Written by Corene Fry
The drive out to Forever Florida in St Cloud set the day up to being a change of pace and something far away from the maddening crowd. It is only 30 miles East and approximately 1 hour drive from Disney, but it feels like a journey back in time before theme parks were ever dreamed of. As you pass mile upon mile of beautiful and rare untouched landscape, you come to realize this is the real Florida.
We had booked a very full day of adventure starting with Forever Florida’s latest addition – the Zipline Safari. Opened in January 2009, it involves flying through tree tops at 55 ft high and speeds of 25 mph. The Zipline promises to ramp up the adrenaline value for this beloved conservation and educational park and ranch. Next was the Coach Safari, then we finished our day on their ranch’s home-bred Florida cracker horses for a trail ride.
I recommend a good hearty breakfast to start this outdoor adventure. We stopped at ‘The Holapaw Restaurant’, which is just a few miles from Forever Florida. It is a no-nonsense homestyle cookin’ kind of place and I loved it. The grits were excellent, but I passed on the one pound frog legs special (I thought only the French ate frogs, there was my first lesson of the day.)
Pulling into Forever Florida’s entrance, you are greeted by the resident roaming peacocks and you continue winding along a narrow dirt road which feels like you’re encroaching on somebody’s private ranch dwelling. It’s not until you see the huge log ranch house welcome center that you are sure you’re in the right place. Once inside you have a gift area to browse through and the Cypress Restaurant which offers good basic food at a reasonable price.
When signing in, be prepared to sign waiver forms for Zipline Safari and horse riding. You will also be weighed for the Zipline as the requirements are 70-275 lbs and a minimum age of 10 years. Your friendly guide meets you and then loads you onto a huge five foot high passenger Jeep safari vehicle for the 15 minute trip through the property to the zip lines. You are given some fun facts along the way and you are up close and personal to incredible wildlife moving about the scrub and trees.
Once at the zip line you are greeted by a team of ‘zip crew’; they look weathered, geared up and very much like experts. You can’t help but instantly trust them with your life. This is where you listen up and get serious for a moment, safety harness on, helmet on and off you hike to the first zip line tower.
The 50 foot high towers are metal scaffolding with steps taking you to the top. You have to have a certain level of fitness, but you are encouraged to take the time you need. I was not concerned with my fitness but my fear of heights. I do not like heights and knew this was going to be a challenge for me. Climbing the towers for me turned out to be harder than the actual zip lining. Although you have plenty of rails to hold onto and feel perfectly safe, it is towards the top they feel as though they sway slightly. Looking down through the grated steps did not help matters, but focusing on my hands on the rail helped me overcome it all, and once at the top the exhilaration of being level with the treetops is breathtaking. You have a total of 7 separate zip lines (the longest is 750 feet), 2 rope bridges and 2 towers to experience. In all you have over 2 hrs to perfect your skills at zipping forwards, backwards, and your landings. I came away from it with such exhilaration and a sense of achievement it was much more than just fun to do.
The two hour coach safari I also really enjoyed; being five feet higher than the ground really gave us a great view and perspective to enjoy the beauty of the 4,700 acre land. The driver for the safari gives you a wealth of fascinating information as you go through deep water brooks, scrub lands and herds of cattle. You get off for a short visit to a boardwalk with some of the oldest cypress trees on property. It was very beautiful.
To end our day, it was over to the stables to meet our very own cow hunter. You learn it’s insulting to call a Floridian cow hunter a cowboy because it takes a man to do this job. So we saddled up and off we went, I think by now at the end of the day we all were feeling a little tired, horses included. The pace was pleasant, but if you have ridden before and expect some yeeha, you will be a little disappointed, BUT I loved it when we rode through deep water. I have been on many trial rides and never experienced that. You literally have to lift your legs up over the horse’s neck to avoid getting them soaked, do not wear your fancy leather boots. They offer one hour and two hour rides and also a cattle roundup for the more experienced.
My suggestions when planning your day there would be to make the Zipline a definite choice along with either the horse trial or the coach Safari. Doing both not only makes a very long day, but covers similar ground with just different modes of transport. Package deals are available and you can expect to pay around $100 for a combination of any 2.
I think Forever Florida is truly this area’s hidden treasure. It does not get advertised much and is virtually unknown to most. Admittedly, you have to have transportation to get there and be a little outdoorsy (may not be for grandparents, babies and small children), be willing to deprogram the theme park mindset, and believe those deer over there are not animatronics. For a reality check, a change of pace, or just to feel like a rancher for the day, Forever Florida is well worth a visit.
Category: Disney World