So when someone suggests going on an airboat tour, people usually have one of two reactions:
1) Sure! That sounds fun!
2) I dunno... that sounds boring, buggy, and lame.
I was in group 2, but grudgingly agreed to go because some friends visiting from out of town wanted to. It was great!
Coopertown Airboats is the first airboat tour operator you'll find on Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) when you head west of Miami, so it has the benefit of being closest to me. (The other operators further west may be great, but I've never bothered to drive further and find out.)
The tour guides, while indulging in a little good-ole-boy humor, are knowledgeable and professional. The ride lasts for about 45-50 minutes. They hand out cotton balls for use as earplugs, and they have sound-dampening headphones for the children (a nice touch that Coopertown added since the last time I was there). The airboat is quite noisy when it's operating (they stop it every few minutes to point out alligators, birds, and other plants and wildlife), but tolerable. The sun can be quite brutal out there, so bring sunglasses and put on sunblock. Hats with bills must be worn with the bill facing backwards to prevent it from blowing off the wearer's head, so they won't provide any sun protection for your face. You have been warned -- if you come back looking red as a lobster, it's your own fault.
There are several alligators that live in the circuit that the tour boat makes around the nearby region of the Everglades (evidently the species is quite territorial), and a robust selection of birds of many colors and species. The tour guides seem to know where they hang out, and have names for the regulars.
In spite of my worries to the contrary, I have never gotten a bugbite on an airboat tour - unlike in my back yard!
After the ride, they let each guest hold a baby alligator for a little while. Sounds iffy, but when you come, you'll see it's safe. They even have hand sanitizer for afterwards (it;s located next to the tip jar, by a strange coincidence).
Before or after your ride, you can visit their menagerie of Everglades wildlife in the back of the facility. There are some quite sizable alligators, plus turtles and other critters to look at.
The attached restaurant is actually pretty good at making a burger and fries, and has friendly service. The whole place has a down-home shabby appeal that Bubba Gump restaurants spend millions to fake, except this is the real thing.
Why not 5 circles?
A couple of gripes:
1) When you go to get the tour tickets, before you pay, get them to be specific about when the next tour will be. They have a habit of saying "20 minutes" that stretches into 40 minutes so they can wait for more people to fill up the boat. I know it sucks to go do a tour with only 3 people on a slow day, but don't waste my time with B.S.
2) They've added a photographer who buttonholes you and gets you to pose for an (awkward) photograph in front of a green-screen. When you return from the tour, she's tarted up your bad photo with a bunch of CGI junk (alligators, herons, etc.) and tries to get you to buy it. This is silly (I would much rather have a photo ten feet away with the real airboat and Everglades than this rookie-Photoshop mess), and wastes both her and your time while you repeat that you're not interested.
An operational note for 2013:
U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) is undergoing extensive construction to move the roadway up onto a long bridge, which will help restore the natural flow of water (as opposed to the earthen berm that the current roadway sits on, which dams it up). The construction involves closing 1 lane of the 2-lane road, and letting traffic flow through it on an alternating basis, so the drive is not as carefree (or speedy) as usual. Factor that into your planning.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.