The Central Florida Zoo swings open creaking gates to intrepid adults for a spooky evening of dancing, dining, and revelry. Ghouls and guests over 21 years of age can swill $1 beer and $2 wine and mixed drinks while nibbling on a selection of bizarre foods. Participants don disguises to compete in the costume contest, challenge partners to a selection of carnival games, or scream soprano arias on haunted train rides. Live bands and Venue 13 DJ Paul Vaine send music echoing through the zoo, to which guests jig at a zombie ball. Guests recall their fright night with a skull mug and skeleton-hand shot glass to take home as well as with a picture from the photo booth that captures both grins and ghosts giving bunny ears.
The only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
At the Reptile Discovery Center, visitors hobnob with rare reptiles in up-close encounters with snakes, lizards, tortoises, and alligators in controlled environments and exhibits. Explorers of all ages traverse a jungle of educational exhibits coming face-to-face with real-live reptiles such as baby alligators, florida pine snakes, and “Naja”, a 6-foot asian water monitor. The center functions as a working farm, providing shelter and nutrition to hundreds of species collected from around the globe, pro-tecting them from increasingly unstable environments and frequent, annoying visits from Carmen Sandiego.
A piece of Spain separated from Europe and landed in Florida. Nestled in Saint Augustine’s historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the majestic Villa Zorayda contains architectural features that mirror those found in the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Audio tours lead visitors through this restored Spanish villa’s halls and airy inner courtyard, pointing out hundreds of antiquities such as Arabic arches, glazed ceramics, bronze statues, and ancient charcoal burners. When not welcoming tours, the historic building and grounds also host weddings and private parties.
The Oldest Wooden School House transports museum-goers to the early 18th century and allows them to meander through one of the oldest schoolhouses in the United States. Built more than 200 years ago out of red cedar, wooden pegs, handmade nails, and painstakingly carved Legos, the structure acted as a homestead before becoming one of the first co-ed schools in 1788. Animatronic children and schoolmaster describe a typical classroom day, and guest students examine copies of textbooks, artifacts, and cooking utensils used in the schoolhouse. After the tour, visitors stroll through the lush gardens that wind past the kitchen, privy, and well, and blossom with tropical plants and a 250-year-old pecan tree. Groupon holders can then head to the gift shop to receive 30% off any one item.
After a day of school, most students rush to sports practices or study sessions in the library. At Skydive Palatka, however, pupils wrap up their day at ground school by joining instructors in a jump from 13,500 feet. They take the leap from a Cessna Grand Caravan, traveling at upward of 120 mph during free fall as they descend over the St. Johns River, catching views of both coastlines before deploying their own parachutes and piloting safe landings.
At least 7 successful jumps are required to qualify students for free falls without instructor supervision, and at least 10 are needed before worried pelicans stop trying to catch them in their mouths. For guests uninterested in solo drops, Skydive Palatka offers tandem jumps, during which each visitor is harnessed to an experienced instructor who operates the parachute system and steers duos toward a safe landing.
A 200-foot man-made alligator flashes his brace-free grin as visitors pass through the gates of Jungle Adventures' lush wilderness to meet the myriad creatures that call it home. From exhibit to exhibit, rare beasts including Florida panthers, black bears, tropical birds, and wolves exchange salutations with their visitors. Knowledgeable experts navigate jungle terrain during guided tours and VIP adventure tours, and at live exhibitions, such as the Gator Jamboree Feeding Adventure, experienced handlers coax shy critters from their hiding places. The park also explores the area's human history in replicas of a 16th-century Spanish fort and Native American village, where authentic recreations of ancient artifacts, decorations, and brick-sized cell phones shed light on lifestyles from centuries ago.