Located in the heart of the city, Watson Island sometimes feels like a tropical paradise—complete with a leopard lurking in the undergrowth. Luckily, this jungle cat is safely within the confines of Jungle Island, which has inhabited the isle for more than a decade. And yet the story of this themed park, which houses everything from exotic birds and primates to rare plants and trees, began more than 75 years ago.
Jungle Island got its start in 1936 as Parrot Jungle, a small South Miami roadside attraction where the exotic birds could soar uncaged. In the following decades, the aviary hosted a wide array of noteworthy occupants, including Pinky—a high-wire bicycle-riding cockatoo—and several pink flamingos that appeared in the opening credits of Miami Vice. When Jungle Island's current owners purchased the company in 1988, they introduced new mammals and reptiles—but after Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, they made plans to relocate. They settled on Watson Island, and in 2003, finished construction of the animal habitats and 18 acres of tropical gardens, renaming it Jungle Island.
Jungle Island is currently home to rare white tigers and a white lion, a high-wire bicycle-riding cockatoo, one of the only tame cassowaries in the world, a set of orangutan twins, a rare occurrence. Animal shows and presentations allow visitor to experience Jungle Island's residents in many ways, and a VIP safari tour is available for the very curious. Jungle Island's latest addition is a floating aqua park.
Imagine standing eye level with a giraffe, holding out your arm for parrots to land on, or touching the head of an endangered rhino. At Zoo Miami, these experiences happen every day, fulfilling the institution's mission of encouraging the conservation of wildlife. More than 2,000 animals—from chimps to tigers to koalas—populate the African exhibit, Asian exhibit, Australian exhibit, and the most recent addition, the Amazon & Beyond exhibit. Many of the individual exhibitions don't use cages, but are instead bound by moats throughout more than three miles of walking trails. This setup allows guests to get closer to animals as they romp in their habitats. More than 1,200 plant species populate these habitats, which are re-creations of the animals' native environments.
Guests can use free WiFi to download a free mobile app for iPhones and Androids. The app then delivers functions such as location beacons so that family members keep track of one another, show times, and GPS-enabled maps that show the nearest dining venue or restroom. Transportation options within the zoo range from an air-conditioned monorail to tram tours, which provide behind-the-scenes insights such as which animals have recently had babies, what they named the babies, and each baby's first word. Developed specifically for kids, a children's zoo offers camel rides and a playground.
For 17 years, Flamingo Gardens has gathered plant experts, landscapers, and other gardening connoisseurs to its annual festival. This year, the Broward Bonsai Society joins in the fun with an exhibition of the varied shapes and levels of perfection its miniature trees can hold. Displays from Alexander Farms, Greenhouse Orchids, and other vendors entice the eyes while guests wander about, taking in colorful performances from butterfly stilt-walkers and West African drummers. At the Butterfly Encounter, guests learn lepidopterist lore from expert Mike Rich while feeding live butterflies and teaching them about the updated food pyramid.
Wee ones, meanwhile, can head to the Kids Gardening Zone to decorate their own pots and plant a seed or romp through the gardens on a scavenger hunt. Plant experts also hold classes and demonstrations, including "Mounting Orchids & Basic Orchid Culture," and take guests on guided tours through the botanical gardens.
The same mysterious force that created Stonehenge and the Mayan crop circles of Giza helped us conjure today’s Groupon: for $5, you’ll get entry to the curious creation known as the Coral Castle Museum, a $9.75 value. Children under 6 are free, and children 7 to 12 are the same as the Groupon price—$5. Singlehandedly carved from 1,100 tons of coral rock over the course of 28 years, this megalithic South Florida monument is still baffling sightseers some 60 years after its completion.Follow @Groupon_Says on Twitter.
Rocky the tiger, Chewy the camel, and a literal rescue of other animals such as alligators, chameleons, owls, and wolves are just a few of the critters that take up residence at the nonprofit Everglades Outpost Wildlife Refuge and Rescue. Though their pasts aren’t necessarily happy—all of the facility's animals are taken in due to neglect, improper care, or injury—the staff of loving volunteers ensures each story ends happily and each tail continues to wag as they revive and nurse native and exotic animals from all walks of life back to health. In addition to the refuge, which is open to the public, the Everglades Outpost Wildlife Refuge and Rescue also conducts educational events and outreach programs.
At Everglades Alligator Farm, airboats zip nearly 4 miles through shallow "rivers of grass," splashing visitors as they catch glimpses of wildlife between fast spins and hairpin turns. On the shore, alligator handlers lead demonstrations with the animals—injecting humor along the way—before letting audience members hold and take pictures with a baby alligator. Snake handlers help brave visitors pose for snapshots with a snake draped around their shoulders. Audiences craving more wildlife after the shows and tour can also explore the farm's nature path, check out the captive collection of pythons and crocodiles, and watch alligators in a feeding frenzy over the last bag of Fritos at lunchtime.
It's a "compact adventure" in the Everglades, says CEO Matthew Thibos, whose family bought the farm in the '90s from a Baptist preacher who originally raised alligators off the side of US-1. Today, the staff keeps up to 2,500 gators on 200 acres of everglades wetlands, close to the entrance of Everglades National Park. "It's an off-the-beaten-path little gem that most people enjoy," Matthew says. "Kids love it—they have a fantastic time." Matthew stresses that the farm is a great place for pictures; National Geographic has been known to drop by, and the likes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Bobby Flay have filmed there on-location. The farm sees plenty of visitors from the area, as well as domestic and international travelers, including the 2008 Miss Hong Kong contestants.