Florida is more than just roller coasters and seashells. There are actually some wild and crazy places to visit here in the sunshine state ~ some of which really should be “must-sees” on your Florida bucket list! For instance, did you know there is a nature park in Florida where you can see alligators, baby deer, macaws and ZONIES? Do you even know what a “zony” is??? You can even take an airboat tour and feel like you’re flying through the marshlands to find alligators in their natural habitats! We did this and soooo much more when the family was hosted for a day at Wild Florida!!!
My family was provided with a complimentary one-hour airboat tour and free admission to the gator park in order to facilitate this post. All opinions in this post, however, are 100% our own and not influenced by the items provided. This post does contain affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure policy for more information.
Confession Time First!
I kid you not! One of the first things my husband said he wanted to do when we crossed the border into our new home state was, “I want to go on an airboat ride to see alligators!” Nope, I am not kidding. He wanted to feel the breeze on his face as he sped through the middle of true Florida nature in search of gators.
Now, here’s a little confession about yours truly. I haven’t been the greatest when it comes to the whole gift-giving thing of late. No excuses ~ I just haven’t.
So, in an attempt to fix that, I went on a mission to find the best place to take him so he could cross this off his Florida bucket list. Fortunately, I happen to have a sweet Florida friend who knew exactly where to direct me (Thanks, Meagan!).
Wild Florida ~ The Facts
What is it?
To be quite honest, I think Wild Florida is a true hidden gem. It takes the raw, natural aspects of Florida, unchanged since the early pioneers settled there in the 1800s, and invites us in to safely explore and enjoy the animals and the landscape within that environment (and beyond).
While Wild Florida is best known for its Everglade airboat tours, they also house a Gator Park with over 200 native and exotic animals. While strolling the park, you will not only have the opportunity to watch alligators and crocodiles in action, but catch glimpses of lemurs, zebras and other animals native to other continents, such as South America, Africa and Australia.
Now, if you’re looking for something a little more up close and personal, you can even book a special animal encounter with beautiful creatures, such as a sloth.
So, let’s talk about those airboat tours for a second. Starting at 9 am and ending with the last ride at 4:30 PM, visitors can purchase a seat on either a half hour, one hour, private or nighttime airboat excursion. Each boat is U.S. Coast Guard certified and takes you through the marshes where you have the potential to spot eagles, turkeys, wild boar, roseate spoonbills, alligators in Florida and other native wildlife.
Oh, don’t worry ~ the team at Wild Florida is well aware that, since you’ll likely be sticking around for hours, you will need to refuel after a short while. When you’re ready to “chomp” down on some good grub, check out The Chomp House Grill. Here, you can grab a little barbecue, philly cheesesteak, or a burger to munch on and order a Swamp Slushy to wash it all down!
What’s a Swamp Slushy? I’ll explain in a few (wink, wink).
Food Allergy Friends ~ We chose to bring our son (who has severe, life-threatening food allergies) his own food to eat during this visit. This was a decision we feel very comfortable having made.
Where is it?
Wild Florida is located about 45 minutes south of Orlando, in the heartland of the Florida Everglades. It’s in a town called Kenansville and truly feels like you are far from the hustle and bustle of theme parks and such. As noted above, this is where pioneers settled in the 1800s and the environment hasn’t changed much since. It is backwoods exploring and it is a nice escape from what a vacation in central Florida typically looks and feels like.
Why should you want to go?
Because it’s fun and an experience you can’t replicate just anywhere!! I mean, where else can you see a Florida panther up close, watch gators and crocs devouring their lunch, chat with a parrot and hang with a sloth? Why WOULDN’T you want to go?
Our Adventure At Wild Florida
Oh, the day was hot, my friends. It was Florida in June and the sun was direct ~ at least for a period of time it was. We arrived around 11:30 am and were glad we did. There is a small amount of parking right in front of the venue and then an extra parking lot located right before the entrance. We were fortunate enough to snag one of the last spots available in the lot closest to the main building. It filled up rather quickly!
The four of us made our way to the main building, where we checked in for our airboat tour. We were early (scheduled for the 12:45 pm tour), but this allowed us to explore the Gator Park for a bit before meeting to board the boat.
Each of us in our party received a bracelet to wear that granted us admission to the park. Our first stop was to check out the map (if you have read ANY of our “new venue” posts, you know this is customary for my boys). Since this was Hubby’s Father’s Day gift, we knew to let him dictate the course we would take. My only request was that we saw as much as possible so that we walked away having had a full and genuine experience.
After a quick moment to orient ourselves, Hubby decided he wanted to see the crocodile feeding. It had already started by the time we had arrived, but we were still able to catch quite a bit of the action. We were amazed to see the staff so close to the mouths of these ferocious creatures! Honestly, I’d be terrified, but these guys knew exactly what to do!
From there, we took opportunity to sit in the shade for a few minutes and watch the Exotic Animal Show. THIS was fun! I had watched my friend Meagan’s video on this particular exhibit and I was curious to see if the animals were the same each time.
While my friend’s video shows that they saw a few birds, a boa and a gator, we had the privilege or seeing the boa, the gator…and a SKUNK! And yes, I did TOUCH THE SKUNK!!
TIP: If you have any desire to touch the animals during this show, be sure to place yourself in one of the first two rows. As the trainer will share, animals have absolutely no manners or control when it comes to….(ahem)…urinating or defecating. They just don’t want it to happen on someone’s head.
Change of Plans
As noted above, we had been scheduled for the 12:45 PM airboat tour. We met at the rendezvous point when instructed and waited for a few minutes. They eventually called our names and set us up in a line to head out to the boat to meet our captain.
