26205 East Colonial Drive, Christmas 32709
Admission: Adults $19.95, children (3 to 11) $12.95, seniors (60+) $16.95, all plus tax
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: On SR 50, about 17 miles east of Orlando
It’s hard to miss Old Swampy. He’s a 200-foot foam and cement alligator stretched smilingly alongside SR 50 on the way to the Space Coast. Step into (or more precisely, around) his jaws and you enter Jungle Adventures, a small attraction that has some things in common with Gatorland (see Chapter 4) but a few surprises of its own.
At its most basic, Jungle Adventures is a small zoo with a familiar cast of characters — two black bears (Boris and Natasha), some spider monkeys, some crocs, macaws and cockatoos, bobcats, wolves, and coatimundi. The zoo’s most distinguished specimens are its hybrid panther-cougars, including siblings Sparkles and Junior. But mostly there are alligators. Jungle Adventures is part of a larger alligator farming operation. There are some 200 gators living in the 20-acre park but just a stone’s throw away are 10,000 more being grown out for their skin and meat.
What sets Jungle Adventures apart, and makes a visit worth consideration, are its fascinating setting and its shows. The setting is in the midst of a swamp, with the main zoo across a bridge and completely surrounded by water fed from a sulfurous spring. At first it seems that there’s something terribly wrong with the water; it’s completely covered by what looks like a chartreuse slime. Actually, it’s duckweed, a tiny four-leafed water plant that grows in the billions. It adds a marvelously primordial touch to the alligators that swim through it, coating their horny hides with gooey green. Two short jungle nature trails take you around the back of the animal cages and let you take a close look at the natural Florida setting from the safety of a boardwalk.
The shows at Jungle Adventures are refreshingly low key, one might almost say amateurish, although in the very best sense of the term. There are three shows and a boat ride that are timed so that you can move seamlessly from one to the next. A complete cycle takes about two and a half hours and there are four cycles each day.
The 15-minute pontoon boat ride circles the island zoo as gators swish thorough the duckweed, leaving a telltale trail in the green coating on the water’s surface. Along the way, your guide tells tales of Jungle Adventures’ past and present, and its future plans. An eclectic animal show features a small alligator, which everyone gets a chance to hold while their picture is taken. Next comes a snake or two, draped languorously on the presenter’s shoulders. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get a chance to pet a cougar.
In the Indian Village tour, you will hear fascinating lore about the Calusa, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes and have the opportunity to buy Native American flutes, necklaces, and dream-catchers.
Finally, there is an alligator feeding show reminiscent of the Jumparoo at Gatorland. Sometimes, the gators are fed from a dock-like platform over the water, but from time to time the handler chooses to work the shore, drawing the enormous reptiles from the green waters to leap and snap just a few feet away from the audience.
On a more downbeat note, it must be said that Jungle Adventures is showing its age. On a recent visit, there were many signs of “deferred maintenance” and the level of animal care left something to be desired in my opinion. I suspect this has more to do with budgetary restraints than willful neglect, but those who might be put off by this are hereby forewarned.
Nearby: Back To Nature Wildlife Refuge, Fort Christmas Historical Park, Orlando Wetlands Park.
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