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See the South on water

Courtesy Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours

Airboats on the bayou, kayaks on a creek, rafts on white water and even yachts on a lake: All across the South, groups will find plenty of ways to get out on the water. Choose one of these adventures to enjoy wildlife, sunsets and historic sites off the Southern shores.

Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours
Marrero, Louisiana
In his 14 years with Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours, Captain Joey Hatty has heard only one complaint from a customer.

“We had a lady who was aggravated because she didn’t see a crocodile. Well, we don’t have crocodiles here,” Hatty said with a laugh.

The company gives swamp tours and airboat rides in the bayous of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, less than half an hour south of New Orleans.

The company’s flat-bottom, barge-style boats allow them to navigate into shallow waters, and the covered boats with open-air sides give passengers a comfortable ride with unobstructed views.

Guests often spot alligators, turtles and water birds, “although we can’t guarantee they’ll see a certain animal; that’s nature’s decision, not ours,” Hatty said. But captains can guarantee passengers will be able to hold a small alligator that they pass around on the boat.

Throughout the tour, captains talk about the wetlands and the wildlife.

“We try to make it like everyone on that boat is in the living room,” Hatty said. “We try to add humor and keep them rolling, keep them entertained. We give them scientific information and our own personal experiences.”

Each of the six swamp tour boats can carry 60 passengers, so the company can handle groups of 360 people, Hatty said.

Airboat rides offer a very different experience, he said: They’re loud, so they scare away wildlife and make it difficult to talk, but they’re fast, and they’re fun.

“It’s a thrill ride with the airboats,” Hatty said. “Younger people sort of tend to want to do the airboat because it’s a faster ride.”

Dauphin Island Eco Tours
Dauphin Island, Alabama
When French explorers first landed on Dauphin Island in 1699, they discovered human and animal bones piled up with Native American tools, prompting them to name the place Massacre Island.

Fortunately for Myrinda and Billy McCloskey, owners of Dauphin Island Eco Tours, the island was later renamed after Louis the XIV’s great-grandson and heir, the Dauphin.

The McCloskeys started their boat tour company last year, and the husband-and-wife team tailors trips to whatever passengers want to see around the island, which sits about 10 miles off the southwest tip of Alabama, just outside Mobile Bay.

The list of what passengers can experience is long: the Sand Island Lighthouse, the Middle Bay Lighthouse, bird-watching excursions, dolphin tours, sunset cruises and even shrimping trips — or any combination of the above during a custom tour, Myrinda McCloskey said.

Passengers’ favorite sights include the lighthouses, the sunsets and the dolphins; although the McCloskeys can’t guarantee any dolphins will make an appearance, they usually do.

During the tours, which are available year-round, passengers can also cast and pull up a small shrimp net.

“People are really interested in seeing what comes up in the net,” she said. That usually includes shrimp and a wide variety of fish, such as puffer fish and stingrays.

Dauphin Island Eco Tours owns two boats, which the McCloskeys — who are both licensed captains — use for groups of up to 10 people, with four passengers in one boat and six in the other.