From the sheer elegance and power of the mighty tiger to the dexterity of the nimble tree-swinging monkey to the sleepy eyes and rough scales of a crocodile, the diversity of the animal kingdom is truly amazing. If you and your little creatures are fascinated by wildlife and want a vacation that explores the variety of the natural world, you don’t have to travel all the way to the African plains to find one! All of the wildlife they could possibly imagine can be found in Tampa Bay. This Florida city boasts a world-class zoo, an excellent aquarium and many other great animal attractions – so why not go exploring?
The 56-acre Lowry Park Zoo was voted the “Number One Family Friendly Zoo in the U.S.” by Child Magazine – which means your kids will probably love it. It has a huge collection of local Floridian species, including the American alligator, flamingos, American crocodile, Florida panther, North American river otter and countless others.
There are several opportunities to get up close and personal with the wildlife here, including a chance to feed the stingrays and go on a camel ride. You can also check out the Asian Gardens, where you will find Malayan tigers, komodo dragons, sloth bears and clouded leopards.
The Florida Aquarium is pretty hard to miss, with its architecturally stunning 83-foot-high glass dome. Inside, you will find more than 20,000 different species of aquatic animals and plants from those native to Florida to others from all over the world. This aquarium doesn’t limit your curious youngsters to the “look and don’t touch” policy. In fact, kids 12 and up can participate in shark-feeding programs and little ones ages 6 and up can swim in shallow water with reef fish including grouper and eels. If your teens over the age of 15 are certified divers, they can even go diving with sharks and sea turtles. However if you don’t feel like getting wet, you can walk through the Coral Reef Gallery, which is a walk-through tunnel underneath an enormous 500,000-gallon tank teeming with fascinating sea life.
Busch Gardens Tampa offers you the opportunity to go on an African safari without having to leave the states! Along with a great assortment of adrenalin-inducing rides, they have 29 acres of African wildlife roaming freely through an exotic landscape in the aptly named, Serengeti Plains. In this recreated African habitat, you have a chance to see a white rhinoceros, Grévy’s zebra, impala, ostrich, sacred ibis, reticulated giraffe, addax and a marabou stork.
Check out the Cheetah Run, where you can see these beautiful big cats stretching their legs and running at top speed during many running demonstrations throughout the day. Also, at the Edge of Africa exhibit you can walk through and spot a Nile crocodile, two different prides of lions, two hippos, a pack of spotted hyenas and a mob of meerkats (that’s what a group of meerkats is actually called). Also, don’t miss the treetop observation platforms, where you can watch and even interact with beautiful and rare orangutans.
Speaking of monkey business, you can see a whole range of primates at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary. It became legendary as the final home of Cheetah, the chimp who acted as Tarzan’s sidekick in the 1930s films. The sanctuary is home to many different species from macaques, lemurs and baboons, to spider monkeys and orangutans. There is a reptile area at the sanctuary as well, in case you want to impress your friends and family with a photo of yourself holding a baby alligator.
Just across the way, you can get a real-life viewing of a celebrity. Winter, from the movie Dolphin Tale, is a true inspiration at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium! Though she can’t sign autographs with her flippers, she’s always happy to meet a fan. Kids and adults alike will be amazed to see this inspiring animal swim happily in her prosthetic tail.
These are just a few of the great opportunities for spotting wildlife during your Tampa Bay vacation, so have fun marveling at the wonderful diversity of nature. Combine that with all the other wonderful activities that Tampa has to offer, and your family will have a truly unforgettable adventure.
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