Take the kids on animal adventures in Miami

May 13, 2019


Morgan Tribou, 12, gets a good look from a transparent tube slide at a North American river otter at Zoo Miami.

The Magic City has a lot to entice adults looking for adventure from South Beach to the Wynwood Arts District, but those with kids in tow will be glad to have two great animal-centric distractions: Zoo Miami and the Miami Seaquarium.

Zoo Miami is big. 750 acres. That’s bigger than any Disney park. It houses 3,000 animals. A person visiting the zoo would have to see seven animals for every minute of the seven hours the zoo is open to see them all.

But honestly, they will spend most of their time looking at the otters. The zoo has three different species of the frolicking carnivores: North American river otter, South American giant otter and the Asian small-clawed otter.

That’s just three of more than 500 species, of which more than 40 are endangered: animals like the western lowland gorilla, eastern black rhinoceros and Sumatran tiger.

This zoo has lions, tigers and bears, but they’re nowhere near each other, as the park is broken into continental sections. Walking the park will get visitors over their daily step threshold, but there are alternative transportation methods, including a monorail and multi-person covered bike caddies — both of which cost extra.

The zoo offers add-ons such as $5 animal feedings for the rhinos, giraffes, tortoises and tropical birds as well as VIP tours (75-$500).

The playgrounds are free and several offer ways to get wet, including interactive splash pads. Playgrounds aside, kids will have fun wandering the park and discovering hidden gems such as the little clear tube slide that passes through the river otter enclosure or the crawl space and cave that takes kids into the brown bear exhibit.

If you go: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. 12400 S.W. 152nd St. in Miami. Tickets cost $22.95 for ages 13 and up, $18.95 for ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and under; free parking; 305-251-0400; visit zoomiami.org

While Zoo Miami has the land-based animal world covered in a massive way, Miami Seaquarium handles the underwater world in a more compact manner. The 38-acre attraction is right on Biscayne Bay, east of downtown Miami.

It opened in 1955 and is home to about 60 dolphins and whales as well as sea lions and seals, all of which entertain crowds in a variety of shows throughout the day.

The oceanarium was home to the filming of the 1960s TV icon “Flipper” and has a dolphin performance dedicated to the show, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The performances are a highlight. Each has a splash zone and some feature more interaction with the performers, such as the giant beach balls smacked into the stands by the dolphins.

The Flipper show is unique in that it’s done in a lagoon that looks like an extension of Biscayne Bay, and really hits the nostalgia factor, incorporating Beach Boys tunes.

On the lighter side is the sea lion show, which tells the story of Salty and his battle against a littering diver. Despite several moments of groan-inducing humor, the show is entertaining — plus the constant presence of local sea birds trying to steal fish is amusing unto itself.

But the marquee offering is a show that features the attraction’s lone orca, Lolita, who has been at the park since 1970. She shares her tank with Pacific white-sided dolphins. The interaction among the animals and trainers are set to high-energy pop music such as Katy Perry and is a crowd pleaser. While the sight of a killer whale is impressive, the Pacific dolphins are a draw, as you won’t find them performing anywhere else in Florida.

Shows are offered twice daily in its own stadium, so it’s easy to spend an entire day cherry picking among these and the other aquatic and tropical exhibits.

One new treat and on display through September is the Savage Ancient Seas exhibit featuring full-size prehistoric skeletal models of long-extinct marine creatures, including a sea turtle the size of a car and the massive jaws of a megalodon.

One of the biggest draws for kids are the touch tanks at the front of the park, especially one dedicated to cleaner fish that flock to your hand and challenge your resistance to tickling as they essentially shower you with hundreds of kisses. Other kid-friendly offerings include a playground and the extra-cost, three-story obstacle course ($7).

If you go: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami; tickets cost $47.99 for ages 10 and up, $37.99 for ages 3-9 and free for ages 2 and under; $10 parking; 305-361-5705; miamiseaquarium.com


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