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.
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.
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.
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.