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I've got a weekend in the Florida region, and need to be in Orlando on Monday morning. I have no interest in amusement parks, but I am very interested in what Florida nature and wildlife is like. I can get a rental car to get around.

Any recommendations on how I can experience Florida nature?

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3 Answers 3

Here are some sites to check out for nature and wildlife in the Orlando area.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions

http://www.discoverourtown.com/FL/Orlando/

There are also a few natural springs in the area to check out too.

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I was in Orlando and the area in November 2010 (hoping to see Discovery launch; sadly there was a technical problem).

We did a few things, including an airboat tour in the swamps. Note that the everglades themselves are in the national park, and therefore no airboats are actually in the everglades. There are a ton of companies if you search, but the one we did (just checked) was Kissimmee Swamp Tours - they were brilliant, it was a fantastic outing, and we saw a lot of small gators and a couple of really big ones, and several birdlife. You also get headsets so that you can hear over the sound of the airboat - this can't be overestimated! They do 60-90 minute tours.

We also headed to the Kennedy Space Center, being space geeks and wanting to see the shuttle. Turns out it's inside a wildlife area, and we saw a couple of gators and even some raccoons - which I'd never seen before.

We also headed to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park to see dugong - something I'd also not seen before. They're in a pretty natural environment, and as well there are quite a few other animals in a semi-zoo environment worth seeing - gators, hippos, tortoise, several unusual birds (and Bald Eagles), bear, foxes and and more.

Finally we headed to Shark Valley Visitor Center in the Everglades, where we were treated with some up close views of very large gators in the wild. And watched some not-so-smart birds playing chicken with the 'gators :)

(I have photos but having problems uploading; will try again later)

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Shingle Creek State Park is billed as the northernmost part of the Everglades. When I worked in Orlando 1, I used to like to unwind here, as its pretty empty. Facilities aren't great, but you get a wonderful sense of the cypress trees and what the flora and fauna are like. I can't say I ever saw a lot of wildlife, but the trees themselves are fabulous. I can't say as it would be the highest thing on my "to do list" in Orlando, but its nice.

Beyond that, there are always "Gator Parks" like Gatorland, not too far from Kissimmee. They're tacky, they're not what I would call "wildlife," but if you want to see a gator and a cheap zoo, this is the kind of thing you are looking for.

One word of warning - you might be tempted to drive to the Miami Area in order to hit the Everglades region. Its a long drive. If your time is limited, don't bother.

Lastly, as far as wildlife and zoos go, Disney's Animal Kingdom is actually pretty good. They've got a "safari ride," as well as great "Maharajah Trek" and an amazingly well done bird show. Orlando is mostly strip malls and kitsch. Embrace it, and you may be happier in the long run.

1Full disclosure, I worked for Accenture at Disney World - Hollywood Studios for most of 2011, doing websites. I'd fly in every Monday and out every Friday. I was by no means a Disney-phile when I started, but I came to appreciate the kitsch for what it was.

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