Orlando is truly blessed with amusement parks that offer exciting rides and animal encounters. But while most visitors flock to Disney World and SeaWorld, a lesser-known tip lies north of the city: the Central Florida Zoo.
Here, 100 animal species live in wide enclosures, botanical gardens showcase the flora of our continents, and the zipline, playgrounds and carousel are perfect for little guests. As if this was not enough, the zoo also offers interactive animal encounters and tours, as well as exciting events all year round.
In this article, you will learn what makes visits to the Central Florida Zoo so worth-while, which animals are on display here and how you can purchase tickets at a discount.
Central Florida Zoo in a Nutshell
History, directions, opening hours and prices – here are the most important facts about Central Florida Zoo:
The history of Central Florida Zoo dates to the 1920s – and begins with a small Rhesus monkey. A traveling circus gave the animal to the Sanford Elks Club. More and more animals were added, and 20 years later, a zoo was opened on the shores of Lake Monroe. What followed were numerous expansions, such as botanical gardens, an animal hospital, elevated boardwalks, playgrounds and event locations.
Since the 1980s, the zoo has been part of the “Association of Zoos and Aquariums” (AZA) – demonstrating its high standards for animal welfare. In addition, conservation projects also play an important role, with the Central Florida Zoo working towards the protection of rare indigo snakes and striped newts.
Location and Directions
The Central Florida Zoo is located in Sanford, a small town between Orlando and Daytona Beach on Florida´s east coast.
From Orlando, drivers need about 30 minutes. Parking is free and there are even charging stations for EVs.
Unfortunately, arriving by public transport is more complicated. Although the SunRail runs between Orlando and Sanford, the zoo itself has no station, so you have to travel the remaining 3 miles by taxi.
Central Florida Zoo is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, including Sundays and holidays.
Tickets and Entrance Fees
Depending on your age, the following entrance fees apply:
- Adults: 21.50 USD
- Children (3–12 years): 15.75 USD
- Children under 2 years: free of charge
- Senior citizens (55+): 17.95 USD.
You can buy tickets to the Central Florida Zoo on-site and on the homepage – with online tickets coming at a 2 USD discount.
Regular visitors can save money with an annual pass, and additional discounts are available if you visit the zoo with 15 or more people. It also pays to bring coupons for the Central Florida Zoo, which can be downloaded from websites like groupon, hotdeals or valuecom.
Central Florida Zoo – Attractions
Not surprisingly, animals and plants are the main attraction at Central Florida Zoo – but by no means the only one:
The Central Florida Zoo houses more than 350 animals from different regions of our planet:
From small monkeys to imposing giraffes – Central Florida Zoo is home to a wide variety of mammals: While sloths relax in the foliage, lemurs and tamarin monkeys swing from branch to branch. Warthogs, otters and fossas, a cat-like species from Madagascar, are accompanied by large predators such as mountain lions, cheetahs, leopards and black bears. A true darling of visitors is “PJ”: The zoo’s rhino loves to splash around in the water on hot days.
In addition to bald eagles, the national symbol of the USA, Central Florida Zoo houses 18 species of birds: including colorful parrots, vultures, owls and hornbills, endangered birds from Southeast Asia. The “laughing” of Kookaburras fills the air, and every day at 11.30 am, you can witness the acrobatic skills of falcons and owls at the bird show “Flying High!”.
Reptiles, Amphibians and Insects
If you want to see the Sunshine State´s iconic reptiles, Central Florida Zoo is the right place for you: Here, alligators live right next to their relatives, crocodiles. In addition, the zoo is home to monitor lizards, geckos, iguanas, turtles and 19 species of snakes that you can see at the Herpatarium – if you can spot these well-camouflaged creatures. A particularly colorful sight are the zoo´s frogs and salamanders.
Insects and other crawlers are on display at the Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center: including tarantulas, scorpions and Madagascan cockroaches that use their horns as weapons against rivals.
