While I was planning our recent vacation to Central Florida, I decided to check Google for whether the region had anything worth exploring other than Disney World and Universal Studios. I didn’t come up with a whole lot, but I did find mention of something called Giraffe Ranch Farm Tours on a Visit Florida website. Giraffe Ranch is a self-described “licensed working ranch that specializes in exotic species as well as domestic cattle and horses.” Admission was less than Disney or Universal, but the ranch was about an hour’s drive from Lake Buena Vista, and I didn’t know anyone who had been there . . . but in the end, I decided to take one for the team, be the guinea pig and give it a shot. And I’m so glad I did!
For $75/person (again, way cheaper than Disney or Universal), you get a four-by-four tour of the ranch, which includes interaction with all kinds of exotic animals, including, of course, giraffes:
. . . which you get to feed!
. . . as well as llamas:
. . . tortoises . . .
. . . blackbuck antelope (OK, mostly, they just run away, but the fact that they can maintain their distance is the beauty of this safari-like experience) . . .
. . . ostriches . . .
. . . zebras . . .
. . . and my not-so-secret admirer, a camel:
(Seriously, that thing couldn’t keep its jowls off me. I turned my back for one second, and he started nibbling on my shoulder!)
The ranch also has pygmy hippos, Indian rhinos, a warthog and a whole slew of other species I can’t even remember. But by far, my favorite part of our visit was feeding grapes to ring-tailed lemurs!
Feeding the lemurs is $20 extra per person and is well worth every cent. Lemurs are among the world’s most primitive primates, and while they aren’t very smart, they are definitely cute. Their paws are soft like human babies’ hands, and they have a very intentional grip. And they will climb all over you, including in your hair, to get to the guy on the other side of you who’s holding out a grape.
Lex and Elena, who own and operate the ranch, are well-read and well-spoken and have years of experience in looking after these and many other animals (they also own a larger ranch in Florida, and Lex used to be a zookeeper), and they’re really good about answering any questions about the animals, conservationism and their community. Lex even referred us to a great soul food restaurant nearby (Steph’s, if you’re ever in the area) for lunch afterward.
Again, this place is pretty far from Florida’s big tourist attractions, but it’s well worth the drive and expense — and having to call between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Eastern time (the only hour in which Elena takes calls) to make a reservation. The Giraffe Ranch tour is a hands-on experience unlike any other you’ll have in Florida, perhaps unlike any other you’ll have anywhere in your entire life, especially if you’re a city slicker like me. I’d definitely do it again!