Small attractions shine in Disney's shadow

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Agents and operators with economy-minded clients can include a choice of smaller attractions around Walt Disney World to fill in a free morning or afternoon. Costs are nominal compared with the major parks. A sampling follows:

  • The 11,500-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve, which opened last November, offers no thrill rides or robotic figures, and its inhabitants have little in common with those at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
  • The preserve's wildlife includes bald eagles, armadillos, otters, sand hill cranes, deer, lizards, frogs and other reptiles, butterflies and bobcats.

    "It has a great variety of wildlife, and it's home to the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the southeastern U.S.," said Robert Dent, community outreach manager for the Nature Conservancy.

    The preserve has an Educational Learning Center encompassing exhibits and hiking trails that meander through and around marshes, forests, lakes and ranch land.

    But despite the Disney tie-in, the preserve is so unlike Disney parks. While it welcomes visitors and tour groups, it does not want too much traffic.

    "I don't think most people want to visit a nature preserve and be confronted with hordes of people. We're not looking for hundreds and hundreds of visitors daily. We're looking more for dozens and dozens," Dent said.

    Small groups are welcome, according to Dent. His nonprofit organization purchases land worldwide and attempts to preserve it.

    Groups or individuals can take in a guided Saturday morning walk, included in the cost of admission -- $4 for ages 6 to adult and free for younger children. The preserve itself can be toured alone (hiking trails) for $2 for adults and $1 for ages 6 to 18.

    Another option is an open-style buggy vehicle with a canopy, seating up to 20 passengers for a guided tour every Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

    The cost is $7 for visitors ages 19 and older; $5 for children ages 6 to 18. The cost for younger children is $1, but infants are free.

    Motorcoach tour passengers must disembark. Use of such large vehicles is not practical because of the lack of roads in the preserve.

  • The venerable Gatorland, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is a popular stop. The 110-acre marshland is home to 4,000 alligators, including 70 "maneating" types from the Nile River.
  • A 2,000-foot-long boardwalk winds through a cypress swamp, enabling visitors to get a close look at flowers, wildlife, breeding pens, alligator nurseries and other sights. There also are daily animal shows.

    Gatorland, which describes itself as a half-day attraction, is stepping up its group activity.

    It has handled groups as large as 700, and a spokeswoman estimated that one-third of the park's business comes from groups.

    Admission is $16.93 for adults and $7.48 for children ages 3 to 9. Children ages 2 and younger are admitted free.

  • JungleLand Zoo is a seven-acre wildlife park that is home to more than 500 animals, representing 75 species from around the world. There also is a half-mile nature trail. Admission is $11.95 for adults, $9.95 for seniors and $6.94 for children ages 3 to 11.
  • A spokeswoman said discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. Guided or self-guided tours are also available.

  • Horse World Riding Stables has 750 acres of sandy trails.
  • A basic entry-level ride costs $29.95 and takes less than an hour.

    Outings for more experienced riders are also available.

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