Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens offers a relaxed kid-centric outing to families visiting the Orlando area. Located about 20 miles north of Orlando in Sanford, Florida, the zoo is smaller than what we’re used to in Omaha, but offers some hands-on and fun activities we don’t have.
Updated: March 18, 2019
This zoo was on my Central Florida Bucket List and I was so glad to check it off!
We visited during a recent weekend getaway hosted by Seminole County, Florida. As luck would have it, Allegiant just started a new direct flight to the area, so this adventure makes sense to share with you guys. This zoo is pretty close to the Orlando Sanford International Airport!
Central Florida Zoo Highlights
By far, the runaway hit of this zoo is actually located just outside its main gates: ZOOm Air Adventure Park. UPDATE: The adventure course has a new name – Seminole Aerial Adventures.
My kids and I got a chance to try out the adventure ropes and zip line courses during our visit. It was challenging but fun for all of us.
One animal encounter at the Central Florida Zoo that we haven’t tried at our home zoo is the daily giraffe feedings. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can try to feed one of the male giraffes there (for $5 for the food). I write “try to” because when we visited, the big guys weren’t motivated to move much, least of all by the food kids were trying to offer them.
They also offer Rhino Encounters on the weekends, something I think we’ll do the next time we’re visiting!
The Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground was a large play area right near the entrance.
It would’ve been wonderful to cool off after ZOOm Air with a run through the splash ground, but I’d forgotten to bring along swimsuit. My friend, Marisa (AKA @tampamama) had warned me to always, ALWAYS pack swimsuits when visiting attractions in Florida, every place seems to have a splash ground.
Guess I’ll never learn.
There’s also a children’s garden, which was less about animals and more about nature.
Don’t skip the cute area of the zoo dedicated to domestic animals like goats.
At the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo, you can spend a couple dollars for a large amount of food to feed the goats, and my favorite, the llama.
Feedings at the barnyard start at 11 a.m.
Since my kids are still pretty young, they wanted to ride the train. If you’re long-legged, I’m sorry, this ride is not going to be comfortable.
It doesn’t matter where a little train goes, it’s always a big deal. Throw in a tunnel and kids lose their minds. (FYI, the train does not go through the zoo, and you’ll see no zoo animals – just cutouts).
The playground at the zoo, KaBOOM! Playground, was a big hit with my kids – it never fails… I have to tear them away from a playground wherever we go just so we can see what we actually came to see – animals!
There’s also a carousel that your kids will try to talk you into, and depending on the season, other add-on activities like WOW Balls and Bungee Jump. They weren’t in operation when we visited in early November.
Another seasonal offer is camel rides.
Regular activities at the zoo
Weekend & Holiday Show Schedule when we were there. Double check before you go to see if the schedule has changed:
Keeper Chats & Demonstrations: Every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday (weather permitting)
10:30 a.m. Rhino*
11 a.m. Cheetah*
11:30 p.m. Flying High!
Noon Venom! outside Herpetarium at the Tiffany and Charles Davis Animal Showcase
1:30 p.m. Wild Tales! at Magpie Jay Stage
2:30 p.m. Giraffe*
3 p.m. Lemur*
3:30 p.m. Snake or Alligator/Crocodile Feeding
*Meet the Keeper
More things kids will like at the zoo
It was a good size zoo for our kids, who were both under 6. It was small enough that we could get away with not having a wagon to cart the kids around.
There were a lot of stealth animal encounters if you look for them. We found one volunteer sitting on a bench with snake. He had a lot of interesting facts for the kids.
We also caught the cheetah feedings on accident. Don’t ask what kind of meat they were feeding them (OK, ask, I’ll tell you).
With just over 200 species in the zoo, you could breeze through things in a morning. The zoo does not allow outside food, so if you are there around meal time, there are concession stands offering the typical zoo fare.
Or you can do what we did and head to the charming downtown Sanford for lunch. I recommend lunch at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe (even if you think you don’t like German food, you’ll like this German food).
I knew I loved German beer but I didn’t think I was a fan of the food until Hollerbach’s. Everyone said I should go to this restaurant, and I’m glad we did.
It was a busy place, but we were still promptly seated outside. The menu is large, the food is heavy and not exactly vegetarian friendly. I ordered off the lunch menu and got a manageable portion of wiener schnitzel with a side of Heaven & Earth Potatoes and red cabbage.
Do not miss out on those potatoes. So good.
The kids each got a kinder plate of sausage.
The fresh fruit was a nice touch, but it couldn’t compete with gummi bears.
For dessert, we split German chocolate cake. It was a huge slice, and more than enough for four people after eating a big lunch. I recommend getting the cake, but share that big boy.
Don’t skip this place. They have live music on the weekends, as well as soccer breakfasts.
If you go
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Where: 3755 Highway 17-92 (Exit 104 off I-4), Sanford, Fla.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Cost: $19.50, adults; $15.95, seniors 60+; $13.75, children (3-12); FREE, children 2 and younger.
How to get a 50% off discount: If you’re a member of your local zoo, you may qualify for 50% off admission – Omaha Zoo & Aquarium members do! Get the current list of zoos that participate here or learn more about how the reciprocity program works in this post.
How much time you’ll be there: 2 to 3 hours at the zoo, longer if you eat lunch there and your kids play in the splash garden. Add at least an hour to your visit if you plan on doing ZoomAir Tree Adventure.
Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe
Where: 205 E. First St., Sanford, Fla.
Explore More of Central Florida:
ZOOmAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida)
Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)
Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)
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