Think of Orlando as a tourist destination and the first images to spring to mind will probably be rollercoasters and Mickey Mouse. But nature lovers will also be spoilt for choice in this Florida holiday hotspot, with a plethora of wildlife-themed attractions dotted throughout the area.
Central Florida Zoo
You won’t be short of things to do on a day out at Central Florida Zoological Park & Botanical Gardens, which opened at its current location near Lake Monroe back in 1975 and is home to more than 400 different animals.
Take a trip to the Animal Adventure Children’s Zoo to get up close and personal with domestic animals, or for something a little scarier visit the Herpetarium and check out south-east America’s largest collection of venomous snakes and non-venomous reptiles.
Thrillseekers will no doubt enjoy the ZOOm Air Adventure Park aerial assault course. If you’re looking to cool off after all that excitement, why not take a plunge at the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground?
With the zoo located around a 30-minute drive from Orlando, it’s a good idea to rent a vehicle from Orlando Airport for easy exploration.
This 110-acre attraction is part theme park and part wildlife reserve. Although it’s packed full of exciting exhibits and entertainment, Gatorland still retains a healthy dose of the traditional Florida charm it’s been known for since it opened as a roadside visitor spot six decades ago.
Thousands of alligators and crocodiles can be found at the attraction, as well as a kids’ water park, an aviary and a nature walk.
As if that wasn’t enough, Gatorland offers a fine line in live entertainment. The Gator Wrestlin’ Show is not to be missed, while Gator Jumparoo, Up-close Encounters and Jungle Crocs of the World will also have you on the edge of your seat.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Arguably the best-known marine life rescue centre on the planet, Clearwater Marine Aquarium gives you the chance to discover everything from sharks and bottlenose dolphins to stingrays and sea turtles.
However, the star attraction at Clearwater is undoubtedly Winter the dolphin, who stars in the hit movie Dolphin Tale alongside the likes of Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. Winter lost her tail after being caught by a crab trap and now swims with a prosthetic tail, but this clearly hasn’t affected her career on the silver screen! The film was actually shot on location at the marine aquarium, so if you’ve seen the picture you’ll probably recognise many of the areas.
A second attraction, the Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, can be visited free of charge if you pay for entry to Clearwater. It offers a unique insight into the movie, featuring props, rebuilt scenes and the exciting Hurricane Experience.
Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida
Despite being just a stone’s throw from some of the state’s biggest urban areas, this wilderness comprises 4,700 acres of conservation land and eco ranch. Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida has one of the highest densities of threatened and endangered species to be found anywhere in the state, including nearly 200 species of bird, alligators, white-tail deer, black bears and more.
Adrenaline junkies will be right at home at this attraction, which is home to the first ever zipline rollercoaster in the US, as well as the biggest zipline adventure zone in central Florida.