I saw that look on my daughter’s face ten times last week during an Orlando day trip to the Giraffe Ranch, a 47-acre animal preserve located about an hour and fifteen minutes west of Orlando.
There’s not much to see as you travel the 60-mile trip but once you arrive at Giraffe Ranch, it’s as if you’ve been transported to Africa. Everywhere you look wild animals—zebras, antelope, ostrich—graze and laze in the warm Florida sun.
Launched a few years ago as an intimate and interactive wildlife experience, Giraffe Ranch’s main offering is its safari vehicle tours, which depart daily at 11am and 2pm. Once on board, families bop along the uplands and wetlands for about 90 minutes as guides share their knowledge of the reserve’s inhabitants.
While some of the animals, such as the blackbuck antelope, prefer to the keep their distance, curiosity and the temptation of a snack win most over. Leaning out of the vehicle, Aly fed camels, ostriches, lamas and wild pigs.
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But it’s not called the Giraffe Ranch for nothing. The true superstars are the gentle giants that tower over the vehicle awaiting another handful of cabbage. For at least 10 minutes we stayed with the giraffes, carefully handing them pieces of sweet potato and leafy sticks. Aly was drunk with delight. Okay… I was too!
While the safari tour is alone worth the drive to Dade City, another standout experience is the lemur feeding, which adds an extra $20 to your $59-$69 ticket price. It’s worth every penny. Once inside the lemur enclosure, guides gave us grapes to feed one at a time to the black-and-white-tailed pre-primates, who patiently waited their turn to gently pluck each grape from our hands, often taking hold of our fingers to draw us closer . So sweet!
Giraffe Ranch also offers a behind-the-scenes rhino tour, camel ride, and full camel safari, all of which can be added to the tour for an additional ticket price. Besides the tour and interactive add-ons, there is an enclosure where guests hold hedgehogs, pet tortoises, monkeys and other animals. All told, you can expect to spend two to three hours at the reserve. There is a gift shop with loads of fun kitsch plus snacks and drinks.
In age when we’re all starting to feel a little uneasy about the ethics of zoos and aquariums, Giraffe Ranch is an ideal day trip for families with a soft spot for animals.