If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I am a nature person. I need to be out in nature to clear my head and really relax. Especially after a couple of days of non-stop theme park and vacation craziness. I also really want to encourage my kids to be nature people–to get joy out of noticing the little things in the natural world.
I knew that on our last mini vacation, we would need to explore some of the outdoor wonders of Florida–but I didn’t want to have to drive too far. Florida is a big state! I knew that the Florida Keys were out of the question, as were the beaches of the Panhandle. After a little research, I found Florida EcoSafaris–about 45 minutes from Kissimmee. A place that would offer some fresh, clean air and a day out in the wilds of Florida.
Unfortunately, a lot of the tours that Florida Eco Safaris offers, like the zip-line and horseback tours require that children be at least 10 years old. They look like a lot of fun but my kids were just a little too young. However, the safari tour is open to folks of all ages and abilities–and gives a guided tour and overview of the preserve. So, I booked us on the safari tour and crossed my fingers that we would see some big, wild cats**.
Once we arrived and got checked in–we were on our way. We boarded a huge elevated truck and headed out.
The tour is about an hour and 45 minutes and during most of it you are seated in the truck. You can stand up to take photos–(which I did a lot of) and the tour guide will stop for each and every wildlife sighting.
Like I mentioned, we were hoping to see a wild cat–a rare Florida panther or the elusive bobcat–but weren’t lucky on that front. We did see tons of alligators, including probably a hundred baby alligators.
We saw beautiful birds including the Great Blue Heron, Ibis, and even a few wild turkey. We saw a few deer, wild hogs, and lots and lots of the ranches cows and horses. For my city kids, getting up that close to cows and horses is quite the experience. And, some of them had massive horns!
At one point in the tour, you can get off the truck and walk along a short but impressive little boardwalk over a creek. The creek which usually has some sort of current to it, was nearly stagnant due to lack of rain recently. The tour guide was able to point out native plants and their traditional uses–which I found fascinating.
Would we go back?
Definitely! Florida Eco-Safari offers horseback tours, horseback camping tours, zip lines, and even a canopy bicycle ride. But, they also offer camping! One group at a time, in a primitive site. To me, that sounds perfect. The clean air, the beautiful stars—just my friends and family–alone with nature. For $15 per person, they provide the tent and you bring everything else. They escort you (in your own vehicle) out to the campsite and then they leave you be. The same campsite is used on the overnight horseback trips. I can’t wait till both of my kids are ten years old–we will be booked on one of these trips for sure.
After your safari, they have a restaurant on site which serves the 100% grass fed, free range beef that they raise on property. We stopped in for lunch and it fine. The food was nothing special (the photo above was my veggie burger) but it was nice to sit out on the porch and relax. They were having some issues with service while we were there (we had to send our burgers back twice for little mistakes) but it wasn’t horrible. Next time, I might pack my own picnic lunch instead.
From Kissimmee, it was about an hour to Florida Eco-Safaris. Most of this was due to red light after red light on the main drag through Kissimmee. Once we got through the shopping and dining district, it was pretty smooth sailing.
If you are in Florida for a theme park vacation, I highly recommend trying to include some time visiting the natural side of Florida. There is so much beauty here and you can really experience it first hand at Florida Eco-Safaris.
** While we didn’t see any wild cats, the kids really enjoyed petting the ranch cat, Lisa Marie. So much so, Rosie wanted to take her home.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Florida EcoSafaris for sponsoring our adventure. All opinions are my own.