Tips + Trends

Born to be Wild: Florida’s Most Unusual Animal Encounters

A family vacation isn’t complete until you’ve squeezed some kind of animal-related experience into your itinerary. Kids love animals and adults can’t help but adore them, too.

But let’s face it – you can only visit so many zoos and aquariums before they start to blend together in your head.

Up the ante by adding a unique animal interaction to your list of things to do. The good news? The Sunshine State is awash with them, so you don’t have to dig deep.

Below are five of Florida’s most unusual animal interactions that your family will be talking about in years to come. Get ready for your best vacation yet!

The Turtle Hospital – Marathon, FL

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Get up close with a majestic sea turtle. (Photo: Alamy)

Rescue, rehab and release. These are words that this animal hospital in Marathon, Florida, lives by – a great thing considering the dwindling population of majestic sea turtles. One of the best things about this facility is visitors are welcome to join one of their guided educational programs, which helps spread awareness about the endangered creatures.

Take a 90-minute tour of the property, including the turtle rehabilitation area, and find out how we can all work together to prevent the extinction of these animals. At the end of the tour, you’ll even get a chance to feed the permanent residents.

Rainforest Adventure Tour at Monkey Jungle – Miami, FL

Miami may be famous for its nightlife, but the Magic City has a number of family-friendly offerings as well. Monkey Jungle, for example, is a great spot for families, and its Rainforest Adventure Tour is just the right animal adventure to jump-start your vacation.

It takes families through a five-acre protected habitat filled with furry monkeys, from capuchin to squirrel monkeys, who are more than happy to get up close and personal with their guests. Three tours are available daily and each includes monkey food and access to the shows.

Airboat Rides at Everglades Safari Park – Miami, FL

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There are few more thrilling ways to encounter Florida’s animals than an airboat ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

While vacationing in Miami with the family, take a day trip out to the Everglades Safari Park. The Airboat Ride Tour, their most thrilling, takes you around the Everglades for 30 to 40 minutes and includes an Alligator Wildlife Nature Show with access to the park’s trails and observation platforms.

It’s the perfect way to give your family a chance to learn all about the Everglades’ local flora and fauna.

Ultimate Jungle Trek at Jungle Island – Miami, FL

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Take a behind-the-scenes tour and meet the primates. (Photo: Courtesy of Jungle Island)

Future zoologists and vets in your family will simply adore this awesome experience at Jungle Island in Miami. The park’s Ultimate Jungle Trek may be a little on the pricey side, but it’s completely worth it if you have the budget.

This tour will take your family on a behind-the-scenes tour to meet, interact and work with some of Jungle Island’s most amazing residents. You’ll learn how to care for the park’s primates, feed a baby tiger, sloth and warthog, interact with reptiles and tortoises and more.

Each ticket includes park admission, lunch, a tour guide, parking and a CD of the photos from your adventure. The stunning Blue Moon Hotel, which boasts an Art Deco design and complimentary amenities such as breakfast, WiFi and bike use, is less than 15 minutes away.

Camp at Clearwater Marine Aquarium – Clearwater, FL

Home of the famous Winter the Dolphin and her constant companion, Hope, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is more than just an aquarium. Like the Turtle Hospital, it’s a rescue, rehab and release facility that spends a lot of its resources on caring for sick and injured marine animals.

For a unique and immersive experience, enroll the kids in the facility’s “Spring into Science” Spring Break Camp. The five-day camp takes the little ones on a hands-on adventure along Clearwater Bay to study the local ecosystem and learn the different techniques the aquarium uses. It’s perfect for the future marine biologists in the family!

Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key is a great base for your visit, with its kid-friendly amenities and proximity to nearby attractions.