Wild Florida Airboats Gives Glimpse of Vanishing Ecosystem

Florida claims the “Theme Park Capital of the World” designation housing eight of the top 20 amusement parks in North America.  However, theme parks are a relatively recent addition to the wild Florida landscape that always included forests, lakes, swamps, and marshes.  Just south of Walt Disney World, Wild Florida Airboat Tours and Wildlife Park introduces tourists to the natural side of Florida before Mickey Mouse arrived with his throngs of followers.  I recently had the opportunity to visit Wild Florida with my group of college students on our alternative break service trip to Give Kids The World Village.  Continue reading for photos and a recap of our visit, and why you should take a day to visit this fascinating ecosystem.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

Wild Florida Airboat Tours and Wildlife Park is located on Cypress Lake approximately 30 minutes south of Kissimmee, Florida.  Their mission is to promote central Florida’s natural resources, and educate people that “wild Florida” still exists.  It may take a little drive to get there, and you may feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere (you are), but the experience is worth it.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

Getting a group of 13 college students up and out the door at 8:00 am on spring break is not an easy task (although many of them slept during the drive), but once we stepped on our Wild Florida airboat they were certainly all awake.  If not, the motor and wind would soon wake them up.

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Our knowledgeable guide quickly whisked us out onto the reedy, mossy lake, where we startled flocks of birds still waking and warming up in the early morning sun.  He pointed out herons and egrets, but we were all on the lookout for alligators.

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And gators we found!  Lots of them, mamma gators, pappa gators, and baby gators too.  All of cold-blooded reptiles sunning themselves on the banks of the marsh.

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My New York students were thrilled.  None of them had ever seen alligators like this, up close, in their natural habitat.  And that’s what Wild Florida is all about.  Millions of people come to visit the theme parks of central Florida every year, but Wild Florida hopes people will also learn a little about the natural ecosystem – what this region was like before the development occurred.

Wild Florida is not just about the airboat ride either, there is a whole wildlife park to explore featuring both native and exotic animals.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

A boardwalk winds its way through Hawk Swamp where you can really get an immersive look at Florida’s native cypress swamp ecosystem.

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Namesake residents of Hawk Swamp

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

Another example of one of the native species in the deer exhibit.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

There are also hands-on shows and demonstrations where you can meet Wild Florida’s animal residents…

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

and even hold an alligator.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

A fully accessible walking path winds its way through tropical bird aviaries and animal enclosures that feature lemurs, sloths…

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and wild cats including African servals (below) and bobcats.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

We were hungry after our early morning boat ride and visit to the animal park, and Wild Florida has the Chomp House Grill offering southern barbecue and “meals from the swamp,” including: gator, turtle, catfish, and/or frog legs.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

Of course, I had to try the gator as well as the “swamp famous” slushy.  Gator came in batter-fried nugget form, and was similar to a dark meat chicken nugget (but a little tougher).  The Swamp Slushy was cool and fruity, and hit the spot after our morning in the sun.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

There’s also a playground, plenty of tables, cookout facilities and outdoor seating for a great picnic lunch beside the Cypress Lake.

Wild Florida Airboat Rides

Wild Florida was a fantastic half day activity for my group of students, and well worth the drive out of the built-up tourist areas near Walt Disney World.  Everyone was able to see and experience an incredibly diverse landscape unlike anything we would witness in our home state of New York (or even near Walt Disney World).  Plan on spending 3-4 hours at Wild Florida including: 90 minutes for your airboat ride (60 minute ride, but allow a few minutes before and after), 1-2 hours to explore the Wildlife Park, and another hour for lunch.  The one hour airboat ride currently costs $47.50/adult and $37/child (ages 3-12), and this includes your admission to the Wildlife Park and all other Wild Florida facilities.

DISCLOSURE: Our group was hosted by Wild Florida and received a complimentary one hour private airboat tour in order to experience the attraction.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.