Just 40 miles northeast of the Orlando theme parks sits a wholly different kind of attraction. The Black Hammock may not take you to Space Mountain or usher you inside Harry’s world, but this local Florida standby will give you plenty of air and sunshine, authentic flora and fauna, and up-close-but-not-too-personal encounters with alligators.
The main attraction: airboat rides. Have you tried one? They’re a wind-in-your-face blast. Strap into the craft along with a group, and off you go on an adventure that ranges from tranquil to hair-raising. A professional captain and knowledgeable tour guide will make sure that your trip is both fun and informative. The airboats slither through narrow green canopies, over fields of seagrass, around mangrove islets and out into open water. There’s every likelihood that you’ll make a couple of stops to get a boat’s-eye view of a gator. That’s partly because the Lake Jesup has the largest gator population of any lake in the U.S., and partly because the captains are so adept at spotting them.
Black Hammock airboat rides come in an array of options for individuals and groups, starting with an exhilarating 30-minute jaunt. You can double that for a one-hour ride, or embark on a VIP Eco-Tour through a unique Florida ecosystem that includes tropical hardwood hammocks, cypress domes, a wild array of plants and plenty of wildlife in their natural habitat (starring … gators). Black Hammock also offers a night ride, a “Ride and Dine” and a “Ride and Sip.”
Airboat rides might be the big draw at The Black Hammock, but there’s way more going on than that. The rustic complex provides all-day (and into the night) fun. It’s located in Oviedo, at the end of a road that winds through citrus groves, sitting on the shores of 10,000-acre Lake Jesup. Pull up, and you’re in the midst of Real Florida.
At the front of the complex sits the Lazy Gator Bar, a vibrant meeting place with seating indoors and outdoors on the deck, and where live music will rock you into the night. Next door is the Gator Exhibit and the Parrot Jungle. The Black Hammock Restaurant serves scrumptious Southern fare. Top of the menu: Gator Bites, locally harvested and served blackened, buffalo, Cajun or Florida style. A Sunshine State-themed souvenir awaits at the gift shop.
Black Hammock has eight vacation rental properties available. If you want to mix some luxury with your Real Florida stay, try Gator Mansion — two stories, six bedrooms, five bathrooms, and abundant amenities. On the more modest end of the accommodations is Gator Cottage, a new two-bedroom, one-bath abode on five acres. A group of four can stay here comfortably.
The Black Hammock is owned by Joel Martin, who was born in Paris and grew up in Africa surrounded by magnificent wildlife. After living in the French Alps and the French Riviera, he decided to emigrate to Florida. He found the rural lifestyle he was looking for in Oviedo, where he could ride his horse. On one of those rides, he came upon the Black Hammock Restaurant. It reminded him of his childhood. Joel knew he had to buy it.
Over the years, he has added more and more features to The Black Hammock. It’s now widely regarded as one of the most unique attractions in Central Florida, and the ideal destination for folks who like authentic fun, as opposed to the “themed” variety.