My family and I recently escaped the snowy clutches of our home state of Maine for a week of sun and sand in Delray Beach in Florida. We visited my wife’s grandmother and had a wonderful week of doing not all that much. The biggest daily decision we faced most days was should we camp out by the pool or make the four-minute walk to the beach? But as nice as it was to do nothing all day, by mid-week we felt a little antsy and needed a day out.

So we headed to Lion Country Safari.

Lion Country Safari sign

Photo: Osseous/Flickr

Just a half hour drive away from Delray Beach, Lion Country Safari is a drive-through wildlife park with more than 900 animals of nearly 50 different species spread out over many acres. Visitors drive their own cars over four miles of a road that winds through the different themed zones of animal habitat. Most of the zones put you right in there with the animals. It’s a great way to see an ostrich up-close and personal and there's nothing quite like having to merge with a 2-ton rhino.

Zeebras walking in front of the car at Lion Country Safari.

All additional photos: Shea Gunther , unless otherwise noted

The animals had the right-of-way in all cases.

Ostrich out the window

Rhino at Lion Country Safari

This doesn't do justice to how powerfully built rhinos are. So densely muscled.

Giant tortoise at Lion Country Safari

These guys have been around a long time.

Long horns at Lion Country Safari

My neck got tired just looking at these powerful bulls.

Zebras at Lion Country Safari

Giraffe feeding time at Lion Country Safari

This giraffe keeper was a popular person during snacktime.

Chimpanzee island at Lion Country Safari

Photo: Osseous/Flickr

The chimpanzees rotate through various islands everyday, as they are wont to do in nature. Lion Country Safari chimps are also part of ChimpanZoo, a training program run by the Jane Goodall Institute for “students, caretakers, and volunteers” to learn more about observing chimpanzee behaviors and to promote their welfare.

Lion Country Safari in the 70s.

Photo: Autohisotrian/Flick

When Lion Country Safari first opened back in the '70s, visitors actually drove their cars through the open lion zone. Today the lions are fenced off from the cars, thanks to a number of incidents over the years where foolhardy visitors opened their doors near the large cats.

Tortoise at Lion Country Safari

Photo: Matthew Hoelscher/Flickr

I usually walk away from a visit to the zoo feeling sad for the animals. It’s depressing seeing animals bound in small refined spaces. I didn’t feel that way at all at Lion Country Safari. While the animals’ available space pales in comparison to their natural ranges in Africa, it’s still a few magnitudes larger than even the nicest traditional zoo. I can see how these animals could live a good, happy life.

After our two-hour drive through the park, we got out of the car to stretch our legs and enjoy the other half of Lion Country Safari — Safari World, an animal theme park complete with a ferris wheel, petting zoo, and even a camel you can ride on. You’ll find standard gift shops, cafeteria food, and ice cream stands along with paddle boats, an old school carousel, and a couple of large alligators sunning themselves. One of our favorite attractions was the walk-in budgie house, where hundreds of bright and colorful little birds fly around you. For a dollar you can buy a popsicle stick with birdseed on the end, and the budgies will eat out of your hand. (We spent a lot of time feeding the budgies.)

Budgie at Lion Country Safari

Budgie on a stick at Lion Country Safari

Another fun one was the giraffe feeding station. For a couple of bucks, you can buy a handful of Romaine lettuce to feed to the giraffes from an elevated platform. Giraffes have long tongues.

Feeding giraffe at Lion Country Safari

Paddle boats at Lion Country Safari

Photo: Osseous/Flickr

Paddle boats!

One of the things I appreciated about walking through Safari World were how reasonable the prices were on everything. Lunch for three adults and two kids came out around $30, and my daughters were able to buy some fun trinkets in the gift shops without completely blowing their vacation spending money. This place is a good value all around.

Lion Country Safari is located in Loxahatchee, Fla., just a few miles west of West Palm Beach, and is open daily at 9:30. Admission runs $30 for adults, $27 for seniors, $22 for kids 3-9, and free for toddlers 2 and under. Entrance to Safari World is included in the price and everything within is priced ala carte. You’d be safe to budget ~$20/person extra for food and activities in Safari World.

Want to read more about zoos and natural parks? Check out these stories here on MNN:

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