Wild Florida has long been known for its excellent airboat rides, and its family-friendly Gator Park, filled with animals as varied as bobcats, Ring-tailed lemurs, two-toed sloths and, of course, Florida’s iconic alligators. But now something new and exciting has arrived: the area’s first drive-through safari, which makes your trip out to Kenansville (approximately 36 miles from Walt Disney World) a true full-day adventure.
We’re here to help you get the most out of your day to “The Middle Of Nowhere” and this superb new experience. The process is simple: Once everyone who needs to has used the convenient restrooms prior to the entry (there are no restrooms along the 2-mile loop inside the park), simply pull up to the ticket kiosk in your hire car, purchase your admission pass, and drive into the safari park. As you pass under the gateway, a notice sign reminds you of a few simple rules, including the requirement that you keep your speed to 5 miles per hour or less and a reminder not to get out of your car. Even though they’re relatively tame, the more than 100 animals you’re about to meet aren’t house pets!
Along with your ticket, you’ll receive a colourful, two-sided check list with photos and descriptions of the animals you’ll see. You can also access a Wild Florida Safari Audio Tour on your mobile phone, at https://podcast.rss.com/wildfloridasafari/. It’s a handy (and free!) extra as you identify each animal on your check list.
The safari park covers 85 acres (35 hectares) of natural Floridian landscape, from shallow ponds filled with alligators to cypress domes where white-tailed deer, water buffalo and eland antelope forage in the shade. Much of the park is flat land, giving safari-goers a glimpse at what’s ahead of them, as well as what’s going on from side to side. And that matters, because, of course, the animals are all free-roaming, and it’s not unusual to see a herd of wildebeest or scimitar oryx galloping off on some important mission or another. The sense of being on a dynamic savannah is ever-present.
Will you see animals up-close? Yes, you will! Many of them make the most of their expansive areas, and it’s not unusual for them to pass right in front of or next to your car. Remember that 5 mile-per-hour speed limit we mentioned? This is why it’s crucial you follow it.
One of the reasons we’re such big fans of Wild Florida is their dedication to animal rescue, and the gator pond in the safari park plays a role in that. Each of the alligators was deemed a ‘nuisance’ animal, removed from their original location by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and relocated to Wild Florida, giving them a second chance at a comfortable life. We heartily applaud these humane wildlife initiatives.
When you reach the end of the Safari, stop at the reticulated giraffe enclosure for the opportunity to feed one of its residents. An elevated platform gives you hand-to-muzzle access to these beautiful animals, and when their unfeasibly long, black tongues reach out for the romaine lettuce leaves you offer, it’s a seriously Social Media-worthy moment (use #WildFlorida to share with your friends)! There is an additional charge of $5 for this experience.
End your adventure in the gift shop for a nice memento, then drive a few hundred yards to the Gator Park, where you’ll find another 200 native and exotic animals (most of them rescues) to enjoy on foot. You’ll also find a second gift shop and the check-in desk for Wild Florida’s superb airboat rides.
It’s okay to bring your own lunch (no coolers allowed on airboats or in the Gator Park), but we highly recommend giving the Chomp House Grill a try. There is a wonderfully shady, covered pavilion with picnic tables if the day is hot or rainy, as well as additional picnic tables scattered about when the weather is temperate. Watch for the resident peacocks who stroll around the dining areas!
Admission into the Safari Park is $29 per adult, $20 per child (ages 3 to 12), and it includes access to the nearby Gator Park. Parking at the Safari Park, the airboat rides and the Gator Park is free. The full safari tour takes approximately 1 hour, but with so much to see and so many fascinating interactions between the animals, the time will fly. Happily, your admission allows you to make the 2-mile circuit as many times as you like, and we recommend touring more than once. Since the ‘scenery’ is living, the experience is never the same twice!
The Safari Park opens at 9am and closes one hour before sunset, Monday through Saturday. Airboat rides (choose 30 minutes or 60 minutes; night-time tours by reservation only) run from 9am until 6pm Monday through Saturday, and the Gator Park is open from 9am to 6pm as well. Be sure to check Wild Florida’s website for other fantastic add-ons, including interactive animal encounters and the chance to Dine with Crusher, the park’s 14-foot, 1,000 pound alligator.
Don’t have a hire car but still want to visit Wild Florida? Click HERE to book your Wild Florida Airboat adventure, with transportation.
We spoke with Sam Haught, co-owner of Wild Florida, about the safari and its animals. Here’s what he had to say:
Q) What inspired you to create a drive-through safari park?
A) At our core, we love animals and wanted to provide a way for our guests to see, learn and get close to some of the world's most iconic animals. The plan was to make the most user-friendly adventure that anyone can enjoy from the comfort of their own car...rain or shine, the safari always works without ever having to stand in a long line or even book a reservation! It has been the funnest part of my career seeing these animals and caring for them. Truthfully, nobody likes driving through the safari more than me!
Q) Where did the animals come from?
A) Animals have come from all over the United States, some from strange places, and believe me when I say they hit the jackpot when they came to Wild Florida. These are all animals that cannot be released to the wild and must live out their lives in human care. Many are rescues that we literally saved their lives. We've given them an incredible place to thrive, with free roaming pastures that span 85 acres.
Q) Why did you choose those particular animals?
A) The animals have been carefully selected based on compatibility with Florida's environment, our property and each other. Sometimes we've learned by trial and error, like for example when we put a massive water buffalo bull and a smaller water buffalo steer together, we thought they would get along but quickly found the contrary...they are now separated!
Q) Tell us something about the animals that highlights the quirky nature of their personalities.
A) One of my favorites is the relationship between Mike the camel and Leroy the giraffe. The first time they met it appeared as though they were giddy to see each other. There was genuine excitement, like they had found a distant cousin. Since then you can commonly see them touching noses and communicating in their own way. We have many pictures of these two buddies hanging out. We really feel that the animals on our safari are the happiest they've ever been in their life and it shows in their faces and actions. It's a great place and I love it!