Families who want to play with a mix of history and education will find many unique attractions in Miami. Jungle Island, located on the scenic MacArthur Causeway overlooking the Port of Miami between mainland Miami and Miami Beach, is a 18.6-acre tropical island theme park that is home to more than 3,000 exotic animals and 500 species of plants. Here, visitors enjoy animal stage shows, one-of-a-kind interactive aviaries, plant nurseries, jungle trails, a petting farm and educational exhibits, as well as world-famous parrot shows, a Serpentarium and Jungle Theater and an Everglades Habitat. Their VIP Safari Tour is an animal lover’s paradise, offering a privately guided, 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour that brings guests closer to some of the world’s most rare and fascinating animals. The Safari includes personal interactions with everything from red-ruffed lemurs, one of the rarest animals on earth, to the only tame Cassowary on the planet. Also included on the Safari Tour are one-on-one sessions with Red Kangaroos from Australia, Aldabra Tortoises from the Seychelle Islands, Capuchin Monkeys from South America and parrots from around the world. Jungle Island just debuted its Rare White Lion and White Tigers Exhibits, featuring a white lion, two royal white tigers and two snow tigers in a brand, new state-of-the-art home – the largest in the park. Visitors can walk right up to the glass and get an up-close view of these one-of-a-kind animals.
Nearby, the Miami Children’s Museum features interactive exhibits, including a miniature supermarket, television news studio, cruise ship and a giant sandcastle slide. MCM is one of the ten largest children’s museums in the United States and destined to be one of the most successful.
One of Florida’s most popular tourist attractions, Miami Seaquarium, gained notoriety as the location for filming of 1960s hit TV show Flipper. Indeed, “Flipper” still has his own daily show at the Seaquarium, as does Lolita, the killer whale, and the other fascinating sea creatures who reside at South Florida’s largest marine aquarium. Miami Seaquarium also offers Salty’s Pirate’s Playground, feeding sessions with sharks and manatees as well as many other educational programs. The Seaquarium offers swim with the dolphin programs that will have even the most moody teenager squealing with joy. For families who crave an undersea adventure but don’t have scuba certifications, the famous attraction’s new Sea Trek Reef Encounter is a great way to take an underwater walking journey through a 300,000 gallon tropical reef. While wearing a state-of-the-art dive helmet that allows kids of all ages to breathe freely, they’ll easily encounter tropical fish, sting rays and a variety of unique sea creatures.
Families also enjoy spending time with the rest of the animal kingdom at Miami’s acclaimed Zoo Miami. One of the world’s great zoos and the only one in the continental United States located in a subtropical climate, Zoo Miami offers a sweeping 27-acre Amazon & Beyond exhibit featuring jaguars, anacondas, giant river otters, stingray touch tanks and more. The zoo is also home to the American Bankers Family Aviary Wings of Asia exhibit, with more than 300 birds representing 70 species of exotic, rare and endangered Asian birds in a large free flight area that feels like an Asian jungle. Another popular attraction at the zoo is Dr. Wilde’s World, including a new Wild Earth Jeep Simulator where guests can take a virtual African safari. For families who want to get up close and personal with wildlife, the zoo offers an intimate 90-minute Behind-the-Scenes Tour, where they can meet knowledgeable zookeepers and collect memorable experiences with incredible animals. The children’s zoo lets little ones interact with small animals, from Stitch, the blue-tongue skink to Maggie, the blue and gold macaw and take a memorable photo astride a camel. If the kids don’t want to leave when the park closes, no problem. The park features Zoo-ins on weekends, a fun sleepover program including a personalized behind-the-scenes walking tour of selected zoo exhibits, pizza dinner, accommodations in an air-conditioned building, and a special morning activity.
Nearby Monkey Jungle, owned and operated by the DuMond family for three generations, is a rare place where the people are caged and the primates run wild. Home to 400 primates, most running free on a 30-acre reserve. It is one of the few protected habitats for endangered primates in the United States and the only one that the general public can explore. The iconic attraction recently introduced the behind- the-scenes Amazonian Rainforest Adventure Tour, which lets families walk over a large natural sinkhole and into a living laboratory. Here they can experience the unique thrill of being immersed within and hand feeding a large troop of squirrel monkeys and Black Capped Capuchin monkeys.
Another homegrown family-owned attraction, Everglades Alligator Farm invites visitors to enjoy an exhilarating airboat tour into the surrounding Everglades and a stroll around the farm to see the alligators, crocodiles, caimans and wildlife that reside there, as well as a great display of local and exotic snakes.Coral Castle probably wins the designation for “most offbeat” tourist attraction. Kids will love the quirky construction, built over the course of 20 years with homemade tools by one man in a seemingly impossible display of strength and obsession.
For lovers of planes, trains and automobiles, several Miami museums offer unique opportunities to explore all three. Weeks Air Museum, located at Tamiami Airport west of downtown Miami, lets visitors explore the fascinating history of aviation, reliving the events of World War II from a pilot’s perspective while viewing a historic display of aircraft and aviation artifacts. At the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, the kids will be clamoring to play with wooden model train sets, including the beloved Thomas the Tank Engine, while everyone will want to climb on board displays of historic railroad equipment, including such treasures as the Ferdinand Magellan, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s private railroad car. The Dezer Collection Museum and Pavilion is a car lovers’ paradise, featuring more than 1,000 of the most unique and eclectic vehicles in the world. Guests can trace the evolution of the automobile through exhibits showcasing American classics from all eras, rare European classics, military cars, electric cars, micro-cars, bicycles, classic motorcycles, and more. The museum’s Hollywood “Star” car exhibition showcases cars featured in some of Hollywood’s most celebrated movies. For those who like to see cars in action, head to Homestead-Miami Speedway, home to high-profile auto racing.
Families who seek insight into Miami’s early settlers can visit the Miccosukee Indian Village and discover centuries-old culture alive and well just minutes from downtown. Guided tours take you through the past, present and future of the tribe through craft demonstrations, a museum and alligator wrestling, while airboat rides through the River of Grass are available. Other nearby facilities offering alligator exhibitions, airboat rides and natural wildlife and plant tours also include Coopertown Airboat Rides and Florida Seminole Tourism and AH-TAH-THI-KI Seminole Museum Everglades Adventures. The Miccosoukee Tribe also operates a multi-service gaming and entertainment complex that offers plenty of video games and recreational activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Parents of stargazers and budding naturalists will also want to schedule a trip to the Miami Science Museum, which will relocate to a larger space at Museum Park in late 2013. Traveling and permanent exhibits are largely geared toward children exploring subject matter from dinosaurs to the properties of physics. Daily shows point out the stars of the season, while the Wildlife Center houses rare birds of prey and reptiles. While exploring this neck of the woods, everyone will want to check out nearby Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the lavish waterfront Italian Renaissance mansion built by industrialist James Deering in 1916. Perfectly suited for Miami’s subtropical climate, Fairchild Botanical Tropical Garden draws thousands of horticulture lovers annually to the 83-acre botanical garden which boasts extensive collections of rare tropical plants, including palms, cicadas, flowering trees and vines. Children can enjoy a naturalist treasure hunt, identifying various plants, insects and animals as they wander the lush, expansive grounds.
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