Wild Florida may have discovered the “middle of nowhere”, but this interesting attraction and zoo is where visitors get to explore undeveloped Florida and quite a lot more.
Opened in 2010, Wild Florida is one of the newest attractions in Florida. Developed by Ranier Munns and his two sons (Jordan and Daniel) and a son-in-law (Sam Haught), the park has grown fairly quickly in its time of operation. In 1979, Ranier Munns was a co-founder of the Orlando law firm Bogin, Munns & Munns. In 1997, he and his family moved to Osceola County and began to collect exotic animals, starting with a lone water buffalo. Eventually, that collection would become part of Wild Florida.
Wild Florida’s location is near Florida’s Turnpike, but it’s not close to one of its exits. It’s only 30 miles (48 km) from the Walt Disney World Resort, but it can be a one hour drive. It’s near Keenansville, but even many locals don’t quite know where that is. Placed on the shore of Cypress Lake, there’s really nothing else around it. While “location, location, location” is arguably the most important feature of a successful attraction, this zoo and adventure park chose to focus on a different interpretation of that word.
Cypress Lake is largely undeveloped. The 6.4 sq. mile (16.6 sq. km) lake is connected to Lake Tohopekaliga (better known as Lake Toho) by a canal. Cypress is part of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes that is comprised of seven additional main bodies of water, including Toho and the largest: Lake Kissimmee. Interestingly, this puts Wild Florida in an enviable place: Relatively close to development but on a mostly wild lake and river system. Because of this, their airboat tours are some of the best in state, certainly outside of the Everglades.
The Munns family took a piece of property that was already partly developed as a fish camp with cabins and a small airboat company, and created an alligator zoo that had a collection of Florida native animals, such as foxes, raccoons, and deer, as well as exotics, such as sloths, African porcupines, parrots, peafowl and zebras. The zoo, along with the airboat tours and the “Hawk Swamp” boardwalk through the wetlands gave visitors several hours of family-friendly entertainment.
Then in 2019, the park announced a new addition that more than doubled the its size and significantly modified the scope. By the end of 2019, Wild Florida had developed their “Drive-thru Safari Park”. The new area allows visitors to drive their cars through an enclosure that has many exotic and native species of hoof stock and birds. As of 2020 there is also a lemur island and of course alligators (safely behind fences). The experience is much like that at Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County, without the lion enclosure. At the end of the Safari. Wild Florida has an enjoyable giraffe feeding experience on a raised platform. The platform is also a good place to see an overview of parts of the Safari.
The park once offered swamp truck tours and it has a small restaurant. Wild Florida’s goal to be an educational park can be seen in their regular shows where staff give visitors the opportunity to see, and sometimes touch, smaller animals.
One of the more notable aspects of Wild Florida is the lack of “hype”. Much like the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and other Florida zoos, visitors can enjoy seeing and learning about the animals in the shows without some sort of theatrical excitement. The staff work directly with the alligators in ways that doesn’t exploit potential danger to build interest.
Wild Florida has a fascinating collection of experiences. The Safari is fun, as visitors can see camels, American bison, elks, water buffalo, emus, zebras and lemurs. The original zoo – which was partly remodeled in 2020 – provides completely different animals including a great collection of snakes and various types of crocodilians. There are several up-close encounters that visitors can pay extra for and anyone visiting Wild Florida who doesn’t take an airboat tour, especially in the morning before the heat rises, is really missing something.