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October 15, 2015

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens

The Central Florida Zoo has evolved dramatically since its origins as the Sanford Zoo in the 1920s. Along with over 500 animals of more than 200 species, the zoo features a carousel and the Little Florida Coast Line Train right at the park's entry. 



The Little Florida Coast Line Train known as "Champ" is a 1/5 scale replica of the Florida East Coast Champion. The one-mile riding tour covers woods and wetlands. Train rides are $3 for adults, $2 for children 2-12. The carousel is $2 for children. You can also purchase a "20 single rides" pass covering both the train and carousel for only $20 allowing the whole family to enjoy multiple rides.
The separately priced ZOOm Air Adventure experience utilizes rope bridges and zip lines to send guests on a trek through a maze of trees. 
The ZOOfari Outpost Gift Shop is awesome... and I'm not one to usually gush over gift shops. There's a wide variety of souvenirs, housewares, toys, and educational items - all very fairly priced. 
Some of the trinkets and home decor items are especially interesting. These handmade imports and up-cycled pieces have an artistic flair.
There are fun items for all ages to commemorate your visit.
I thoroughly appreciate some of the clever attire!
Of course, there's always the coolest of zoo souvenirs. Who doesn't love making waxed animals?
Before you even get to the heart of the zoo, you'll find plenty of space to let the little ones roam, play, and work off some excess energy. A new play yard is debuting at the zoo, located near the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground. The splash park is included with zoo admission, and it boasts the ultimate water play element - a bucket dump!
The KaBOOM Playground and snack bar are centrally located within the zoo as well. Perfect for a break midway through your day's adventure.
The playground and snack bar are adjacent to the Rhinoceros Outpost, where you can enjoy interactive encounters on the weekends. 
You'll find lush garden displays sporadically woven into the pathways through the zoo. There are three themed gardens, including the Spiny Garden, Wildflower Garden, and Butterfly Garden. 
Central Florida Zoo combines relaxation and fun with a well-planned layout and thoughtful arrangements. The placement of these engaging "break points" coincide with exhibits that encourage a commitment of time. The butterfly garden is near the giraffe feeding - the spiny garden is across from the otters... and trust me, you can absolutely spend some time gawking at those otters!
The river otters have a delightfully fun habitat. With multiple viewing areas surrounding the rock structure-bordered aquarium, it's mesmerizing to watch the otters as they dash back and forth across the tank. 
Another wildly fun zoo ambassador is the camel, located near the gift shop and butterfly garden. Camel rides are offered seasonally for only $5 per person.
Currently under refurbishment, the Florida Trek exhibit is a tribute to Florida's natural plant and wild life. Black bears will soon be making their way to this section of the park.
 
Similar to a swamp walk in a Florida preserve, Florida Trek features a tranquil, planked walkway winding through trees. 
The Central Florida Zoo is home to a variety of beautiful cats. The cougar was especially playful, and could be heard meowing and purring throughout the day. The cat habitats incorporate climbing areas, plants, ponds, and cave-like structures. Represented cats include the cheetah, cougar, and leopard... along with a melanistic (black) leopard.
A family of warthogs reside near the cougar and the cheetah. These busy, burly mammals are surprisingly fun to watch as they burrow and forage. Lately, the adults in the sounder (warthog group) have been spending time teaching a piglet the finer points of warthog living. 
One thing there is no shortage of at the zoo - tortoises (and their aquatic counterparts, turtles). These reptile representatives are frequently found throughout the park, co-habitating with other residents. 
If reptiles are your thing, the Central Florida Zoo's Herpetarium is a must-see. Home to a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians, the Herpetarium displays creatures that many find scary, but in this safe, controlled environment, they're much more approachable. Animal interactions are offered throughout the day as well for those who dare! 
Some of the slithery creatures are the type you might see as pets, while others are very dangerous, and require special handling.


For guests seeking interaction of the furrier kind, the Barnyard Buddies petting zoo is an essential stop. For just a couple of dollars, you can feed two different types of goats, a llama, and an alpaca. 
As with any petting zoo, the animals are so very friendly, and immeasurably fun to feed. Just don't turn your back on the llama - he has impressive spitting distance. 
Giraffe feeding is another option for those seeking personal encounters. For $5, you're given irresistible leafy treats to share with some long-necked friends. Central Florida Zoo is home to three male giraffes. 

Now that we've shared some of the zoo's highlights, let's discuss the extras - those events and special opportunities that really make a visit unique. 

Central Florida Zoo is dedicated to education and conservation. They host a variety of special events and group programs lending to these efforts. The zoo offers ranging badge workshops for scouts promoting wise use of resources, gardening, and wildlife knowledge. Scout groups of 10 or more people can take advantage of these programs for only $13 per person. Overnight adventures can be reserved for as little as $20 per person. Overnight adventures are not limited to scouts, but you do need a minimum of 20 guests for "Snooze at the Zoo", and 50 guests for "Zoo Wild Nights". If you don't wish to commit to an overnight, try the zoo's night hike guided tour (only $20/adult, $15/children 2-12). Another original experience, the Keeper for a Day program, provides five hours of hands-on up close and personal learning encounters

Special events are regularly scheduled throughout the year at Central Florida Zoo. Events may be structured to spotlight specific residents, share storytime readings, or provide pre-determined educational lectures and demonstrations. Designated homeschool education days occur about every other month, and there are annual celebrations such as Brews Around the Zoo and Zoo Boo Bash. Of course, you can always celebrate a birthday party or other special occasion with a private event of your own.

There are many ways to give back to the zoo and contribute to the care of the animals. Central Florida Zoo happily accepts donations of money or time. Additionally, you can figuratively adopt/sponsor an animal for yourself, or as a gift, starting at only $45. Standard adult admission at the zoo is $16.50, with discounts in place for seniors and children 3-12. Annual zoo pass membership starts at $55 (discounts for family memberships), and this includes discounts to over 150 zoos and aquariums as well as special event invitations. 

For additional information, follow Central Florida Zoo on Facebook or Twitter!