02/01/2015 01:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Orlando's Number-Two Animal Attraction, Behind Disney

Not every business in Florida readily admits to taking a lot of crap from Disney. Except maybe Showcase of Citrus.


As a matter of fact, this organic citrus grove, blooming with heirloom fruit trees, accepts it by the ton. The family-owned farm has what can best be described as a unique relationship with Disney's Animal Kingdom. Specifically, Disney pays Showcase to dispose of its animal waste. The farm, in turn, converts the exotic animal dung into fruit tree fertilizer.

No kidding.


Good thing, too. With more than 50 varieties of citrus, this is one of our favorite pick-your-own citrus attractions in the Sunshine State. They harvest oranges, grapefruit, lemons and lime, almost year-round, although the selection changes from month to month. You can even find fresh blackberries if you visit during the dog days of summer.


We paid the Disney dung factory a visit recently, hiking through the groves, wielding an old-fashioned orange picker and with an oversized wagon in tow. I remember using the same lacrosse-style tool when I visited Florida with my parents years ago. I was skeptical about filling up the half bushel bag, but my three kids made quick work of it. We picked mostly yellow naval oranges and red grapefruits.


Many of the trees were both heavy with fruit and blossoms, which attract honeybees. There's nothing as sweet as the smell of citrus blossoms in Florida's afternoon heat. I've always believed the best fruit is on the top of the trees so we used the picking tool to harvest our citrus. We also did a little, um, "quality assurance" on location. Even the kids, who aren't big grapefruit fans, agreed -- it was the perfect combination of tangy and sweet.


Our final activity of the day: a swamp safari eco tour. The Showcase of Citrus groves represent only a small portion of the 2,500-acre estate that's been in operation since 1961. To see some of the rest you'll need to ride the "Ox" or one of the other two monster truck school busses, some of the world's largest 4x4s.


On the one-hour drive, you'll tour the grazing land for their more than 400 head of cattle, acres of naturally-wild Florida wetlands teeming with alligators, stork, and some exotic animals including "Barcode" the zebra, water buffalo and Watusi. Keep a tight grip on your camera.

Showcase of Citrus is so much fun, I guess you could say it's Orlando's number-two animal attraction -- behind Disney, of course.

If you've been to Florida but you haven't picked your own citrus, you're missing one of the oldest tourist traditions in central Florida. It's a memorable activity the whole family can enjoy and makes for beautiful pictures. Think of it as the "other" side of the Animal Kingdom.