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.
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. When Jungle Island's current owners purchased the company in 1988, they introduced new mammals and reptiles—but when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, they were forced 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.
Giant toy soldiers clothed in thousands of colored lights wave at passersby as glowing reindeer take off into the dusk. Towering Christmas trees topped with stars glimmer and glisten with blue and green fiber optics. At Santa's Enchanted Forest, one of the world’s largest Christmas-themed amusement parks, holiday spirit and festive music fill the air long before the end of December. Visitors laugh and shriek on a multitude of carnival rides, including whirling swings, bumper cars, tower drops, and roller coasters, whipping through the air until their cheeks are as rosy as old Saint Nick’s. Traditional carnival games are also on hand, such as dart tosses and soccer-ball kicks, to complement more unconventional carnival amusements such as giant plastic balls to roll around in and a rock-climbing wall to scale. Wee visitors, meanwhile, can make the acquaintance of small livestock in a petting zoo or draw a portrait of their favorite goat in royal costume on a wall-size coloring-book mural. Carnival food, such as barbecue, pizza, and cinnamon donuts, fuels guests as they conquer rides or take in the Cats of the World Tiger Show, the Cirque Equinox, or the Sea Lion Splash Spectacular.
From its humble beginnings in 1949, the Miami Science Museum has expanded into a sprawling facility that includes informative exhibits, the Planetarium, and the Wildlife Center. Many current exhibits teach kids about scientific principles using interactive elements. Visitors literally light up the dance floor at the Energy Tracker exhibit— boogying down helps power neon lights underneath the glass floor. At Moving Things, youngsters can learn about the physics of moving objects by dropping objects of different shapes into flowing water, or they can challenge their spatial reasoning skills by packing blocks into perfect cubes.
The four-story dome at the Planetarium has a daily schedule of stargazing shows. Some of these take audiences on informative expeditions through the solar system and various constellations they might not typically see, such as the elusive Medium Dipper.
The Wildlife Center, meanwhile, is dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of raptors; here, guests can encounter an owl, falcon, and eagle.
Though roller skating may be symbolic of life in the '50s, the staff at Super Wheels Skating Center has incorporated the tunes, TVs, and technology of today to bring this American pastime in to the 21st century. DJs spin a choice of more than 400,000 songs through the rink’s digital sound equipment, serenading guests as they show off their moves and finally embrace their wheel transplant. In order to offer more than just skating, the staff created a super arcade filled with interactive games and sprinkled the facility with 20 high-definition TVs and five giant screens that broadcast entertainment as well as live texts from guests and overprotective mothers.
Outside of open-skate hours, the rink puts on a range of events, including private parties, beginning and pro skating lessons, and special times for skaters 11 and younger. The facility’s concession stand offers food for all ages, including futuristic Dippin’ Dots, fried appetizers, Latin pastries, and pitchers of O’Doul's.
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum began in 1956, when train enthusiast William J. Godfrey chanced upon the miles of abandoned railroad track snaking through the pineland of University of Miami’s southern campus. He imported a newly retired steam engine to the premises, and a tribute to railroading history began.
Now in a new location in Miami proper, the museum continues to honor trains’ role in American history, with nine exhibits on locomotives, passenger cars, and the Richmond’s Naval Air Station’s fleet. Visitors can hop aboard a full-size diesel locomotive passenger coach, or take a ride a miniature children’s railroad that’s ideal for transporting shipments of Lincoln logs. Alternatively, they can run motorized or free-wheeling trains through a model railroad, which zips through mountain tunnels and circles around to-scale landscapes.