This crimson-blooded Alabama native has seen enough Gators after a football weekend trip to The Swamp, in Gainesville, Fla. The raucousness of the University of Florida crowd after a triple overtime win over the University of Kentucky Wildcats looked much like the scene at another reptilian retreat I visited a few weeks ago.
The scene: Destin’s Fudpucker’s restaurant at alligator feeding time.
Just like the diners at this popular eatery, real, live alligators come hungry. Trained staff and regular restaurant-goers alike have a chance to feed these gators, which reside in a manmade swamp just outside the front door at Fudpucker’s.
I ate at this restaurant years ago, but I don’t think they had alligators on the premises back then. (Fudpucker’s opened in 1982.) Just as I remembered, guests can (and do) leave their autographs on the walls, tables and just about any other writeable surface inside this colorful establishment.
Fudpucker’s hadn’t been on my short list of places to go in Destin for quite a while, but it’s funny how having children leads you to all sorts of places you might not otherwise go. Surprisingly, some of them are not so bad. Fudpucker’s, in fact, may be brilliant because what I remember as an area to wait for a table is now a semi-educational attraction, thanks to the alligators.
For $3, you can purchase a bag of alligator food. Your four pellets of food are presented to you with a fishing pole-like contraption that you use to lower the bait down to the surface of the water below. Then, watch the gators swarm and CHOMP!
The pellet snacks are an appetizer to the raw chicken pieces a staff member feeds them during a narrated demonstration. “The alligators here are young gators,” he explains. “Once they reach five or six feet in length, they are moved to other habitats as they’d become too aggressive for this environment.”
A rare albino alligator named Pearl also resides at Fudpucker’s. She is older and has her own tank that is shielded from the sun to protect her skin.
My children loved seeing Pearl, feeding the other alligators and asking questions about them. It was certainly a unique experience, and it would be an easy way to pass the time with young children if you in fact were waiting for a table.
On this visit, we didn’t have to wait. We were having a late lunch on Labor Day, when most of the summer vacationers had packed up and gone home. Service was good and the food was better than I expected at a big, popular tourist stop.
Our entrees were around $10-12 each. The fish sandwich I ordered was seasoned well. My mom enjoyed a fresh salad with chicken, fruit and nuts. The kids’ menu included the usual fare and portions were good.
If you don’t go to Fudpucker’s for the food, go for the gators (even if, like me, you don’t usually “go for” Gators).
Fudpucker’s has locations in Destin and Ft. Walton Beach. Somewhere on the restaraunt’s walls is written “Roll Tide Roll!”