Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours
Location: Slidell, LA
Cost: $25/adult, $15/child
Smashed Penny Machine: No
This was probably the most unique experience we had on the trip and honestly one of my favorites. Slidell is about a half an hour outside of New Orleans. There are several tour companies that do swamp tours in the area. This one had covered boats. In the late May heat that was a major plus. They also offer hotel pickup and drop off if you are staying in New Orleans and don’t have a car. The drive between Slidell and New Orleans is fun because you get to cross part of Lake Pontchartrain which is so big that you are basically on a bridge and just surrounded by open water.
Dr. Wagner’s Swamp Tours depart from Crawford Landing on the West Pearl River. Pay attention to parking as this is a public boat launch. Reservations are required before hand. You can use the form on their website (http://www.honeyislandswamp.com/) or call. If you use the form they’ll call you. You have to talk to them for the reservation. There is a fee for all members of your party. We had to pay for the toddlers even though they sat on our laps the whole time.
Arrive to your tour early. You have to park and then check in at the gift shop (there are indoor bathrooms in the gift shop). Also they only took cash so be prepared for that. We arrived for our tour about 30 minutes early. Which was plenty of time to check in, use the restroom (boat ride is two hours long so make sure everyone in your group goes to the restroom before heading out) and look around the gift shop before it got too crowded. There is also a nice covered patio on the front of the gift shop where you can wait. They started boarding our tour boat about 15 minutes early. They had snacks and bottles of water for sell in the gift shop but they didn’t seem to mind people bringing their own water bottles on board. Just a heads up during main season they make sure to get a maximum number of people on the boats. While I wasn’t Disney-level smooshed into the seat, you will be sharing your space with 20-30 other people so be considerate.
The boats are operated by local tour guides that know the bayou very well. Our tour guide Rene was also very funny with a mix of lame puns and other jokes to keep you entertained while searching for wildlife. We saw several bird species and snake. Rene was also good at pointing out various plant life that is unique to the area. Initially we didn’t have much luck finding alligators so the guide moved us to a different part of the swamp.
Side note when you see an alligator you don’t have to jump up to get a picture if it is on the other side of the boat. The tour guides did a good job of rotating the boat so both sides could see the alligators.
Further downstream we had much better luck spotting alligators. You can tell the local alligator population is very familiar with the swamp tours. Once the alligators spot the boats they normally swim toward them for a treat. Oddly it’s not illegal by state law in Louisiana (individual Parish laws may exist) to feed alligators. As a result, most the swamp tours will feed the alligators marshmallows to attract alligators to the boat. From what I can tell online (and that goes along with what the tour guide said), the marshmallows are fairly harmless to the alligators. So you will get to see lots of alligators as they come out looking for the treats. Please remember though an alligator is a large, powerful predator; do not attempt to feed one yourself. I am personally a little torn on the ethical ecological implications of feeding the alligators. It’s probably not a great thing for the wild animals, although it’s not going to make them dependent on humans (a 6-foot alligator needs more food than a few marshmallows a day) it does make them associate humans with food. However, this is really the only way the average person is going to see the awesome speed and power of an adult alligator (our guide got a 5-foot alligator to jump 4 feet out of the water for a marshmallow – seriously don’t mess with wild alligators).
After coming back to port, the kids each picked out a small souvenir at the gift shop which was very reasonably priced. From there we headed for New Orleans.
Overall impression: We had a great time on the tour. The tour guide was very nice and had a lot of good information about the swamp. The kids really enjoyed seeing alligators up close.