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.
In 1980, Harry and Darlene Kelton moved their houseboat to the Pelican Harbor Marina and discovered an injured brown pelican. Without the aid of animal-care experience, they removed a fishhook from his mouth and rehabilitated him. This led them to form the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in their shed. With the help of volunteers and trained staff, the seabird station rescues, treats, and rehabilitates sick and injured wildlife, and promotes their preservation with educational programs and research efforts. The center specializes in brown pelicans, most of which are entangled in fishing tackle, but will treat any animal brought in for care. In 2007, they treated 87 bird species and 39 mammals, nonmigratory birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
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.
The Little Farm has remained abuzz with the delighted giggles and awestruck squeals of 50,000 children each year since opening in 1978. Under the helm of Thomas and Valerie Jornlid, the couple who took ownership of the farm in 1990, The Little Farm has remained committed to fostering family-friendly escapes from the city with their meticulously managed gaggle of animals, all of which are hand-raised to meet the highest USDA health standards. None of the livestock—from pigs and ponies to rabbits and ducks—are hand-fed, which enables children to approach and pet the cute creatures without being chased for food or pestered for information about where they hide the pudding pops. Young guests can immerse themselves in farm life as they help the knowledgeable staff with daily tasks such as feeding the animals or milking the goats, or they can visit the onsite butterfly garden, which is dappled with educational plaques about different fluttering species. For lunch, visitors can enjoy a picnic on rented blankets or at tables in the farm’s pavilion.
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.
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.