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.
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.
For more than two decades, The Great Taste of The Grove has ushered in a miscellany of tastes, sips, and sounds for participants of all ages in order to raise funds for the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce. Crowds of up to 20,000 descend upon local cuisine from area eateries as chefs grill up their own specialties during live cooking demonstrations. Wine samples, beer, and cocktails from renowned libations manufacturers acquaint themselves with uninitiated taste buds, and entertainment includes Saturday's Tribute concert covering songs from Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and Journey and Sunday's Clash of the Decades featuring a mix from the 50s tunes to modern hits with headliner Suenalo. While adults mingle, youngsters can head to the adventure park, where they can hop on carnival rides or get their faces painted.
Inside Jump A Roos' enormous fun house that boasts tons of inflatables and multiple party rooms, kids 12 and younger can bounce, slide, and wiggle through a variety of supervised play areas. Inflatable obstacle courses stand beside slides and bounce houses in the open-play area. In nearby adult seating areas, guardians can watch TV or use free WiFi, comfortable in the knowledge that kids are enjoying activities that are as safe and engaging as a game of Duck, Duck, Naptime. For special occasions, the center's party rooms anchor birthday celebrations and playdate packages, both of which include open-play access and a plethora of food options.
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.