Our trip to Lion Country Safari has got to be one of THE most talked-about family camping memories of all!
As we set up camp and settled in for our first night, we heard the unmistakable roar of lions. Really. Our children, looking ever so slightly worried, asked if that was “fake” or recorded lion sounds. It was not. We happened to be camped directly behind the lion pen. It’s not often that we can lull ourselves to sleep to the sounds of lions roaring in the darkness, and we embraced it. We didn’t have much choice, really. But there was a little fence to protect us so we felt safe enough in our pop-up camper.
Bright and early the next day, we eagerly set off for the safari. Unfortunately, we set off in our old Chevy Suburban which, shall we say, had seen better days. For example, it had the charming quirk of having temperamental window controls so if I, say, surreptitiously rolled down a window just a wee little bit to get a decent shot of some great wild beast off in the far distance, the window might not actually roll up again, resulting in some frantic manual pulling up of the window with simultaneous jabbing at the controls and expression of colorful language which caused panic in one or more of our darling young children. Allegedly. But I did get a couple of good shots, so it was worth it! 🙂
To this day, a daughter of ours, who shall remain nameless, claims that an ostrich tried to kill her on this safari by merely standing casually next to our vehicle and pecking curiously at our (completely rolled-up!) window, much to the delight of our other, much younger, daughter who thought it was fantastic. Out of respect, I will refrain from posting the picture I have of the terrified tear-stained daughter in question, but in hindsight, even she thinks it was pretty darn funny. Apparently her shrieking reaction also gave the ostriches something to talk about….
But seriously, do watch where you’re driving! Those ostriches have right of way and they can be pretty fast – up to about 43 MPH! They’re actually the fastest animal on two legs and impressively agile – it’s mesmerizing to watch them go.
I happen to have evidence in The Camper’s Journal that the rhinos were apparently pretty terrifying, for some reason. I thought they were magnificent and fantastic to watch, and really they were pretty much stationary as they grazed, but what do I know? My kids were convinced they were all on the verge of charging at our vehicle in a valiant and determined effort to tip us over. I wasn’t remotely worried.
Perhaps that’s because of my own childhood experience. One of the reasons I wanted to go here was because I remembered the Lion Country Safari in California as a kid. Of course, that was a different time and there were no fences and safe distance separating you from the lions – they could even hop up onto your vehicle if they felt so inclined. Can you imagine what my kids’ reactions would have been to THAT?! How I would have loved to see that! Watch lions and giraffes walking on and among the cars in this early 1970s video. Photo excerpt:
Sadly, the safari in California closed back in 1984 and the Florida version we visited is actually the original – started in 1967. Check out this link to see photos (and prices) of the California safari. I had to chuckle at their mention of the ostriches too!
You’ll see more than just lions at California’s Lion Country Safari. You can drive your Impala among the antelope. The cheetahs can outrun your Cougar—you have a speed limit, but they don’t. Giraffes will tower over your Pinto. Curious ostriches might peck at your Falcon.
Back to today’s Florida safari…
We were pleasantly surprised that there is a LOT to do here besides “just” drive through the safari and view the magnificent creatures who live here. We fed giraffes and lorikeets (huge hit with the kids!), slid down water slides, explored waterways on paddle boats, played mini golf, rode the Ferris wheel, and enjoyed some classic fun-park food.
We love a bargain so we were there because we had found a special deal that allowed us to go through the safari on the second day of our visit as well. Imagine the delight of our kids when they heard that happy news! Hahaha! Really, we loved it! And we weren’t the only ones who happily enjoyed soaking up the nice warm sunshine. Look at this guy!
We happened to be there on an October weekend before Halloween and we did not expect our fellow campground inhabitants to be so festive. However, it soon became clear that nearly everyone was decorating their campsites – sometimes very elaborately! – and that kids were actually going trick-or-treating! Our kids hastily donned the most basic of costumes (thank goodness we had just returned from New Orleans where we’d bought a simple mask for each of them!) and off they went. They soon returned with plentiful candy and thankfully took it upon themselves to take their humongous hordes of sugary treats and share the goods with the trick-or-treaters who dared approach our meagerly decorated site. If there should be a next time, we will be better prepared! In the meantime, thank you, fellow Lion Country Safari Campers, for your generosity!
We usually camp at state parks so staying at a KOA is a different experience for us. We camp at KOAs primarily because we want to visit a nearby destination: for example, we camped at a KOA because we wanted to visit Kennedy Space Center and we stayed at this KOA because we wanted to trek through Lion Country Safari. And it was worth it!
Verdict: We would definitely love to return to Lion Country Safari. I’m not LION, it was a ROARING good time! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) It created one of the most vivid and unique memories of our camping experiences for our kids and was a great place to spend a long weekend.