Orlando area’s Central Florida Zoo opens water-play oasis

Filed under: Hidden Orlando,Just For Fun,Leisure,Theme Parks,Vacation Tips |

Splash zone
Animals and trees spout liquid fun at the colorful Tropical Splash Ground.

Chelsey Brandao giggled as she splashed in water that gushed from the ground. She ducked under spouts coming from a huge frog’s mouth.

“I’m all wet,” Chelsey squealed. “But, it’s fun, fun.”

The 3-year-old Ocala girl just happened to be visiting the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens with relatives last week when about 70 people showed up to open the Tropical Splash Ground.

Chelsey’s romp in the water may not seem like a common activity for mid-December, but the folks at the zoo hope thousands of guests will use their play area as an oasis when things heat up during the summer.

Wharton-Smith designed, paid for and built the fountains and statues with in-kind donations from some other local companies.

Although the opening party was no surprise to George Smith, the Wharton-Smith co-founder was taken aback when the area was dedicated to him and his wife, Gretchen.

“It means a tremendous amount to me,” Smith said. “I come here with my grandkids and get halfway around the zoo and we’re hot and tired. This will provide a nice relief for so many people.”

Smith and his grandchildren got soaked testing out the new play area.

“George and Gretchen Smith are two of the zoo’s biggest supporters and two of the nicest people I have ever met,” said Joe Montisano, chief executive officer of the zoo. “They are always there to help . . . sometimes even before we get the chance to ask; and the splash ground is no exception.”

The water play area — just steps away from the concession building and a proposed aviary — has transformed an underused 4,000-square-foot section of the park into a place for “fun and excitement, and a showpiece for the zoo,” Montisano said.

It features water sources that resemble some of the zoo’s current and former animal residents.

An alligator, frog and hippopotamus spit out streams of water; palm trees sprinkle water from beneath their fronds; and a colorful collection of buckets dump water from above.

“It really is first class, just like George and Gretchen,” Montisano said. “I have said it about them before and it is true, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden would not be where it is today without the help and support of kind and generous people like George and Gretchen Smith; they are the best.”

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