10 October . 2017
Animal Theme Parks
Animal lovers have a whole lot of places in Central Florida to see furry, four-legged critters. The Tampa Bay and Orlando areas are chock full of animal adventures for young and old. Here are some of our favorites.
Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa
What started as a municipal department with just a few native Florida species back in the 1930s has grown to one of the most popular zoos in the Southeast. More than a million visitors head to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo each year to view some of the 1,300 animals from five continents. The zoo has a lush, tropical garden setting which showcases animals in a naturalistic environment. From African elephants to adorable Koala bears, Florida panthers to warm weather penguins plus a host of birds, reptiles and fish, guests won’t be disappointed with their visit at this family-friendly park. Be sure to check out the Manatee Critical Care Center, which is the only center of its kind in Florida. Here, visitors have a window on this “manatee emergency room” where the Zoo’s veterinary staff treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees before returning them to the wild after they’ve healed. Lowry Park Zoo also hosts several special events and exhibits each year, such as the Halloween-themed Creatures of the Night, Christmas in the Wild and Sunset Celebration during the summer.
Florida Aquarium - Tampa
Explore the aquatic animals of Florida and those from around the world at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa’s Channelside District. Several different exhibits will take you through the Wetlands Trail to meet alligators and otters and Burmese Pythons. Or Journey to Madagascar where guests view lemurs, hissing cockroaches and chameleons, among others. The Bays and the Beaches offers a local history lesson highlighting the aquatic plants and animals that live along our shores here in Tampa Bay. Not only does the Florida Aquarium showcase animals, staff members also work around the state on research and conservation projects to increase coral reefs and rescue and rehabilitation turtle and river otters. Florida Aquarium offers several different shows daily, as well as excursions such as a dolphin cruise, the chance to swim or dive with sharks or fishes and back stage tours (you want to miss the Penguin tour). An outdoor area also includes a splash pad that will keep kids entertained for hours.
Busch Gardens – Tampa
More than just an amusement park, Tampa’s Busch Gardens lets guests get up close and personal with animals throughout the park. Reserve a spot in one of the open-air vehicles and trek across the Serengeti Safari, where guests can see zebras and ostriches and even get a chance to hand-feed giraffes on this 30–minute tour. There are plenty of other animal feeding opportunities throughout the park as part of the Animal Connections program, as well as special tours to view elephants, African animals like lions and cheetahs, or learn what animal specialists do in the Keeper for a Day tour. One of the most fascinating areas of Busch Gardens is the state-of-the-art Animal Care Center, which is featured on the show The Wildlife Docs. Here watch veterinarians taking care of some of the park’s 12,000 animals in real time.
SeaWorld – Orlando
Head to Orlando for some incredible animal encounters at SeaWorld. The park is synonymous with Shamu, but what you might not know is that a portion of every park ticket sold goes towards conservation efforts. SeaWorld has some highly entertaining daily shows featuring the park’s magnificent animals. Learn about Orcas in an educational 30-minute attraction, be entertained during Dolphin Days as bottlenose dolphins jump and splash, or get a good laugh watching sea lions Clyde and Seamore go ‘back to school’ at Sea Lion High. There are many more shows which are family-friendly, or schedule one of the behind-the-scenes tours where guests can touch a shark, interact with a penguin or visit the park’s animal hospital.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom - Orlando
The happiest place on earth is also a great place to get close to animals. Disney’s Animal Kingdom has enough animal entertainment to keep the whole family engaged for the entire day. Take an off-road ride in an open-air vehicle through Kilimanjaro Safari. Guests answer the call of the wild and see more than 30 African animals including lions, zebras, cheetahs and more roaming in the 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Preserve. Check out the Nocturnal Encounters to see the safari at night. Animal Kingdom just launched its latest exhibition, Pandora – World of Avatar, and there are a host of other rides and attractions to keep guests busy. Some rides have height requirements, so be sure to check the website to help you plan your day. VIP and back stage tours are also available for an additional fee.
Gatorland – Orlando
Being a gator fan takes on a whole new meaning at Gatorland, just outside Orlando. This delightful park is a homage to the reptile and home to hundreds of gators and crocodiles. Guests can watch professional gator wrestlers wrangle a six-foot alligator, and rookie gator wrestlers can also get in on the action for a photo op. A Close Encounters tour brings the animals to you or venture into the Alligator Breeding Marsh for an unforgettable tour that takes you just a few feet from the massive animals. For thrill seekers, Gatorland is home to the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. Whiz seven stories high on this 1,200-foot zip line as Cuban and Nile crocodiles watch you from below.
Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo – River Ranch
Head to this authentic Florida dude ranch for a vacation that will be talked about for years. The West Gate River Ranch and Resort is a 1,700-acre ranch overlooks the Kissimmee River in Polk County. You won’t find your typical animal encounters here, but you will get a chance to ride horses and ponies, fish, and try your hand at a skeet shoot. Check out the local wildlife on airboat rides or visit the petting farm, complete with cows, peacocks, pigs, along with other barnyard and exotic animals. Guests can even feed some of the animals by hand. Be sure to include a Saturday stay for your trip to enjoy the longest-running Saturday night championship rodeo in the U.S. To top it off, accommodations include guest rooms and cottages. Guests can also pitch a tent or bring their RV. But if you really want to splurge stay in one of the Luxe Teepees with air conditioning, showers and your own concierge who’ll deliver morning coffee right to your tent. “Glamping” has never sounded so good!
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