Tourists flock to Miami for its famous beaches, but no family vacation would be complete without a couple of stops to learn about Miami’s wildlife.
The Miami Seaquarium gained fame as the location for filming the 1960s hit TV show Flipper. Mammals billed as Flipper’s descendants still have their own daily show at the Seaquarium, as does Lolita the killer whale and the other fascinating sea creatures who reside at South Florida ‘s largest marine aquarium. Miami Seaquarium also offers Salty’s Pirate’s Playground, a swim-with-the-dolphins program, feeding sessions with sharks and manatees as well as many other educational programs. This attraction is corny fun. We usually go once or twice a year with visitors or on no-school days. The focus is on performance.
Parrot Jungle Island on Watson Island is an 18.6-acre theme park that is home to more than 3,000 exotic animals and 500 species of plants. It includes animal stage shows, one-of-a-kind interactive aviaries, plant nurseries, jungle trails, a petting farm and educational exhibits, as well as parrot shows, a Serpentarium and Jungle Theater, an Everglades Habitat and much more, all nestled on a lush tropical island. It’s close to Miami Beach and offers a change of scenery from the surf and sun.
Further afield, about one hour south of Miami, is the acclaimed Metrozoo, the only zoo in the continental United States located in a subtropical climate. It is home to more than 300 birds representing 70 species of exotic, rare and endangered Asian birds in a large free flight area that feels like an Asian jungle. It’s a very large facility and can take an entire day to see it all. When we went with friends, we only saw a small portion. For first-timers, consider a once-around on the elevated train or rent a family bicycle from Safaricycles located across from the flamingos.
In the vicinity of the Metrozoo is Monkey Jungle, where the humans are caged and the monkeys roam free. More than 400 primates live here, most running free on a 30-acre reserve. It is one of the few protected habitats for endangered primates in the United States and the only one that the general public can explore. My boys went with some friends and thought it was the bomb. They loved feeding the monkeys.
Another homegrown family-owned attraction, Everglades Alligator Farm is the place to take an exhilarating airboat tour into the surrounding Everglades . Then stroll around the farm to see the alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and wildlife that reside there, as well as a great display of local and exotic snakes.
Dina Weinstein is a Miami transplant who was born in Boston and most recently lived in Chicago . She’s made Coral Gables home with her husband and two boys. They love exploring their adopted city.