Lions, tigers, bears, emus, camels, monkeys and baboons. You can find them at Florida’s smaller zoos, where the experience can be up close and personal.
Hand-feed colorful lorikeets, ride a camel or pet a sloth at Emerald Coast Zoo (www.emeraldcoastzoo.com). The small family-owned and family-managed 10-acre zoo in Crestview offers hands-on animal encounters.
“It’s a cute little zoo that focuses on the welfare of the animals and personal experiences,“ says Rick de Ridder, who bought the Panhandle zoo in 2017 to save it from closure. “We have added a number of new animals, including kangaroos, camels and zebras.”
In Gainesville, the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo (www.sfcollege.edu/zoo) trains future zookeepers. It is one of only two such facilities in the nation. Its 75 species of animals include Galapagos tortoises, white-throated capuchin monkeys and East African grey crowned cranes.
Petting Zoo Ocala (www.pettingzooocala.com) offers true hands-on interactions with farm animals, miniature horses, llamas, pot-bellied pigs and squirrel monkeys. Many of the animals at the zoo are rescues.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (www.keywestbutterfly.com) has more than 20 exotic bird species in addition to some 60 types of butterflies. Guests walk through a glass-enclosed habitat where the birds and butterflies live side by side.
Must-See in Florida
The internet is filled with lists of things to do and see in every state. Cheapism.com lists must-see state parks. Ichetucknee Springs State Park north of Gainesville topped the list for Florida.
An alternative to beaches, the park offers a crystal-clear river and a deep canopy of trees. You can rent a canoe or paddleboard, swim or snorkel at the spring’s headwaters, or rent a tube or bring your own to float the shallow river.
Travel writer Jan Schroder has a time-saving take on learning about destinations, air travel, trip tips and more at her website, www.thetravel100.net.
The Atlanta-based journalist shares her tips—written in exactly 100 words—with readers across the country. Her succinct information is a quick read and real time-saver.
Here’s an example:
“I went to check in for a flight and located my confirmation number on my calendar. Then I hit a snag: I didn’t remember which airline I was on. But my days of searching for flight confirmations are over. I discovered the wonderful world of TripIt, www.tripit.com—an app that functions as my own personal travel assistant. It keeps my reservations for flights, hotels, Airbnbs, rental cars and hotels in one place. It also sends me check-in reminders and travel alerts. Try the free version, but if you travel a lot, you’ll want the added benefits of the pro version.”
Memorial Day Staycations
The website Trips to Discover (www.tripstodiscover.com) suggests turning Memorial Day weekend into a relaxing staycation at St. George Island State Park or Siesta Key.
St. George Island State Park features 17 miles of paved bike paths and white-sand beaches.
Siesta Key near Sarasota offers parasailing and jet-ski rental, with three different beaches. Crescent Beach on the south has one public access road. Because it is off the radar of most out-of-state visitors, it is quieter than the others.