By Peter Covino
The lemur were ready.
The wild boar were ready.
Even Kramer, the cock-a-too had been busy prepping and pruning for the big preview event Tuesday night at the newly-expanded Wild Florida Airboat & Wildlife Park, south of Kissimmee.
But somebody forgot to tell the weatherman to cooperate, as an early evening summer storm washed out an evening full of activities at the park, which features acres and acres of wetlands in addition to the 13-acre wildlife park.
But the main event actually happens today at the big grand opening celebration that will include a free hotdog lunch, $15 airboat rides (includes free wildlife park admission) and more.
The rain didn’t dampen the spirits of Ranier Munns, the Central Florida attorney responsible for creating the seemingly always-expanding wildlife attraction.
It all started crazily enough years ago when his sons gave him a water buffalo for a Christmas present. And a water buffalo, needs a good home with plenty of water, so somehow, Wild Florida was born.
The park, which is about a half-hour drive from Kissimmee/St. Cloud, now includes a Seminole village, buffalo exhibit, owl exhibit, petting zoo, walk-in bird aviary, African plains exhibit, gator show, snake exhibit and many other bird and animal exhibits.
Munns has long been a protector of the areas natural resources, so preserving Wild Florida and giving visitors and residents alike a chance to see what Florida is all about is something he is proud of.
“Already this year we have had 5,000 students visit the park,” Munns said, and it always is gratifying to see all the international visitors who stop by to see something else Central Florida has to offer besides Disney World and the theme parks.
The airboat tour part of the park is around Lake Cypress, an eco-adventure around protected swamps and marshes that gives visitors a close-up look of alligators, birds, eagles and more.
It is a unique experience, said Munns, with an airboat taking guests over hundreds of acres of pristine areas.
Wild Florida is a family operation. Three of Munns’ sons work at the park.
But all the progress that has been done at the park in a few short years has been a team effort, Munns said at the preview opening.
“It took a lot of people to where we are now,” he said.
In addition to the wildlife exhibit and airboat rides, the park is also a good place to dine and for group events. The Cypress Ballroom (the now modern facility was just a storage barn a few years ago) can hold as many as 300 people for special events. And the new restaurant features Florida barbecue items such as pulled pork, smoked chicken, ribs, gator tail, sweet potato fries and frog legs.
The park also features a Wild Florida gift shop for all of those outdoor essentials such as real gator heads of various sizes, gator teeth necklaces, T-shirts, jackets and more.
The official grand opening of Wild Florida starts at 9 a.m. today (Saturday) and continues until 6 p.m. The ribbon cutting is at 10:30 a.m. and will include Wild Florida ownership and Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr.
The expansion includes a three-acre addition to the park, which is now home to more than 100 species of native and exotic animals, including watusi cattle, zebra, emu and various species of tropical birds, among others.
Wild Florida is located at 3301 Lake Cypress Road in Kenansville. In addition to the $15 airboat tours with complimentary wildlife park admission, a $5 general wildlife park admission is available for those who choose not to take part in the airboat experience.
For information/directions go to Wildfloridaairboats.com or call 407-957-3135.