Physically, celadon porcelain from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and a 13-foot skeleton of the giant ground sloth don’t have too much in common. But both explore how our world has evolved and how we perceive it—making both perfectly suited for display in the eclectic exhibits of the Museum of Arts & Sciences. The 100,000-square-foot museum—which perches on a 90-acre nature preserve—houses a planetarium alongside myriad exhibits that delve into art, history, and science.
The museum’s particularly impressive assembly of Cuban art draws visitors through 300 years of history with more than 200 rare maps, paintings, and ceramics. Nearby, the exhibit of Chinese art glimmers with gemstones, bronzes, and cloisonné. Visitors also peruse crafts made closer to home in the 4,000-square-foot gallery of American art, where portraits by Gilbert Stuart and landscapes by George Bonfield hang on walls, rather than on the traditional horse’s withers. In addition to its traditional art galleries, the Museum of Arts & Sciences also hosts more fragile objects inside the Helene B. Roberson Visible Storage Building, a 4,400-square-foot glass-fronted space designed to maintain exhibits in a climate-controlled state.
Younger museum-goers can gaze longingly at the 800 teddy bears on display in the Americana-focused Root Family Museum before heading to the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum to explore ever-changing, hands-on science exhibits. In addition to assembling and testing model racecars, whippersnappers strum the 16 laser beams of a laser harp and try the "Pull Yourself Up" exhibit. Daily shows in the planetarium continue scientific education by unlocking the night sky’s mysteries, such as why stars don’t go out when you blow on them.
Historically, women artists have often struggled to find a space to express themselves in a field dominated by men. The Florida Museum for Women Artists works to change that by offering 7,300 square feet of facilities and galleries dedicated to promoting and showcasing women artists and their work. Three different galleries allow visitors to gaze upon a selection of contemporary art in exhibitions that rotate ever 10 weeks and include juried shows, selections from collections, and traveling exhibits. Previous and upcoming exhibitions include a variety of ceramic, sculptural, and painted works, along with photographs and textiles. Past shows have even included the innovative exhibit Witness to Creativity, which allowed viewers to watch live as artists created installations over the course of a week. The facility also includes a museum shop and café and also hosts fused-glass jewelry, wineglass painting, and mosaic classes.
At the Reptile Discovery Center, visitors hobnob with rare reptiles in up-close encounters with snakes, lizards, tortoises, and alligators in controlled environments and exhibits. Explorers of all ages traverse a jungle of educational exhibits coming face-to-face with real-live reptiles such as baby alligators, florida pine snakes, and “Naja”, a 6-foot asian water monitor. The center functions as a working farm, providing shelter and nutrition to hundreds of species collected from around the globe, pro-tecting them from increasingly unstable environments and frequent, annoying visits from Carmen Sandiego.
The Central Florida Zoo swings open creaking gates to intrepid adults for a spooky evening of dancing, dining, and revelry. Ghouls and guests over 21 years of age can swill $1 beer and $2 wine and mixed drinks while nibbling on a selection of bizarre foods. Participants don disguises to compete in the costume contest, challenge partners to a selection of carnival games, or scream soprano arias on haunted train rides. Live bands and Venue 13 DJ Paul Vaine send music echoing through the zoo, to which guests jig at a zombie ball. Guests recall their fright night with a skull mug and skeleton-hand shot glass to take home as well as with a picture from the photo booth that captures both grins and ghosts giving bunny ears.
After school, most students rush to sports practices or study sessions in the library. At Skydive Palatka, however, pupils follow their time at ground school by joining instructors in a jump from 13,500 feet. They take the leap from a Cessna Grand Caravan, traveling at upward of 120 mph during free fall as they descend over the St. Johns River, catching views of both coastlines before deploying their own parachutes and piloting safe landings.
At least 7 successful jumps are required to qualify students for free falls without instructor supervision, and at least 10 are needed before worried pelicans stop trying to catch them in their mouths. For guests uninterested in solo drops, Skydive Palatka offers tandem jumps, during which each visitor is harnessed to an experienced instructor who operates the parachute system and steers duos toward a safe landing.
A 200-foot man-made alligator flashes his brace-free grin as visitors pass through the gates of Jungle Adventures' lush wilderness to meet the myriad creatures that call it home. From exhibit to exhibit, rare beasts including Florida panthers, black bears, tropical birds, and wolves exchange salutations with their visitors. Knowledgeable experts navigate jungle terrain during guided tours and VIP adventure tours, and at live exhibitions, such as the Gator Jamboree Feeding Adventure, experienced handlers coax shy critters from their hiding places. The park also explores the area's human history in replicas of a 16th-century Spanish fort and Native American village, where authentic recreations of ancient artifacts, decorations, and brick-sized cell phones shed light on lifestyles from centuries ago.