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What floats your boat

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At first glance, airboats look like something Wile E. Coyote might drive. Picture an oversized Acme fan strapped to the back of a rowboat. The major difference between reality and Road Runner cartoons: An airboat is less likely to go over a cliff.

Airboat tours are a popular draw for tourists tired of theme parks, with at least 26 tour operators in the area. And in virtually every waterway, airboats afford an up-close look at wildlife. That is, if the droning of a 140-decibel engine doesn't first clear the area. Proprietors mostly dismiss the noise concerns. "It lulls babies to sleep," claims one airboat owner. In any case, passengers don't need to worry about permanent hearing loss, since ear protection is given to everyone.

Noise aside, there's great fun to be had. The vessel moves at a surprisingly swift clip -- up to 40 mph. Many companies claim you can see up to 200 alligators on a 90-minute trek.

"I've seen bald eagles, gators and all kinds of sea animals," says Rick Thrift of Grasshopper Airboat Ecotours in Titusville. "The animals aren't as scared of the boats as you might think. It's kind of like deer caught in headlights."

The cost of an airboat tour's unique glimpse of natural Florida -- beautiful waterways and startled wildlife -- ranges from $8-$26.


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