Clermont – Imagine traveling through pleasant orange groves while enjoying the swampy Florida ecosystem and its abundant wildlife, imbued by the aroma of orange blossoms. This is not a surrealist landscape hung on a museum's wall; it is an unforgettable destination that you should include on your Orlando vacation itinerary.
Just 15 minutes away from Walt Disney World – go west on U.S. Highway 192 and turn north on U.S. 27 – you'll find Showcase of Citrus: a farm south of the city of Clermont, which, as its name suggest, is a visual spectacle of green, yellow and orange tones. This is one of the few places where the seasonal harvest of 75 varieties of delicious oranges, sweet grapefruits and tender tangerines is planned with the visitor in mind. Here, guests have an open invitation to pick up these fruits with their own hands.
Every year, this organic orange grove draws thousands of tourists interested not only in trying delicious fruits or visiting nearby theme parks such as Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal, but also hoping to add a touch of ecotourism to their vacations without going too far. Those excited to check out the farm's 2,500 acres of sown field and swampy land can safely ride atop of a fun truck with huge wheels, a swamp buggy, that's able to plow through the muddy terrain. Called "the biggest Monster Truck in the world," this vehicle is the king of the Central Florida swamps.
Located in the northernmost part of South Florida's famous Everglades, a section of Showcase of Citrus is the natural habitat to alligators, birds of prey, snakes, turtles, deer, turkey, wild hogs and cranes, along with extensive vegetation that includes cypresses firmly rooted in the water, cedar and mahogany trees, and of course, the royal palm of Florida.
Joining the wildlife are herds of cattle that, graze quietly alongside alligators. Noticing the monster truck arriving, the cows eagerly await the oranges that visitors will toss their way.
This unique combination of orange groves and wildlife will make your trip an enduring memory, especially if your visit coincides with the wonderful aromas of the orange blossoms in bloom, between January and May. The drivers double as tour guides whose skillful driving and knowledge of the environment keep the tour entertaining.
"We are the only citrus farm with 75 varieties of orange trees originally planted to be picked by hand, which can be enjoyed by the entire family," said farm owner John Arnold. "Our monster truck is the only ride that takes you to the most northern part of the head waters of the Everglades that you can (enjoy), and, in a very natural way, not as a safari."
The truck makes several of the nearly 1.5-hour trips to the swamp throughout the day. The first, early in the morning, and the last, late in the evening, are recommended.
"It's easier to see the animals at dawn, when they're hanging around, or in the evening, because they're kind of quiet, getting ready to lie down," says a driver that goes by the name of Buffalo.
If You Go
The farm's entrance and grounds offer an attraction of their own. When you arrive, the first thing you'll notice is one of the famed swamp buggies, with black and yellow stripes and huge wheels, parked in front of the farm. Then, take in the kitschy landscape of artificial sharks and plastic alligators floating in the middle of a lake. But don't fool yourself; keep in mind that any track of water in Florida can be the home of a real alligator.
On the farm, you can try slices of fresh fruit, natural juices and organic jams, and buy your own to take home. Picking oranges and filling a bag can cost between $10 and $20, and a trip on the monster truck costs $20 for adults and $15 for children. Discounts are available to groups.
Bring sunglasses, a baseball cap or a hat, comfortable shoes and clothes, sun block and a camera. For more information, visit showcaseofcitrus.com.