Kids learn with all five of their senses?that's literally what puts the V in the name of Explorations V Children's Museum. Spread across three floors, the museum brims with hands-on activities in a range of permanent exhibits. And the organization's interactive approach to learning has helped it earn accolades, such as a grant from Disney's Helping Kids Shine award program.
On the lower floor, an exhibit charting the journey of the Florida orange begins with local history and ends with a look at global ecosystems. On the first floor, the exhibit Marvelous Me! teaches about the human body with an interactive skeleton and memory tests; Water Matters teaches water conservation with interactive stations. At the top of the museum, check out the temporary exhibits and the Dragon of Toys, a colorful sculpture of plastic trinkets. It's also here that instructors conduct daily programs ranging from open art studio sessions to nutritional cooking classes.
Brooke Pottery features fine ceramic crafts and a host of handmade doodads from more than 400 American artists. A glazed, tri-colored McQueeny Belt Bowl ($48) offers a fetching soup-holding alternative to cupped palms, while the Heart Coaster Set ($40) lovingly shields countertops from clammy cocktails and over-fizzed sodas. Decorate feng shui–deficient gardens with ash-wood Chi Energy Amber wind chimes ($35), or embellish tree limbs with colorful Aloha Chimes ($42). For kids, the Blues Band Harmonica ($7) provides hours of fun in the key of harmonica.
Now pack-free, the cigarette machines inside the Polk Museum of Art have been converted to Art-o-Mats, which distribute original artworks to help jump-start amateur collections. The pieces make fitting keepsakes from the nonprofit museum, whose own collection encompasses everything from pre-Columbian textiles to contemporary work by local artists. Other museum highlights include rare 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints, as well as ceramic plates made by Pablo Picasso that still bear his masterful tomato-sauce stains.
Alongside its core pieces, Polk rotates around 20 exhibitions throughout its nine galleries each year. To further foster Florida's artistic community, the museum hosts plenty of educational opportunities and events, including art classes and fairs that spotlight emerging Central Florida artists.
At Dinosaur World, guests can become working paleontologists, unearthing bone fragments and teeth in the Fossil Dig exhibit. Once they've uncovered a few ancient relics, they can frolic among full-size representations of more than 150 prehistoric creatures stationed throughout the 20-acre park. As part of the expedition, they can also visit woolly mammoths, investigate fossils in the prehistoric museum, and watch an educational film on dinosaurs in the movie cave.
The only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
When they enter Titanic The Experience, visitors receive a replica boarding pass. From there, they relive the ship's history from a passenger's perspective, from life onboard during its 1912 maiden voyage through to the crash. The exhibit closes with updates on modern efforts to recover its wreckage, which the museum is thoroughly part of?it's myriad artifacts were found by a team that performed seven deep-sea expeditions.