Unfortunately, a storm was rolling in and lightning was within the magic radius. For safety reasons, our ride was postponed. The plan was for an around 2:15 PM departure.
Time to Eat
Well, this gave us just enough time to experience a meal over at The Chomp House Grill. As we left the dock, it had already started to downpour, so we scurried our way over to where just about everyone else was going.
Now ~ we’re not talking five star restaurant here, nor even table service. This is a fun window-ordering venue where you select off a menu, order at one window, pick up at another and then find a place to eat either in the outside pavilion or indoor community hall. It’s a true outdoor kind of experience!
After scouring the menu while sitting in a comfy rocking chair, our crew decided to place an order for the Philly Cheesesteak, The Wild One (1/2 lb burger, bacon, pork, cheese and BBQ) and…you’re not going to believe this…I had GATOR BITES!!
While Hubby braved the rain (what a trooper!), we found a spot inside the community hall. Everybody was taking a break for lunch at that point, so we wanted to make sure we had good seats.
The food was pretty good and, while I think I’ve had my fill of gator bites for awhile, our middle teen liked his cheesesteak and Hubby really enjoyed his burger!
Finally hitting the water
The weather cleared and we finally headed out to find some gators in the water. We had Captain Jeff, who was an extremely knowledgeable tour guide and able to spot the tiniest of gators in the water. He was amazing!
TIP: Let’s talk seating. If you want the best unobstructed views, sit up in the front row. If you want to hear what the captain has to say, sit in the back row. We sat in the back, but still had a great view from all angles.
Of course, the first part of the tour is all about safety. Captain Jeff went through some of the rules and regulations and made sure that those under the age of six were wearing the required life-jacket. Life-jackets were actually available for anyone who wanted them. Ear protection was also provided because the airboat does get pretty loud. (Hubby wore his!!).
TIP: If seeing alligators is a must for you, your best chance of seeing them (and more wildlife) is going to be on the earlier boat tours, such as the one that takes off at 9 AM. During the heat of the day, the alligators like to lie at the bottom of the lake where the temperature is at least 10° cooler.
We were scheduled for the hour long boat ride, so we leisurely cruised the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades looking for wildlife and plants that make up the Florida Everglades ecosystem.
During our particular tour on the US Coast Guard approved vessel, we saw several blue herons, watched a few fish pop in and out of the water and even saw ~ from a distance ~ an eagle perched in a tree.
And yes ~ WE SAW GATORS!!
Many of the gators we saw were small, but we did see one or two larger ones that were skimming the water for a minute or two while we watched. They were beautiful to see and we did nothing to disturb their peaceful perch. What made me the happiest was seeing how intrigued Hubby was as he gazed over the side and grew more eager to find some on his own over the course of the hour.
The boys enjoyed the tour, as well. The youngest said he had a blast speeding through the marshes with the wind blowing over his face and the middle teen said he felt like he had been riding on a hovercraft.
It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!!
More Animal Exploration
Once our airboat tour was complete, we still had more to explore inside the Gator Park. We took the next hour or so to just walk around and see what other animals just happen to call the park home.
Along our trek, we gazed at a Florida Panther, a Macaw, a bobcat, ostriches, emus, deer, peacocks and more! Oh, my!!
We even saw a zony!! Do you know what a zony is???? A zony is the offspring of a male zebra and a female pony! Who knew??? I didn’t! And a zorse? Yup – that’s the offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare. I believe that is the shot I have here.
Of course, before we left, Hubby had to make sure he caught a glimpse of the albino alligator. Gorgeous, right?
Calling it a day
We found so much to do and see there at Wild Florida that we couldn’t believe how fast the time had flown by. It was worth braving the heat to see what we saw and we hope to make some time to go down to Kenansville again to see the Safari Park when it is up and open to the public.
Sadly, though, it was time to make the trek back home. We sent the boys off to the car while Hubby and I made one more pit stop. Well, two. Yup – we both had to visit the bathroom, but we also wanted to grab a Swamp Slushy ~ just to say that we did! When in Wild Florida, right? I mean, we were THIRSTY and that just looked sooo yummy!
So what IS a Swamp Slushy?? It’s a frozen blend of mango, orange, and passionfruit ~ and it is the perfect way to cap off a hot day in the Wild Florida sun! If you’re not into the swampy look, they have soft serve ice cream available for purchase, as well.
Thanks, Wild Florida!
The entire family had a great time roaming the grounds on foot and skimming the water on the airboat. It was definitely a memory we will keep forever and I’m so glad that we were able to help Hubby cross off this one little item on his Florida bucket list. It was the perfect way for us to kick off Father’s Day weekend and it was the perfect way to explore the natural part of our new home state. Thanks, Wild Florida, for hosting us and we look forward to visiting you again in the future!
For more information on pricing, schedules, opportunities and more for Wild Florida, you can visit their website here: https://wildfloridairboats.com/
PS ~ Just A Few Tips To Keep In Mind:
- Bring quarters ~ they do have a feeding station where you can purchase some food to feed some of the animals in the park. NOTE FOR ALLERGY FAMILIES: Some of these “feeding stations” do carry nuts, so please be careful!! Our son has a peanut and tree nut allergy and did well. He did not feed the animals, however.
- As noted earlier in the post, schedule an airboat ride for the earliest tour of the day during the summer. During the winter, the noon ride is highly recommended.
- Bring water with you to HYDRATE – oh, my goodness…it can get hot in the Florida sun!
- Be aware that your shoes will get dirty!!!! You are walking in dirt for a good portion of your visit.
- I cannot stress this enough ~ DO NOT MISS OUT on the exotic animal show. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with some pretty unique animals as a part of your admission to the park.
- Be sure to check out the gift shop ~ always good to walk away with some kind of souvenir to remember the day by.