The Showcase of Citrus is slice of “real” Florida that’s mere minutes from all the theme parks. Located in Clermont, FL, it’s a 2500-acre working citrus farm where guests can pick their own fruit and take a swamp safari on the “world’s largest” 4x4s.
Let me just cut right to the chase. If you’ve got kids, this place is fantastic. If you like picking your own fruit, there aren’t many places where you can pick your own oranges (dozens of varieties), tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, and pomelos. Again, this place is fantastic.
If you’re visiting central Florida on a family vacation, you’re likely planning to spend most of your time inside the various theme parks. But what’s worth your non-park time? Because of the parks (and the visitors), there’s a booming industry of tourist traps vying for your money.
You need to be discerning, right?
The Showcase of Citrus is about 20 minutes (by car) from Walt Disney World and well worth the trip. They offer “eco-safaris” on school buses retrofitted with monster truck tires and suspensions that are, in a word, unique. Tours last about an hour and motor around much of the property.
A huge proportion of the 2500 acres is devoted to orange groves. Most of the oranges grown here are picked, juiced, and sold under the Florida’s Natural brand (five days from tree to market!). Interestingly, the people who pick these oranges for juice can clear a tree in about 10 minutes.
The “swamp safari” portion of the tour is the highlight. The monster bus travels through some wild sections of the property that give a glimpse of a more natural Florida. The amount of swamp you see will vary, depending on the time of year you visit. But here’s what it looked like in January. Keep in mind that those tires are about 6-feet tall.
For some perspective, here’s another view of the tires:
The views from the truck are worth the adventure alone. There might not be as many animals here as you would see on the safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but this has the benefit of being real. The Showcase of Citrus has been family owned and operated since 1961. Everything you see is the result of nature. These trees, this swamp, this nature—it’s all been here for a very long time.
Speaking of Animal Kingdom, the farm receives 3–4 dump trucks of fertilizer from that park PER DAY. Animal Kingdom actually pays them to take it, so it’s very much a win-win. Plus, if you happen to see a truck arriving during your tour, the kids go crazy. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a “poop truck”!
An added bonus for the little ones is that most tour guides/drivers give kids a chance to drive the monster truck. I gotta tell you, I was a little jealous. It looked like a lot of fun.
Wildlife is abundant, so you’ll want to keep your eyes open. Gators are hard to see here, especially with the monster truck roaring through, but they’re around. This is also a working ranch, so there’s a large population of cows…and a few other surprises! There’s no shortage of animals here.
We’ve been to the Showcase of Citrus twice and had slightly difference experiences each time. Your tour guide can make all the difference in the world. The first time we visited, our guide was amazing. He pointed out a lot of different animals, hopped out of the bus to bring back (harmless) spiders (and other critters) for the kids to touch, and just made the tour a blast.
The second time we visited? Our guide was, how shall I say it….less excited. It was still an enjoyable experience, but I’m not sure if I’d be so quick to recommend this place if it weren’t for our first experience.
They run several tours every day of the year, but reservations are recommended. There’s obviously a limited number of seats on each bus. Prices are $25 for adults and $15 for children (4–12). Kids younger than 4 are free. There are occasionally deals to be found on Groupon and Living Social, so be sure to check around.
No matter what time you visit, there will be something in season for pick-you-own. Check here for the calendar. Our kids love fruit picking, and this is a great experience you can’t have if you live much farther north.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend one more thing: a slushie. Made with 100% natural orange or tangerine juice, those things are heavenly. They’re the perfect antidote to a hot Florida afternoon.
Verdict: Recommended. If you’ve got half a day free from your vacation and want to do something outside, you won’t regret it. It’s a wonderful, unique experience that we love. (Heck, we’ve been twice!) If you’re local, this is great place (albeit not the cheapest) to pick up some fresh citrus.
(Disclosure: During our second visit, we received complimentary tickets to the Swamp Safari eco-tour. All opinions remain my own.)