Floridians are no strangers to alligators, as many of us have seen them in our community ponds, sunning on the grassy banks. But to experience them in the wild, or better yet, off the front bow of an airboat, is an altogether different experience. Wild Florida, a walkable zoo, driving safari and airboat adventure park, docks on lovely Cypress Lake just east of the Florida Turnpike, where over 600 gators enjoy their natural habitat.
Your first stop is the gift shop, which offers a variety of unique, wildlife-themed toys, apparel and household trinkets, as well as an aquarium-housed, extremely rare albino alligator, born at Wild Florida. If you purchase the airboat tour, which we highly recommend, you walk the dock to a 15-person airboat, piloted by knowledgeable captains, who navigate their crafts on a thrill-ride-like racetrack of tall marsh grass. Protective earmuffs are provided, but not required. During our visit, our boat found a cute pod of baby gators, numbering 15 or more, while the mama lurked quietly on the lake bottom nearby, afraid of our boat.
After tying up at the dock, we headed for the walk-through shaded gator park home to a gorgeous full-grown Florida panther named Nala, an Australian black mamba, curious lemurs, colorful macaws and much more. The park also houses its patriarch and largest alligator, the 14-foot modern-day dinosaur named Crusher. The park offers an experience where patrons can have ‘lunch with Crusher’ in his enclosure. We found this curious, and also frightening; so, chatting with a couple of Crusher’s keepers, they commented that driving I-4 is more dangerous than entering Crusher’s lair. Yeah, no.
To complete the afternoon, we jumped in our car for the drive-through safari experience with zebras, gazelles, deer, bison and wildebeests. Pro tip: If your vehicle is approached by an ostrich, roll up your window. Cap off the drive by hand-feeding the giraffe from an observation platform. Wild Florida is a terrific and fun experience for the whole family, and you’ll definitely get much more than you expect. Note that the park is closed on Sundays. For more information, visit www.wildfloridairboats.com.