Drive thru Starbucks – genius, especially when you have a sleeping baby in the back. You may also enjoy the convenience of a drive thru dry cleaner. And of course we all succumb to the drive thru fast food from time to time. But, have you heard of a drive thru safari? If not, you’ve got to check out this wild (literally) experience at Lion Country Safari, located about 20 miles west of West Palm Beach. What the heck is a drive through safari, you might ask? Well, remember the movie, Jurassic Park? Yes, yes I realize mentioning that and then talking about LION Country Safari may have you think twice about bringing your precious babies there. Trust me.
The Drive Thru Safari
The safari is a self-guided driving tour through various African environments that allow you to see real animals in their natural habitat, roaming free. Well, except for the lions, they aren’t roaming free. They are safely behind a fence with an on-site park ranger to make sure that everyone is safe.
Don’t worry, you have a designated path and the park gives you an audio CD that guides you and tells you more about the animals in each section. You are kindly asked to keep your windows rolled up, drive slowly and keep your eyes open for roaming animals. But, it seems that most of the animals are very accustomed to vehicles driving through their “African” plains. Being stopped in your car by an impala crossing isn’t something that you see every day, well, at least not in Florida.
You are welcome to drive through at your leisure and they have places to stop and watch the roaming wildlife and take photos. If you are organized (which I wasn’t) you can go to their web site and get a list of the animals on the safari so you can study up before seeing them in action. The audio CD is great, but sometimes when they are talking about the Brazilian tapir, an alpaca is crossing in front of your car instead. You’ll encounter all kinds of 4-legged animals, reptiles like giant tortoises, water buffalo, ostrich and rhinoceros.
They even have a chimpanzee habitat for your car full of monkeys to watch. And, of course the lions, who are rather docile during the safari are roaming behind the gates. We saw one lumber over to the chain link fence, but that’s about it. One of our favorites was the giraffes. You can see them roaming from the car, but I highly recommend you spend a few dollars to feed them because there’s nothing like having a giraffe nibbling lettuce out of your hand (more on that in the Safari World Amusement Park). It truly is magnificent!
Safari World Amusement Park
When you’ve finished the drive thru safari you are led to the Safari World Amusement Park. At this point you have to leave the comfort of your vehicle and explore on foot. It’s time to load up on sunscreen, grab your bag and stretch your legs. The amusement park promises hours of entertainment but the entertainment options are a bit disjointed, much like the attention of a 5 yr old. You can do anything from explore a petting zoo, paddle boat, play miniature golf, ride a train, see an animal show and even get soaked at a mini water park.
If you visit during one of the hotter months March-November, you may want to bring a bathing suit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet. Let the animals inspire you and cool yourself down at the water park. They also have ice cream if you want to cool down from the inside out.
Being from the western part of North Carolina, my kids won’t pass up the opportunity for some good old gem mining. For you gem mining newbies, you get a bag of dirt and sift through it with a screen while submerging it in a trough of running water. It costs a little extra to buy the bag of dirt but my kids just dug around for cast offs from other non-experienced miners. We walked away with some cool rocks, I mean “gems”. Y’all my kids spent 15-20 minutes hunched over this trough. If I could get them washing dishes like this, it would be a miracle!
For a truly special and unique experience, spend a few extra dollars to feed the giraffes a little safari salad. They prefer romaine, in case you were wondering. You feed them from an elevated platform and it’s hard to appreciate their size until they walk up to you and grab lettuce from you with their incredibly long tongues!
The bird feeding tent is another “fun” animal encounter. For a few extra dollars you can feed birds out of a little cup in your hand. Warning, when you grab the cup they swarm at you. My kids got a good laugh. Can you tell I am not a bird person?
When you want to do more than graze, like the animals, you have a few options. You are welcome to bring your own food to the park. They have a designated food area with picnic tables. They also sell food at various locations throughout the park. This visit I brought my wild pack of kiddos to the “Main Restaurant” (I know the name sounds delish!) for lunch. They had a surprisingly varied selection of food. The usual culprits were there; burgers, pizza and fries. But, they also have deli sandwiches, salads, fruit and sides like mac & cheese and beans and rice. The food was just fine and great fuel to keep us going for a few more hours. Save some room for a treat later. We recommend the ice cream and chocolate covered frozen bananas.
Tips for Busy Moms:
- Lion Country Safari ain’t cheap. Adult tickets are $37 at the door and children over 3 are $26! It’s actually pretty pricey, but whatever you do, promise me that you’ll do a quick online search to find discounts – or just click the link below for your very own coupon! They usually have a Groupon running. And they usually have a coupon on their web site. The day we went, I found an $8 off coupon for each person in the car. And for you home schooling moms, there is even a better discount with some extra educational opportunities. The annual pass is just a little bit more than the regular ticket and it makes sense to buy it if you plan on going back, even just one time.
- If you don’t have a CD player in your car, you can go to the Lion Country Safari web site to stream the audio tour for the drive thru safari portion. Just be sure your phone is charged before you leave home.
- Bring snacks for the car. For some reason watching animals constantly munching makes you hungry. I recommend crunchy ones.
- The park recommends that you go when it is raining, the animals emerge from the shadows to enjoy a shower and you can get some great photos. Early in the morning is the second-best time. Set your alarm clock!
- Load up a stroller so little ones can take a break from walking and you can take a break from carrying everyone’s “stuff”.
- Pack your bathing suit and towel if you plan on going to the water park. It’s really just a few slides and a splash pad but you will want to be ready to get wet.
- In my opinion, the park, especially the Walk-Through Amusement Park is geared more towards the 5 and under crowd. But, older kids may have a better appreciation for the Drive Through Safari.
- They have special educational days for toddlers and fun options for school break camps and summer camps for the kids.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen!