A visit to Orlando almost always includes an excursion to at least one of the theme parks. Children and families will usually add Disney Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Epcot, or one of the other theme parts to their vacation agenda, allowing only a small amount of time for other adventures. But Orlando and the surrounding areas of Florida are about more than Mickey Mouse, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella- the area is also known for its natural attractions and one that budget- minded parents should consider exploring is the Disney Wilderness Preserve, a natural area located just minutes from Orlando and neighboring Kissimmee.
Background of the Preserve
The Disney Wilderness Preserve is an 11,500 acre preserve comprised of a large percentage of wetlands. The preserve was once a cattle ranch and at one time, the area was slated for commercial development. Disney purchased the land and, rather than add houses and buildings, decided to return the area to its natural state. Partnering with the Nature Conservancy, the State of Florida, and other environmental organizations, the area was gradually restored. It was turned over the Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest and most successful nature non- profits, and is still run by the Nature Conservancy today.
What to Expect
The Disney Wilderness Preserve is all about nature and before guests begin their exploration, they may want to visit the on- site Learning Center where they can discover more about the preserve, its history, and its mission. Once finished here, guests can proceed to the main attraction, the preserve itself. There are different trails to hike, plants and flowers to view, and wildlife to observe. It is a good idea to have a camera ready, as you never know what may lie ahead.
Disney Wilderness Preserve is, like the rest of Florida, very flat so even the less experienced hikers in your party should have no problem walking along the trails. For those with less time on their hands, there is a one mile trail that takes hikers to Lake Russell. Those who desire a longer and more in- touch with nature experience may prefer the longer, 2.5 mile loop that goes to Lake Russell and also meanders through the swamps and around the trees. Regardless of which route is selected, guests need to come prepared with sunscreen, insect repellent, and plenty of water.
Plan Your Visit
The Disney Wilderness Preserve is located at 2700 Scrub Jay Trail in Kissimmee, Florida. It is open Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. It is closed on weekends and on major holidays. Guests should consider calling ahead of time if they decide to visit, just to make sure that the trails are open for hiking on that day. If restoration or some other activity is taking place, the trails may be closed so it is a good idea to call first.
A visit to Orlando is bound to include a trip to one of the Disney theme parks but as the Disney Wilderness Preserve demonstrates, there is more to Florida than animated characters and amusement rides. Florida does have natural attractions and while it may not contain anything spectacular, the Disney Wilderness Preserve is still a nice way to escape the noise and crowds and soak up some nature. There is no admission charge, so budget minded parents will not need to worry about outlays of cash. The Nature Conservancy gladly accepts donations, but the attraction is otherwise free of charge.
The next time you’re in Orlando, add a visit to The Disney Wilderness Preserve to your vacation agenda. It’s a nice change of pace just minutes away from the chaos of Orlando and the quiet time with nature is good for the mind and soul.
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