Yes, most people come to the Orlando area to visit theme parks. But if you are looking for a more “natural” experience, then head to Florida Eco Safaris. I found this place (located one hour south of Orlando) while giving a keynote in Orlando. My daughter Sondra has been working in D.C. and planned to meet me for a few days.
“Pleeeaaassseeee can we do something in nature?” she moaned. “I’m so tired of all the crowds and traffic in DC..”
Boy did I give her nature. We drove to the 4,700 acre eco conservation site just past St. Cloud. It certainly is a different world from roller coasters and costumed characters. Driving into the ranch puts you in a totally calm peace of mind. Everything is so green, so quiet and so colorful as the peacocks meander back and forth over the road. Even the giant lodge has a down-to-earth feel with its snack bar, gift shop and cozy veranda. Be sure to heed the sign that says “Please do not feed the alligators.”
Roller Coaster at Florida Eco Safaris
One of the highlights at Florida Eco Safaris was the Rattlesnake…otherwise known as “The Human Roller Coaster.” I guess this mom is getting old, because I passed up the chance to try it. (One staff member told me quite a few people throw up afterwards!) It did look semi-fun. Basically you are attached to a harness as if you were ziplining. Then things change. You leave the safety of the platform and start swinging, swooping and dipping along a 1,000-foot metal track. It’s the only one of its kind in the U.S. If you have teenagers with you, I bet this would be a hit.
Four Adventures at Florida Eco Safaris
Florida Eco Safaris offers four distinct adventures:
- Fly through the air on a zip line with speeds up to 30 mph. We overheard the staff calming a frightened mom as she had second (and third and fourth) thoughts about leaving the security of the platform. It took a while, but she ended up zooming through the cypress trees, letting us all know when she arrived safely at another platform since her screams ended. The course takes around 2 ½ hours and includes 10 observation platforms, two sky bridges, and the chance to fly 68 feet in the air. For an extra treat, ask when they have Moonlight Zip Tours!
- For a calmer activity, check out the horse safari where a horse selected to your riding skills takes you through nine Florida ecosystems. We watched a happy group of riders head out on the trail for a 90-minute ride.
- If you feel like relaxing and simply enjoying the view, sign up for the Coach Safari. We rode on this contraption that looked like something Dr. Seuss put together. In fact, the staff person told us the coach was built from the parts of several large trucks and vehicles. Since you ride five feet off the ground, the view is wide open if you want to take photos.
- The Cypress Canopy Cycle adventure is the first of its kind in the U.S., so that’s what we did. Think of it as a recumbent bike hanging from a steel cable over a one mile course that takes you through the tree tops. It also takes you over the pond of George, a 13 foot alligator! At first it seems strange to be dangling from a cable and “riding” a bike 25 feet in the air, but soon you develop a rhythm. That’s where my problem started. I pedaled and began swaying. Trying to think back to high school physics class, I thought that the faster I pedaled, the more centrifugal force would keep me from swaying. Evidently I pedaled very fast! As I completed the course, a staff member came running out and said, “I can’t believe you did the course so fast. Most people take an hour. You did it in 25 minutes!” I set the record for the fastest time to complete the course. (Never mind that there isn’t a timed competition.) I loved my 25 minutes of high-swaying speed! This would be a great activity for anyone that doesn’t want to do the zip line, but does want a unique adventure experience.
Florida Eco Safaris would make a unique day trip the next time you are in the Orlando area. As an added bonus, a portion of revenues goes to support Florida’s conservation efforts. Call 407-957-9794 for reservations. Let me know if you break my world record of 25 minutes on the Canopy Cycle!
Visit the Florida Eco Safaris website at www.floridaecosafaris.com.