Theater of the Sea Another marine park offers a chance to swim not only with the dolphins, but also sea lions and stingrays. Theater of the Sea in Islamorada is about half the size of the Miami Seaquarium, but offers closer experiences with marine life without going for a dolphin swim.
I am able to sign up to swim with the dolphins only three hours before it starts. However, in the meantime, I watch the dolphin show and am one of 10 chosen from the small audience to meet a dolphin up close. Satisfied with my dolphin encounter, I change my reservation to instead frolic in the shallow waters with the sea lions.
I wade into the clear waters with a small group of children and join more than a dozen friendly and whiskery sea lions. One in particular pals up with me. I call him Slick (so original), shake his fin and let him sniff my cheek.
The sea lion swim lasts about two hours including the educational pre-swim. Afterwards, I lounge on the beach and watch kids play in the waves.
Having no sea legs, I pass on the cruise and the four-hour snorkeling excursion but make plans to return for the stingray swim.
Key West Aquarium The Key West Aquarium may be small, but it is far from insignificant. Within footsteps of famous Mallory Square , the aquarium is Key West’s oldest attraction. Built during the Depression by the Works Progress Administration, it is the world’s first open-air aquarium. However, now much of the building is enclosed to allow all-weather viewing.
As I stumble in from the rain, I am grateful for this. For once I find myself entering a marine park to get dry.
The first thing I notice is the tidiness of the old, well-preserved building. Within a few steps inside I see sharks and rays in the long marine tank that runs the length of the building.
I join in on a tour as a guide points out seahorses and a giant spiny lobster. The guide moves along to identify hundreds of other colorful fish and sealife living in the numerous tanks along the walls.
My favorite part of the tour is watching the indoor sharks dine. I get to see the predators eat up close, behind the safety of glass. Even though they are smaller than Jaws, you get a sense of their table manners.
Outside it has conveniently stopped raining. The group is led through the backdoor to an enclosed ocean cove where larger sharks circle in a Pavlovian way. It’s feeding time. As a shark lifts from the water to grab a piece of meat, it’s clear this no place to take a dip.
Double Back That’s a Tyrannosaurus rex peeking through the tree tops just off Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando , inviting you to stop and tour an ancient past. He’s one of 150 life-size prehistoric creatures at Dinosaur World in Plant City.
Bone up on your prehistoric species as you stroll the park and read the identifying signs. You can also dig for fossils in a paleontological setting, and tour the hands-on dinosaur museum.
New Additions Old Traditions They’re not older than Disney, but their themes go back to nearly the beginning of time. You don’t have to be a religious scholar to enjoy The Holy Land experience in Orlando.
Upon entering, the park immerses you in Palestine of the New Testament era. Robed vendors sell from carts and pillars look like Jerusalem limestone. If you’re hungry for something more theatrical, there are musical shows.
Pensacola’s Dinosaur Adventure Land puts more physical action into its theme park. Kids can climb walls, pedal around the Dino 500 Race Track and Take a Leap of Faith via swing. The park has more than a dozen outdoor activities and a museum with 2,000- to 3,000-year-old artifacts.
Wish Upon a Star Peculiar things happen when you combine 2 million pounds of Florida coral and a man’s abundance of free time. The Coral Castle in Homestead, built over 28 years by one, five-foot-tall, 100-pound man, still stands as a testament to determination.
Get inspiration for your home renovation by touring this mysterious house furnished with stone rocking chairs, a sun couch, coffee tables, a solar bath, a nine-ton gate, sundial and Polaris telescope.
Latvian immigrant stonemason Ed Leedskalnin moved stones as heavy as 30 tons in the cloak of night to create his castle. Celestial images abound, and Leedskalnin claimed to have used the alignment of the stars to move the mammoth stones without mechanical equipment.
The castle is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Forty-five-minute tours are offered year ‘round. Well worth the time, even you don’t plan on building your own monument.
Gator Sites No trip through Florida is complete without a ‘gator sighting. Alligator shows are synonymous with Old Florida roadside fun, and thankfully, a few of the best ones still exist.
Stop at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo-logical Park and see some of the world’s oldest species in the nation’s oldest city, including rare albino ‘gators and Maximo, a 15’3” saltwater crocodile.
The giant ‘gator head entrance alone is worth a photo stop at Gatorland in Orlando. But don’t try it with Alf, a 15-foot American crocodile inside the park.
In Palmdale, the family-owned-and-operated Gatorama is vintage Florida with snake skins on the walls and some of the largest ‘gators and crocodiles outside its backdoor.
View ‘gators via airboat at the Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead. An actual alligator farm on the outskirts of Everglades National Park , you can also see how the animals are raised commercially.