For $90 a night you can stay at an exotic-animal sanctuary in Florida, supporting conservation and getting a close-up view of big cats, wolves and more.
Watch a full-grown lion roar from less than six feet away while you drink your morning coffee. Relax on an observation bench with an affectionate pygmy goat in your lap, just a few feet from a Siberian tiger.
Every once in awhile, you stumble across an experience that makes you fall in love with travel again as if it were your first time on the road. I found this experience at the Survival Outreach Sanctuary in Spring Hill, Fla., north of Tampa. It houses displaced exotic animals on a private, forested agricultural property far removed from the nearby urban hustle and bustle.
You’ll know you’ve arrived when the pavement ends and the path becomes decidedly more rustic. A staff member drives out to buzz you in and your adventure begins as you follow along a path under a tree-lined canopy to the sanctuary’s single cozy guest cabin (maximum of two adults, 25 or older).
Outfitted with safari-themed artwork and an efficiency kitchen, it’s a relaxing spot to rest in between animal encounters.
And believe me, hanging out with these magnificent creatures is something you’ll definitely want to make time for during your stay. It’s an amazing experience to be almost close enough to touch a blue-eyed white tiger, it staring back at you with equal, unwavering curiosity.
Even the closest zoo observation experience can’t compare to the intimacy and at-will access to these magnificent creatures that are disappearing in the wild at alarming rates. Be advised however, the secondary safety barriers are there for a reason: To keep you from taking that extra step or two when you forget just how close you are to the main cage, or find yourself wishing these majestic animals were available for public cuddling. They aren’t.
From an outreach perspective, this opportunity to peek into the world of the great cats is precisely the point. The need for conservation has reached a critical level, and the center aims to generate enthusiasm for preservation efforts and stimulate dialogue.
According to Judy Watson, the sanctuary’s founder, “People fear what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand they destroy. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Cabin rates start at $90 per night, and include coffee supplies and breakfast items. Extending our original three-night reservation an additional week brought our daily cost down to just $71. Free tours of the sanctuary are available to the public on Saturdays, with donations welcome. The center is an hour north of Tampa and under two hours west of Orlando.