Do you want to marvel at colorful pollinators? Then, the Butterfly Garden is an ideal place. What is more, a huge collection of ferns, bromeliads and medicinal herbs demonstrates that Central Florida Zoo truly deserves the suffix “Botanical Gardens”.
Animal Encounters and Tours
Visitor interaction is key at Central Florida Zoo. This can be seen in the parks´ animal encounters and tours:
Feed a Giraffe
If you want to check how long a giraffe’s tongue really is, you should book this activity. Rafiki and Gage, the long-necked animals of the zoo, will gladly eat snacks out of your hand.
Meet a Rhino
PJ, the zoo’s rhinoceros, may look menacing. In reality, though, he is very playful and loves visitors. If you want to get up close and personal with the rhino, you can do so at 11:30 am, 11:50 am and 12:10 pm.
Located at the heart of Central Florida Zoo is the petting zoo “Barnyard Buddies”. Here, little visitors cannot only pet goats, donkeys, llamas and alpacas, but also feed them.
How heavy is a snake? What do rhinos eat, and why do parrots have such a curved beak? The zookeepers will gladly answer these and other questions during the daily Keeper Chats.
Central Florida Zoo offers guided tours where groups can learn more about different animals and the zoo’s conservation efforts.
More Things to do
Are you looking for more action or a chance to cool off? Then, the following activities at Central Florida Zoo are perfect for you:
Seminole Aerial Adventures
Exploring the treetops like a monkey – this wish comes true at the Seminole Aerial Adventures. Here, participants test their dexterity on an obstacle course with rope ladders and platforms, before taking the zip line for a rapid descent.
Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground
The water playground in the southern part of the zoo is a real blessing on hot days. Here, little guests can splash around amidst fountains and colorful animals.
On the zoo´s carousel, children can ride cute horses, zebras and even alligators – and enjoy nostalgic carnival flair reminiscent of Florida´s old days.
Central Florida Zoo – Events
No matter the season – thanks to a variety of events, Central Florida Zoo is always worth a visit:
- At the “Kids Night Out”, children can visit the zoo after dark – and find out more about its nocturnal animals.
- “Sunset at the Zoo” is perfect for guests who want to explore the zoo after the official opening hours. Then, at 5 pm, reduced entrance fees apply.
- In best Oktoberfest fashion, “Brews around the Zoo” in September features live music and a craft beer tasting with 30 regional sorts.
- On Halloween, Central Florida Zoo is adorned with spooky (but kid-friendly) decorations and invites little guests to play Trick or Treat.
- Santa Claus visits the zoo in December to take photos with his fans and host a fun candy cane hunt.
Central Florida Zoo – Restaurants and Shops
Central Florida Zoo not only takes care of its animals. Hungry visitors can get their fill at Graze – a family-friendly restaurant that serves American classics like burgers, hot dogs and French fries, accompanied by healthy salads and vegetarian options.
For a little snack, you should visit Swirl right next to the rhino enclosure: Here, you can enjoy nachos and pretzels as well as cotton candy, popcorn and ice cream. If you prefer an adult beverage over soft drinks, you will love the zoo´s selection of craft beers.
Of course, no trip to Central Florida Zoo would be complete without taking home a souvenir – no problem, thanks to the Zoofari Shop selling stuffed animals, T-shirts, games and books.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
How far is Central Florida Zoo from Orlando?
The distance from Orlando to Central Florida Zoo is 23 miles. Motorists should account for a 30-minute drive.
What are the opening hours of Central Florida Zoo?
The zoo opens every day at 9 am and closes at 4 pm. Sometimes, Central Florida Zoo stays open longer, so visitors can explore the area after dark.
How much is admission to the Central Florida Zoo?
Adults who buy their ticket online pay 19.50 USD. In addition, there are discounts for children and seniors, as well as group discounts.
Does the Central Florida Zoo have elephants?
Currently, the Central Florida Zoo has no elephants – but other iconic species like giraffes, porcupines and cheetahs, as well African birds.
Can I feed the giraffes at Central Florida Zoo?
Yes, feeding the long-necked animals is offered for an extra charge of 5 USD per person.