Shark Valley tram shows best of Everglades

SHARK VALLEY, Fla. — Most of us remember our infamous school trips to parks, zoos and forests filled with boring guided tours and useless group activities.

The tram tour of the Florida Everglades was a refreshing change from what I remembered as a child. The tram travels through Shark Valley.

Shark Valley is one of many areas in the park. The narrated tram tour requires approximately two hours and runs through the northern part of the Everglades National Park. Tram tours run throughout the day about every two hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Naturalists hired from outside the park guide these tours. The naturalists make the tours informative and humorous. The tour is that much better if Valarie Velella is your guide.

A tour with her is definitely a memorable experience. Velella’s tour is unscripted making it seem less rehearsed and more conversational.

Before the tour Velella gave a list of park rules (which includes no eating, cell phones on silent and no portable drinks except water). Her personal rule is “have a good time.”

Velella was extremely passionate about the park.

“I hate people who say the Everglades is just a big swamp,” said Velella. “The Everglades is the third-largest national park in the country trailing Death Valley and Yellowstone.”

She gave the tour a lot more humor than most repetitive guides.

“There are two seasons at the Everglades: the hot and the hotter,” said Velella.

Her Brooklyn accent also added some color to the trip.

Not too long into the trip we spotted alligators roaming through the water only a few feet from the tram. She talked about how male alligators attract a mate.

They bellow very loudly as if they were yelling a mating call. “The female probably responds with you had me at bellow!” said Velella.

Alligators take food from the grass islands surrounding the Everglades and bring it back to their young,” said Velella. “Gators were the first entrepreneurs inventing home delivery!” she added.

The best time to take the tour is in season from October to March. Usually reservations are recommended but the 3 p.m. tour is the most accessible. The late afternoon tour is also a great time because the sun is just beginning to set over the water, making for a beautiful setting.

Throughout the tram ride, Valerie made several stops including two that particularly stood out.

Following a discussion about Porifera (a porous-like plant that grows at the edge of shoreline of the ponds in the Everglades) Valerie immediately had the tram stop. She proceeded to grab a long stick and roll up her pants.

Without hesitation, she walked into the water up to her knees. With the stick she managed to collect some Porifera to pass around to the group. As she climbed out of the water the plant went from person to person. It felt like a shower sponge that hadn’t been used and collected mold.

At the seven-mile point of the 15-mile loop we came to the Shark Valley Observation Tower. The tower is 50 feet tall and from the top visitors can see as far as 18 miles in every direction. I suggest using the restroom at the Visitor Center prior to the trip instead of a Port-a-Potty at the bottom of the tower.

Valerie explained the tower was once used for oil drilling by “Humble Oil” company. They shortly realized there was no oil for the taking. In an unsuccessful effort to sell the land they donated it to the park.

The donation was made not only to look charitable but also as a tax write off. The company’s name has changed since then to “Exxon Mobil.”

Velella is a naturalist not a ranger who is contracted to work for the park year round so you’re highly likely to experience her tour. The admission fee to Shark Valley is $10 per automobile and the fee for the tram tour is $16.25 per person.

The tram tour proves to visitors the Everglades is more than just vast swampland. The open-air tram allows visitors to experience the park in an informative relaxed way.


If You Go

Everglades Tram Tours

  • Reservations: 305-221-8455
  • Tour Rates: Adults $16.25, seniors (62+) $15.25, children (3-12) $10.
  • Hours of Operation: May thru late December, 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; late December thru April, on the hour, beginning at 9 a.m.Last tour begins at 4 p.m.

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