A view from our Airboat at Wild Florida

In 1971, the opening of Walt Disney World forever changed Orlando. It is estimated that 52 million tourists visit the area each year. While Disney remains a much-loved destination for many and has certainly been a boon to Florida’s economy, some visitors (even those with kids in tow) are foregoing the parks and their contrived fantasy environments in favor of the way God designed Orlando originally—with alligator-filled swamps, lakes teeming with fish, trees covered in Spanish moss, wetland bird sanctuaries, citrus groves and pastureland ripe for farming and cattle ranching. The new generation of parents will take their kids to Disney, yes. But they will extend their vacation or return again for something more.


The baby sloth, George
(named after Georgetown—the capital of Guyana),
is the proud offspring of Guy and Ana –
his sloth parents from Guyana.
It’s real!  In the wild!  
This mama gator was ready to chomp 
down on anyone coming any closer to her eggs.

 Here lies the perfect example of differences between parents in the 1970s and parents the second decade of the 21st Century! It’s authenticity that they crave. The same parents boycotting big box supermarkets in favor of natural food stores, favoring farm to table over fast or prepared foods, are rediscovering some of the history and attractions of yesteryear. And these attractions are speaking their language.

Sam Haught is a former Goldman Sachs exec who left it all behind to open Wild Florida. This preserve is located on one of the few pieces of private property on Lake Cypress in the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. On board the Wild Florida airboat tour, you whisk through a tranquil pastureland of what looks like grass fields (but really has water underneath). We found mama alligators guarding their eggs, bald eagles and many other bird species, and cattle wading in bogs. We ask, “How do they not get eaten by the gators?” Turns out alligators really prefer seafood—not beef or leg of human. In the Wildlife Park, over 200 animals are on display, including zebras, sloths (including one of the only baby sloths ever born in captivity), lemurs, bobcats, etc, etc. Great care is taken in this park to provide a habitat that stimulates the animals, preventing them from ever feeling they are in captivity.


Very rare white gator at Gatorland.

Gatorland, which opened as a roadside attraction in 1949, now touts “Old Florida charm with  new exhibits and entertainment.  It provides affordable-priced family fun with thousands of alligators, crocodiles, an aviary, breeding marsh with observation tower, petting zoo, nature walk and educational wildlife programs. The Gator Wrestlin’ Show and Screamin’ Gator Zip Line featuring over 1,200 feet of high flying thrills, five intense zip lines and a 150 ft. suspension bridge make this park much more of a tourist attraction than a nature preserve but it’s fun and good to see a pre-Disney attraction surviving and thriving.

Besides the trend of rediscovering the original wild side of Florida is another shift in behavior. Those who have concern about the animals not living in a contrived environment may wish to have a more real environment themselves—no gift shops, buffet breakfasts, or expensive valet parking tabs! Even those Disney diehards travelling in large groups can appreciate the savings and a getaway from mass tourism. Champions Gate luxury vacation homes are only 15 minutes from the entrance of Walt Disney World Orlando and convenient to the other attractions described here too.

Want a house? With a private pool? With as many bedrooms as your group needs? How about one with a private chef? In a county club atmosphere? The new Oasis in the Retreat at Champions Gate features such community amenities as a 20,000 square foot clubhouse, with fitness area, lazy river, water slides, grill, bar, spa and more. Sound like a good real estate investment? Well, it sure is! Check out GlobalResortHomes.com We also visited and dined in the clubhouse at a CLC World property in Orlando (clcworld.com). CLC is a European based holiday company with unique worldwide resort stay options.