatorama does nothing but let Mother Nature take its course when it comes to hatching eggs. “We don’t manipulate them in any way to force a hatch,” Patty said. “They hatch when they hatch. The guest gets to midwife that baby gator. You can hold the egg and feel the baby move within it and hear it chirping inside. It’s amazing to see kids make the connection between life and the egg. It’s such a kick.”

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After the hatching festival, some of the gators are raised to be added to future exhibits or go to other educators; but the majority is raised on the commercial farm for 2-3 years.

The hatching festival runs each year from mid-August through roughly the first week in September, but the suggestion is to check for updates on Gatorama’s Facebook page, or call ahead.

The Registers will be happy to welcome you to Gatorama and will do all they can to help your family make memories and have special experiences to share.

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