Have a wild time beyond the theme parks with educational animal encounters at some of Orlando’s top zoos and attractions (albino alligator at Wild Florida pictured).
If you’ve ever wanted to feed a shark, dine with an alligator, or see manatees up close and personal, then you’re in for a wild time in Orlando. You’ll find plenty to enjoy at our top zoos, aquariums and attractions, where you can learn about your favorite creatures and even help with their daily care and feeding. Let’s meet some of Orlando’s most popular residents — and rest easy knowing that these experiences are designed with human and critter safety and well-being in mind.
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Wild Orlando-Area Animal Encounters
Wild Florida offers several opportunities for you to help with daily animal care and feedings. Feed alligators from a safe distance, learn verbal cues from albino gator trainers, or dine alongside a 14-foot alligator named Crusher. During the meal, you’ll learn more about animal respect and conservation, hear about Crusher’s life in the wild, and discover his journey to Wild Florida.
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You can also see over 150 free-roaming native and exotic animal species at Wild Florida’s Drive-Thru Safari Park, or set out on a noninvasive airboat adventure to see alligators and other wildlife in their native habitat.
Gatorland may be known for its reptilian residents, but “The Alligator Capital of the World” is also home to several gentle walk-through attractions and animal encounters. Along with up-close reptile experiences, you can mingle with hundreds of birds in the Very Merry Aviary, included with admission, and even feed some of the birds for a nominal fee. Plus, score the chance to mingle with a trio of sociable capybaras on Flamingo Island.
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Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Walk tall at Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, where you can feed a giraffe for just $5. You can also see animals up-close with daily zookeeper chats and even meet a greater one-horned rhino on select weekend dates.
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
Come face-to-face with sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and more at SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium at ICON Park®. Witness a full-on feeding frenzy, included with admission, or book a short behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about the care and feeding of sea creatures. You’ll have the opportunity to walk above the Ocean Overlook tank, preview any newly acquired creatures, and even put your new knowledge to the test by helping to feed the fish.
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Cool Zoo Wildlife Center
Scheduled to open on International Drive in 2023, Cool Zoo Wildlife Center will host a variety of wild animal ambassadors including sloths, kangaroos, lemurs, alligators, exotic birds and more. Cool Zoo also owns a 42-acre conservation center, a 400-acre wildlife sanctuary and multiple crab sanctuaries, all to help wildlife thrive for generations to come. Ambassadors are only at the wildlife center for a limited time before they move on to their forever homes, so stop by and see who’s in town on your next visit.
Discover: New Things to See in Orlando
More Animal Encounters Worth the Drive
One hour south of Orlando in Melbourne on Florida’s east coast, Brevard Zoo has you covered with a variety of wild animal encounters. Visit a giraffe, feed lorikeets in the aviary, and learn more about some of the zoo’s mighty beasts on keeper-led tours. You might see jaguars, spider monkeys and tapirs on the 50-minute Rainforest Revealed tour, and even get to brush a tapir from the other side of the fence. For a different kind of pampering experience, you can also brush a rhinoceros on a 20-minute rhino encounter.
Discover: Orlando Day Trips
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
If your visit includes a day trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast, don’t miss Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Go behind the scenes at this working animal hospital to discover the world of marine animal rescue. Participate in daily stingray feedings, build a salad for a sea turtle, and get up close and personal with bottlenose dolphins and sharks on VIP poolside experiences. You can also take to the seas on a guided boat tour of Clearwater Bay, where you might observe data collection, learn about the local dolphin population or even stop to collect seashells at a local shell island.
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See animal conservation in action at Giraffe Ranch, a wildlife preserve 80 minutes from our main tourism districts on Florida’s west coast. Learn about the daily care routines of your favorite animals, then help to feed them. In addition to otter and ring-tailed lemur feedings, the ranch offers a hands-off two-toed sloth encounter, limited to just four visitors per day. The extra-daring can also take on the role of assistant keeper during a premium cheetah encounter, during which you’ll join the pros in care animal care and feeding. Tours are by reservation only, so be sure to book in advance.
About 90 minutes southwest of Orlando, ZooTampa has several animal encounters, a critical care center and a behind the scenes tour for fun hands-on learning. Current signature encounters include up-close interactions with rhinos, elephants, penguins, koalas and even manatees, with new experiences arriving in 2024.
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