This article is brought to you by Jungle Island.
Did you know there's a jungle in the heart of Miami? It's Jungle Island, and you won't believe all the things your family can do here in just one day. In addition to getting to know extraordinary animals including lemurs, orangutans, tigers, monkeys and a liger (offspring of a male lion and a female tiger), you can wander through 18 acres of tropical jungle, with 2,000 varieties of plants and flowers.
Some of you may remember Jungle Island when it was known as Parrot Jungle and Gardens, a popular attraction just south of Miami that opened in 1936. (I grew up just around the corner from the original Parrot Jungle, and I would ride my bike there on weekends to watch the bird shows.) Today, it was my kids' turn to experience the magic.
Posing with Parrots
Our adventure began by posing for photos with a variety of parrots, including blue and gold macaws. This definitely makes a fantastic, one-of-kind souvenir to take home.
We then made our way down the shaded trails to the "Manú Encounter," a huge aviary designed to look like the cliffs of Manú, Peru. Inside were free-flying parrots and curious squirrel monkeys with a passion for peanuts. We fed them a few provided treats and instantly became their new best buddies. After many smiles and giggles, we had to say goodbye to our furry friends, as the "Tale of the Tiger" show would soon start.
Tale of the Tiger
We didn't know what to expect, but when they brought out the first Bengal tiger, we were on the edge of our seats. We got to see and learn about several different tigers, as well as a skunk, a baby primate and, the most unusual animal of the day, a binturong – a relative of the civet that smells like hot buttered popcorn. No kidding! At the end of the show, guests are offered the opportunity to sit with the cubs and primates for a photo, with proceeds going to T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species). It's money well spent for sure.
Reptiles and More
Next up was the Lifestyles of the Cute and Creepy show, which gave us the chance to meet a ball python, a baby alligator, South African penguins and a short-tailed possum (which is now on my boys' Christmas list for next year). The reptile show was definitely entertaining, but the Gator X-Treme show will give you goose bumps. That's because you'll get to watch as brave trainers swim in the water with alligators. I've seen gator shows before but nothing like this. At least they weren't swimming with Hank, the resident crocosaurus: He's mean, green, weighs 2,000 pounds and is 20 feet long.
In the Lorikeet Aviary, the giggles continued as these brightly colored birds made themselves right at home on our hands, shoulders, heads... I'd like to say they just really liked us, but truth be told, it was feeding time, and we were provided with little cups of special fruit nectar for them. Lorikeet feedings happen twice daily; it's something you won't want to miss.
One of the biggest thrills for me was the show "Winged Wonders." It began with Pinky the cockatoo riding a bike across the stage. Déjà vu! This was the same bird I saw as a kid! I was told Pinky is now 66 years old – and she still loves riding that bike. They also have a six-foot-tall cassowary, one of the most dangerous birds in the world.
They say to expect the unexpected at Jungle Island, and that's just what you'll get with the "Lemur Experience." For an additional fee, you can have 45 minutes of one-on-one time with the softest, fuzziest, friendliest lemurs you'll ever meet. And with fewer than 1,000 Red Ruffed lemurs and 10,000 of the Black-and-White and Ring-Tail lemurs left in the wild, this is an opportunity you won't soon forget.
Because of its amazing scenery and location near Biscayne Bay, Jungle Island is also a favorite venue for events of all sorts, from weddings to corporate meetings. The Treetop Ballroom can hold 1,000 people; other options include a private sandy beach and lush tropical garden areas. Party, anyone?
And just a quick note: There's also a children's playground, lakeside café, flamingo lake, petting zoo and a 168-foot high inflatable water and dry slide. Whew! Jungle Island is open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is right off I-395 between downtown Miami and South Beach.
Video: See all of Jungle Island's creatures up-close.
To plan your own trip to Jungle Island, call 305-400-7000 or visit JungleIsland.com. And don't forget your camera!