Swimming with dolphins — either the adorable aquatic version or members of the team — is relatively safe. Turns out, so is swimming with alligators … or at least one very special gator. Deco’s Chris Van Vliet did it. Still have all your appendages?
I do, all of them. This truly was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and in all honesty, I know they’re alligators, but this wasn’t scary at all. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and I have to say, being so close to a powerful, muscular animal is exhilarating — at least that’s what my girlfriend tells me.
The Florida Everglades are home to more than 200,000 alligators. They’re feared by many — and understood by most.
Chris Gillette, Underwater Gator Tours: “I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, and you always hear about people getting attacked by an alligator. When you look into most of these attacks, most of them are caused by people feeding them.”
Chris Gillette has been a wildlife handler and underwater photographer for 16 years. Part of his job includes catching and relocating nuisance gators to wildlife rescues.
Here at Everglades Outpost, he has a special bond with his 10-foot, 250-pound rescue named Casper.
Chris Gillette: “You see how he hears us talking and he’s not responding? Come here.”
Chris Van Vliet: “Oh, my God.”
Chris Gillette: “He comes right to me.”
Chris Van Vliet: “He’s like a dog.”
Chris Gillette: “I have him pretty well-trained.”
Casper is so well-trained that he’s the star of a tour where you can swim and take photos with him.
Chris Gillette: “Don’t ever go try this on your own. What makes this different is we are in a controlled situation with habituated animals. I have worked with Casper for over 12 years.”
This is the only place in the world where you can legally swim with alligators. Tours are every Friday and Saturday and start at $250.
Chris Gillette: “People think it’s going to be an adrenaline rush. It’s really not. It’s really, truly, beautiful and serene.”
Chris Van Vliet: “Alright, we’re going swimming with an alligator now.”
*Chris gets in the water*
Chris Van Vliet: “Wow! Oh, my God.”
Chris Gillette: “Most people think that he would instantly try to kill you, and I mean, look at him. He’s just hanging out.”
*Casper makes some bubbles in the water*
Chris Van Vliet: “What was that?”
Chris Gillette: “A little burp.”
Chris Van Vliet: “So what do you think Casper thinks of all this?”
Chris Gillette: ‘He is a willing participant during the tour. I don’t make him do anything.”
*Chris stands in front of Casper*
Chris Van Vliet: “Just staring at an alligator.”
Chris Van Vliet: “Alright, we’re going under.”
*Montage of Chris posing with Casper for underwater photos*
The tour lasts for 30 minutes, but the memories and these one-of-a-kind photos last a lifetime.
Chris Van Vliet: “Hey, Casper. Thank you. Thank you very much for this.”
Chris Gillette has openings available if you want to swim with Casper and take those amazing photos.
We’ve been doing Keeping Up With Chris for a little over a year. We’ve gone hang gliding, driven a tank, tried out for every professional sports team in Miami — and I’m going to say it, this one’s my favorite one.
Alright, so what should I do next? Let me know: KeepingUpWithChris@wsvn.com.
FOR MORE INFO:
Underwater Gator Tours
35601 SW 192nd Ave.
Homestead, FL 33034
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