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Exploring The Central Florida Zoo

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!

Central Florida Zoo - The highlights, animal experiences and hands-on fun at the zoo. This zoo is about 20 minutes from Orlando!

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.

ZOOm Air Adventure Park has a zip line course for kids
Farley conquering the kids’ zip line course in Sanford, Florida.

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.

Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!
Cool off in the splash garden at Central Florida Zoo. Remember to pack swimsuits!

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.

Children's garden at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The kids really wanted to check out the children’s garden at the zoo.

Don’t skip the cute area of the zoo dedicated to domestic animals like goats.

Feeding goats at the Centra Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The greediest goat we’ve ever encountered. This guy wanted all. of. the. food.

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.

You can feed a llama, goat and alpaca at the Central Florida Zoo.
You can feed a llama, goat and alpaca at the Central Florida Zoo.

Feedings at the barnyard start at 11 a.m.

The goats are waiting for you.
The goats are waiting for you.

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.

The mini train rides at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The cozy little train at Central Florida Zoo. The kids loved it.

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 train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida
The train station is at the entrance to the Central Florida Zoo. Just try to walk past it and not have a kid ask if they could have a ride.

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

Kid looking at a Central Florida Zoo map
Farley trying to navigate 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.

Animal encounter at the Central Florida Zoo
Be on the look out for animal encounters when visiting the Central Florida Zoo. The kids learned about this little snake from a friendly volunteer.

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).

Cheetah feeding with a keeper at the Central Florida Zoo.
We stumbled upon the cheetah feeding time and got the insider scoop on what’s for lunch there. You don’t really want to know.

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).

Outdoor dining area at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
Another perk of visiting Florida in November – dining outside. We grabbed an outdoor table to enjoy our German lunch at Hollerbach’s in Sanford.

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.

Sanford, Florida, German restaurant Hollerbach's menu
Prost from a great German restaurant in Florida!

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.

Hollerbach's schnitzel, red cabbage and Heaven & Earth Potatoes.
I tried the schnitzel, red cabbage and the best potato dish ever – Heaven & Earth Potatoes.

Do not miss out on those potatoes. So good.

The kids each got a kinder plate of sausage.

The kid's meal at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
The kid’s sausage plate at Hollerbach’s in Sanford, a little bit of healthy mixed in there with the fresh fruit.

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.

German chocolate cake at Hollerbach's in Sanford, Florida
A family of four attempts to finish the German chocolate cake at Hollerbach’s (after a full lunch) and fails.

Don’t skip this place. They have live music on the weekends, as well as soccer breakfasts.

Things to do at the Central Florida Zoo, the closest zoo to Orlando! Learn about the animal encounters, zip line course for kids, and more. #familytravel #Florida

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:

Central Florida Adventure

ZOOmAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida)

Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)

Wekiva Island (Longwood, Florida)

Tips on Flying Allegiant from Omaha to Orlando Sanford International Airport 

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