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.
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.
This third-generation, family-owned protected wildlife habitat offers the rare chance to see nearly 400 primates run free. Monkey Jungle is the only protected habitat for endangered primates in the United States that is open to the general public, allowing visitors to explore the 30-acre reserve. Upon entering, guests are immediately welcomed by Java monkeys, who at scheduled times will showcase their water skills as they dive into a pool to get fruit pieces. Stroll through a recreation of the Amazon rainforest, the only semi-natural tropical rainforest in North America. The founder of Monkey Jungle spent five years collecting hundreds of different species of plants, trees and palms to mimic the habitat of howler, black-capped capuchin and squirrel monkeys that normally call the South American jungle home. Keep walking to eventually discover the bird domes, blossoming with displaced and captive parrots, as well as orangutans and gorillas that explore the grounds.
Splat Paintball Park’s players strap on goggles and cradle Tippmann 98 paintball guns before sprinting through the X-ball grass field or the urban-scenario field encompassed by 20-foot-high netting and high-tech lighting. As players dash around, Paintball Training Institute–certified referees ensure the Geneva Conventions are followed.
Teams first design plans of attack in the covered staging area equipped with ceiling fans and cleaning stations, and then hone their aim at the shooting gallery. An onsite pro shop stocks shelves with all the extra equipment they could need.
In between matches, players relax in the indoor lounge with a snack bar, a big-screen TV, and paintball videos. Those celebrating birthdays storm the fields with friends before retiring to the private air-conditioned party room.
Set in the heart of scenic Everglades National Park, Everglades Safari Park has showcased South Florida’s distinctive wildlife for more than 40 years. The company’s modern fleet of airboats whisks tourists through the park's lush ecosystem as guides helpfully point out which logs are alligators and which alligators are confused crocodiles. As soon as they step off the boat, groups have the chance to get up close to the wildlife during an interactive alligator show and a walk down the jungle trail.
With hands gripped to the wheels of karts capable of cresting 45 miles per hour, up to 12 racers hum around the hairpin turns and straightaways of K1 Speed's indoor track during adrenaline-spiking sprints toward the podium. This brand of excitement can be found at all 20+ locations, where racers eschew the fumes and inflammatory skywriting of gas kart exhaust for European, eco-friendly electric karts designed to instantly accelerate out of curves, which are bordered by safety barriers that absorb impacts.