The cold wave is coming to Florida, with “cold” being a relative term. Floridians will be shivering in their winter coats, while visitors from the north will shrug and say “meh” as they maybe don a sweatshirt. Either way, cold weather doesn’t last long in the Sunshine State, so I always take full advantage of it to enjoy two theme parks in particular:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has lush tropical landscape that’s pleasing to the eye, but it also seems to multiply the heat and humidity factor in the summer. I visit the park year ’round, but winter is an especially good time because it’s so much more comfortable to enjoy the two walking trails, where gorillas and tigers are highlights (although I’ll admit to loving the timid little meerkats).
Of course, there’s also Kilimanjaro Safari, where the animals seem to be more active on cool days. The safari takes you through habitats populated by so many fascinating species, from elephants and giraffes to lions, crocodiles, rhinos and even warthogs (“Hi, Pumbaa!”).
If the line isn’t long, or if you can snag a FastPass+, I recommend riding the safari a couple of times at different times of the day. That gives you the best possible chance to spot all of the animals, since different critters are active or hanging out in different parts of their habitats throughout the day.
If you want to kick things up a notch, opt for Wild Africa Trek. It’s a bit pricey ($189 to $249, depending on the season), but it’s a true VIP experience. Not only do you get to walk through the safari area, but you also ride in a private vehicle that takes you in spots where the usual Kilimanjaro ride vehicles aren’t allowed to tread. Hopefully you’re not afraid of heights, as you’ll trek over suspension bridges with hippos and crocodiles below. A Disney photographer captures lots of great photos throughout your journey; they’re included in the price of the tour, so you download them later at your convenience.
Here are some highlights from my own Wild Africa Trek adventure a few years back. I loved the whole tour, but my favorite parts were the suspension bridges and getting to lean out over the water and watch the hippos getting some veggie snacks. The African-themed luncheon was delicious, too. It’s served in a special area out of the savannah.
And here’s the food:
Busch Gardens Tampa
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has some fun rides, too (I love the view of Epcot from the top of Expedition Everest), but if you want to combine your love of animals with a penchant for thrill rides, head out west to Tampa and spend a day at Busch Gardens. There are plenty of animal habitats you can view on foot on a nice, cool day, where lions, hippos, tigers, orangutans, and other critters are all out and about. Check out the cheetah habitat and you might get to see the talented cats show off their sprinting skills. You can also hop on board the train to go out on the savannah or book a safari trip.
The Serengeti Safari is an extra cost experience, but it’s well worth the $29 to $39 price tag for the giraffe encounters alone. You ride on an open air truck to view the savannah animals up close. Then, as the highlight, the giraffes surround your truck while you hand feed them lettuce and capture wonderful photographic memories. How can you beat a selfie with one of those long-necked critters?
As for the rides, Busch Gardens Tampa is the home of SheiKra, my favorite Central Florida roller coaster, and I’m a huge fan of Montu (suspended coaster) and Cheetah Hunt (air time extraordinaire). But if you want a different kind of thrill, hop aboard the Falcon’s Fury drop tower, which opened in 2014. Below is my first experience on the tower. Yes, it really does tilt you face down for added terror factor:
You’ll get an amazing view of Tampa and catch a cool breeze if you ride it on a brisk winter’s day.
Really, any of the theme parks are good cool-day options, but given a choice, I opt to visit the animals. The weather’s perfect for leisurely strolling and animal spotting, along with some favorite thrill rides thrown in for good measure.