High-profile destinations often cite their high ratings on TripAdvisor, which named e2ride bike tours Jacksonville’s No. 1 attraction. However, few boast that they were highly rated by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her iconic novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is credited with helping to ignite the Civil War, but most of her opinions on travel have been lost to the ages—except on the company’s historical bike tour of Olde Mandarin. As the tour group winds past the lush area’s museums and public parks, the tour guide notes that Stowe dubbed the area “a tropical paradise.”
On the company’s other tours, guides offer equally juicy historical tidbits, such as that Riverside-Avondale was originally only occupied by just two homeowners or that Truman Capote vacationed in Springfield. As they learn about the past, groups cycle down present-day roads lined with homes in styles ranging from Tudor and Georgian to Star Warsian.
As they observe the vibrant exhibits of aquatic life inside the Miami Seaquarium, many guests don't realize that they are walking through a movie set and a hospital. In the onsite lagoon, bottlenose dolphins swim through waters once traversed by Flipper, who filmed several television episodes and films at the venue. The Seaquarium is also recognized as a manatee critical care facility. Its staff has accomplished several historic treatments, including monitoring the conception and arrival of the first manatee born under human care and conducting the first manatee neurological surgery.
These facets of the Seaquarium—along with its many conservation efforts, educational programs, and shows—underscore a united commitment to wildlife consciousness. The animal attractions enable visitors to witness the allure and fragility of oceanic fauna up close, whether they are petting the back of a stingray or washing a dress shirt on the rough back of an 8-foot nile crocodile. Special encounters decrease the distance even further, sending patrons on underwater Sea Treks through the reef display or helping them to lead marine-mammal training routines.
It's hard to pinpoint the biggest personality inside the Seaquarium tanks, but Lolita the killer whale—who performs daily alongside pacific white-sided dolphins—claims the title of heaviest, period. On the other end of the scale, macaws and cockatiels perch around the Tropical Wings section of the park, and endangered sea turtles lounge at Discovery Bay. Elsewhere, a watery playground and three-story ropes course keep legs from growing too wobbly after a trip to Shark Channel or a smooch from a sea lion.
A pirate ship hangs suspended in midair. Tennis balls rocket toward the ceiling. Plastic robots jolt to life. Recipient of a 2008 MetLife Foundation award for promising practices, Great Explorations Children's Museum incites creativity and inventiveness from visitors of all ages with a constantly rotating lineup of interactive exhibits that fill 18,000 square feet with touch, light, and sound. Pulley towers allow children to hoist themselves into the air, and a mock fire station thrills wee visitors with a fire engine, child-sized firefighters' gear, and microscopic dalmatians. Museum guides lead lesson programs in a multidisciplinary style, though visitors can also find the friendly professionals and their orange polo shirts bouncing between exhibits while performing science experiments, dancing, and playing music.
Themed events let visitors discover the museum's potential through focuses such as "Superhero Saturday," "Slightly Spooky Boo!seum," and "Winter Wonderland," and seasonal camps explore annual topics such as the life cycle of a bunsen burner.
From the outside, Professor Wonder’s WonderWorks laboratory appears to have flipped completely on its head. When visitors enter the upside-down edifice, they must first pass through the psychedelic, spinning lights of the Inversion Tunnel, which turns the building right-side up for families to embark on a full day of entertaining, educational activities. More than 100 interactive exhibits spark excitement around natural phenomenon, including replica space capsules that visitors can climb into, a gallery of mind-bending illusions.
Some of WonderWorks Orlando’s hands-on displays allow guests to experience the aftershocks of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, throw a strike against Derek Jeter, and lie down on a bed of 3,500 sharp nails without so much as a scratch. Additional activities include the Indoor Ropes Challenge Course, which exercises bodies and minds as challengers navigate three stories of swinging beams and suspension bridges, and the XD Theater 4D, which transports viewers to swift canyon roller coasters, haunted mines, and Mars with full-motion seats and 3-D visuals.
Pilot your brain-plane into a four-way collision with history, nature, and wildlife at the Tallahassee Museum, where wild-lovers can wander 52 acres of Florida florae and faunae as it floridly lounges in the state's natural greenhouse atmosphere. Saunter along the Habitat Trail, via elevated boardwalks that allow you to view animals from above without intruding into their habitats and TV-watching habits. In addition to waterfowl, foxes, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and river otters, you’ll catch glimpses of the endangered Florida panther, the state’s official mammal, and the endangered red wolf. Step into the pre-Internet world your parents and older siblings grew up in at Big Bend Farm, an 1880s living farmstead with a restored period farmhouse and kitchen, as well as reconstructions of an outhouse, blacksmith shed, and smokehouse. Historical voyeurs, meanwhile, can peer inside the rear windows of the restored 1850s plantation house of Catherine Murat, George Washington’s great-grandniece, who later became part of French royalty by marrying Prince Achille Murat, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. With a plethora of annual events coming up, such as the upcoming Market Days on Dec. 4 and 5, you’ll have plenty of more stimulating things to do this winter than hibernate and alphabetize your action figures.
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