We went to Dade City's Wild Things last weekend after purchasing a living social deal. I had never heard of it prior to seeing it advertised on Living Social, but thought I'd give it a shot because of the price & because I have a 5 year old son who I thought would enjoy the experience. We live in the Tampa area, so it was only a 45 minute drive.
I booked the 2pm tour (along w/ a bearded dragon & monkey experience for our son), but upon arrival, we were told that the 2pm tour was overbooked & that we would be moved to the 2:10pm tour. At first, I didn't mind because it was only a 10 minute difference. However, things quickly changed.
First off, they pick you up in a trolley and take you to the "preserve" which is only about a few minutes drive down the road. Once we arrived, it became immediately apparent that things were going to be disorganized. We were greeted by our "guide" (they do not let you wander the grounds on your own, which is fine) and he was very young & seemed very unprepared. We later learned that he was also very new & not necessarily properly trained for being a guide (I believe that he normally fed or took care of the animals). However, our group had to go along with him to each exhibit and stand there for more time than what was really needed so as not to "bump" up against the 2pm tour that was immediately ahead of us. There were many awkward silences as we waited around after viewing each animal.
The grounds were very nice & overall, I'd say that the animals seemed to be well cared for (although, the chain-linked fences sort of made the exhibits look depressing), but the way the tour was conducted was not at all enjoyable or informational. What was a 2 hour tour could have easily been condensed into a one hour tour. There was no need to stand in front of the Quails for 10 minutes staring at them. The guide would tell us some funny stories about his own encounters with a few of the animals, but mainly, he knew nothing about them or how they ended up there. He would ask if we had questions, but if we asked questions, he would tell us he did not have the answers (most questions were very simple ones too...in fact, I think I knew more about some animals than he did). He was super nice & I certainly do not blame him for his lack of knowledge. The fact that he was not prepared to give an actual tour would be the responsibility of the management. It seemed as though he may have been used as a last minute fill in because of the fact that they overbooked the 2pm tour. The tour guide ahead of us conducting the 2pm tour seemed to be more experienced & knowledgeable. I found myself looking ahead and wishing I had been scheduled with her instead.
Due to the fact that we had such an inexperienced tour guide and the general disorganization of the tour itself, the two hours dragged on. I was actually checking my watch to see if it was near the end several times. We had our 5 year old son with us & you can imagine how impatient he was becoming too. It's alot to ask of a 5 year old to stay engaged and on their feet for so long, especially when there is not much to engage in. I think it would have been nice if they added some "experiences" along the way on the tour. For instance, they could feed the lions/tigers while we watched or maybe allowed us to pet or feed the deer. They had many birds on display...perhaps, the guides could take them out & introduce them to us. Maybe giving more information on how they provide for and take care of the animals on a daily basis would be fun- they could even show us what they do by incorporating their daily duties into the tour. These are all just suggestions for how to improve the experience.
When the guided tour portion was finally over (and I say "finally" because again, rather than be exciting, it was painful & slow), we were brought to the "garden area" where the encounters take place. Again, I was extremely disappointed. They actually had us all sit down at picnic tables for a half hour or so while the folks with the baby tiger encounters did their thing. So, basically we all just had to sit there and wait. Perhaps, they could have separated us out & had the other encounters happen simultaneously or maybe have the more experienced guide talk to us or show us some animals while the other folks were having their baby tiger encounter. Instead, the staff just stood around and waited too. They did absolutely nothing to engage us. At this point, my son was getting very antsy and asking when he was going to see the bearded dragon & feed the monkey. I finally went over to inquire about it and that is when it seemed to occur to them that they could actually do more than one thing at a time. They fetched someone to bring out the bearded dragon for him to see and walked a few of us over to feed the monkeys marshmallows on sticks. I just kept thinking "why didn't they just have us do this while the other folks spent time with the baby tiger?" It seems as thought that would have made more sense & kept us engaged more. I know this sounds harsh, but really, for the amount of money you pay & the time that you spend there, it shouldn't be too much to ask that it at least be more organized. I felt like so much of my time was wasted. I certainly would not have paid full price for this and had I known what it would be like, I wouldn't have gone at all.
I think the saddest thing about the whole experience for me personally, was that I knew that Dade City's Wild Things had so much more potential. What could have really been a very interesting & informative experience ended up being a total waste of time. They had very nice people working there & of course, a very unique group of animals- they just didn't seem to have the organization nor the leadership to actually offer a top notch wildlife experience. I regret that I am not able to recommend this to friends or family, let alone total strangers who might come here to Trip Advisor prior to booking just to be sure. I suggest that you spend your time in Dade City at the local Heritage Park or perusing the downtown antique stores as opposed to this place.
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