Few words conjure up exotic images more than “Africa.” The Dark Continent is synonymous with exotica: magnificent animal migrations; panoramic vistas of mountains, rivers, waterfalls, savannahs and lakes; wilderness trails, picturesque villages and cosmopolitan cities to explore; and exciting safaris in vast reserves to enjoy. But few travelers can envision a journey to Africa with its long-haul trans-Atlantic flights, logistics and expenses as more than a once-in-a-lifetime proposition, and fewer still can do as Karen Blixen, the Danish author (who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen) who had a farm in Africa and set down her experiences while living in Kenya in her legendary memoir, “Out Of Africa.”
However, many can definitely enjoy a taste of the Dark Continent right here in Florida in African-inspired theme parks, resorts and zoological gardens. Here are some to consider enjoying during your next Florida getaway while keeping dreams of visiting Africa alive:
· Theme Attractions
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Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay:
Description: A 335-acre 19th century-African themed animal theme park in Tampa.
Must-sees include: The Serengeti Plain, Edge of Africa and Myombe Reserve attractions.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park:
Description: Home to more than 1,700 animals of 250 species this park has seven distinct sections including one themed to Africa.
Must-sees include: Kilimanjaro Safaris in the Africa section of the park takes visitors in open-air safari vehicles on an 18-minute journey into a savannah filled with exotic animals including lions, elephants and giraffes. Available for extra charge is a VIP Safari, Wild Africa Trek, is a three-hour guided adventure for up to 12 people including close encounters with wildlife, a CD of professional-taken photos, and African-inspired delicacies to savor.
Lion Country Safari African Adventure:
Description: Visitors can spend the day on safari in this attraction with more than 900 exotic animals in West Palm Beach.
Must-sees include: The Drive-Through Safari Adventure on the four-miles of drive-through preserve –rhinos at 2 o’clock!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Villas:
Description: An African-inspired resort on Walt Disney property, the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Villas features handcrafted furnishings, gallery-quality African art and authentic cuisine in three restaurants. A huge fireplace graces the soaring lobby at the lodge. Located on 75 acres west of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is built in the middle of its own 33-acre savanna, providing most of the rooms views into the animal preserve which is home to more than 200 exotic animals and birds. Many guestroom balconies overlook the reserve. The Villas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (part of Disney Vacation Club) offer studio, one- and three-bedroom vacation villas in Jambo House and Kidani Village. Accommodations feature a décor with African-inspired details and home-like amenities and many of the villas feature savannah views.
Must-sees include: The views of the savannah from the resort’s public areas and many of the rooms and villas – best enjoyed perhaps while sipping a cool lemonade or one of the many South African wines available at the resort’s watering hole in the mezzanine of the lodge.
· Zoological gardens
Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa:
Description: More than 1,500 animals are lodged in 56 acres of natural habitats here.
Must-sees include: It’s a jungle in here at Safari Africa and Ituri Forest where visitors find wildlife close at hand including elephants, white rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, warthogs, pygmy hippos and more. Guests can stand on Safari Africa’s feeding plateau and feed giraffes lettuce on sale at the feeding station.
Description: This Melbourne zoo is home to more than 550 animals representing 165 species.
Must-sees include: Expedition Africa where visitors can go on a kayak ride down the Nyami Nyami River to encounter such African wildlife as gazelles, antelopes, lemurs, giraffes and more.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens:
Description: This zoo houses more than 2,000 animals and more than 1,000 varieties of plants and features a walking safari in Jacksonville.
Must-sees include: The African Loop where guests can walk on a 1,400-foot-long boardwalk and see cheetah, antelope, elephant, okapi and other animals in what is called the Plains of East Africa.
Miami Dade County Zoological Park & Gardens, Zoo Miami:
Description: This is the home of more than 2,000 animals and 1,200 species of plants visible from walkways.
Must-sees include: African exhibits include African lions, Grant’s gazelles, Grant’s zebras, Grevy’s zebras and reticulated giraffes. There’s a giraffe feeding station and daily zookeeper talks include elephants and giraffes.