Where the Wild Things Roam in Miami

Water park at Jungle Island.
Aqua park at Jungle Island in Miami. (Photo courtesy: Jungle Island.)

Ligers, rare Andean condors, gibbons, warthogs, kangaroos, lemurs and leopards roam the concrete jungle of Miami….ok, they actually roam an island right smack in the middle of this urban jungle—Jungle Island. Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, Jungle Island has just debuted an amazing aqua park that’s like a mammoth bounce house on the water. We’ve got the 4-1-1 on the wildlife both on and off the water….

Jungle Island
It’s petting time at Jungle Island in Miami.

Five things not to miss while hanging out at fun-filled Jungle Island:

• During our recent visit to Jungle Island, one of our favorite shows (there are several) was the Winged Wonders, in which guests get an up-close look at the very cool looking 6-ft.-tall cassowary; bob their head down as an Andean condor flies right overhead—think of that wingspan; and marvel at the gorgeous, colorful macaws. It’s definitely a thrill to get to see all sorts of birds fly freely over the audience. Tell families with kids to sit in the front row (they might be picked to “help out” during the show).

Cassowary at Jungle Island
Cassowary at Miami’s Jungle Island during the Winged Wonders show.

• Want to pet a lemur? At the Dr. Wasabit’s African Adventure show, your clients can do just that (and boy are they a playful bunch), or see African penguins hanging out perfectly fine in Miami’s humid-ridden weather (not all penguins, as one finds out in the show, are made for the cold). If porcupines are more what your clients are looking for, this show also brings out an African-crested porcupine. The best part of the show is that it’s interactive so the audience gets to touch these creatures (again, recommend families sit right up front).

Take it slow while roaming through the island. Rather than jumping from show to show, tell clients to meander slowly through the park. Take the time to photograph the lion and listen to its roar; watch the leopards wile away an afternoon; grab a hot dog and sit down to watch the gibbons swing from branch to branch; view kangaroos lazily sunbathing; and watch as sweet orangutans try to blow bubbles (yep, the same ones kids play with).

Lion Jungle Island
Hear the roar of the lion at Jungle Island in Miami.

• The petting zoo is just perfect for kids who want a llama breathing down their neck (they’ll get a kick out of those teeth!), or want to feed the goats, or even see a goat stand atop a tortoise (we kid you not, although we were too late to get the pic!).

Petting Zoo Jungle Island
Petting Zoo at Jungle Island in Miami.

• And, we’ve left the best for last—the new aqua park at Jungle Island. No, it doesn’t have your traditional slides, FlowRiders or the like, and that’s what makes it just perfect for families with kids of all different ages. As we mentioned above, it’s a huge “bounce house”-style obstacle course that’s been placed on the water, so if one falls—think a tame “Wipeout”—it’s ok (and everyone, including adults, are given a life jacket). There are trampolines, slides, an inflatable rock climber, a swing, and more—and if you think your clients’ kids will be the only one getting on this, think again (there were lots of adults on it during our visit). That said, for those adults who’d rather watch from the sidelines, there’s the newly revamped beach area, which offers a great vantage point from which to watch all the action on the aqua park with beach chairs, palm trees, and a private stretch of shoreline. So, when it gets a bit steamy looking at all the “wild” stuff going on in the other part of the “Jungle,” recommend clients pay an extra fee (it’s in addition to the island’s entrance fee) and hit the new aqua park. Rates are $34.95 for adults and $26.95 for kids for park access and then an additional $15 per person for the aqua park. For more information, visit jungleisland.com.

Aqua park Jungle Island
Aqua park at Jungle Island in Miami. (Photo courtesy: Jungle Island.)

What makes Jungle Island unique is that a) it’s small and there’s lots of shade so even when the weather is hot and humid (July, August, and then some), it’s manageable; and b) its location is just perfect, as it’s on the highway that links Miami to Miami Beach, which makes it ideal for families staying in Miami Beach or even Downtown Miami or Brickell; it’s even close to The Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables.

In fact, the grand Biltmore property offers a Family Fun package that includes jr. suite accommodations in oversized rooms; breakfast daily and kids under 12 eat free with an adult meal purchase; daily admission to Biltmore Buddies, the resort’s kids club; mom and dad can enjoy 20 percent savings at Biltmore’s spa and at the signature Donald Ross golf course; nightly turndown of milk & cookies; complimentary roll-away bed upon request; and special discounts to area attractions. Average rates start at $289 (weekday) in August. For more information, visit biltmorehotel.com.

Over on Miami Beach, Loews Miami Beach Hotel is a great place for families with its PBkids SoBe kids camp that features full- and half-day programs everyday, and evening programs on Friday and Saturday nights, with arts & crafts, shell finding, sand castle contests, beach sports, water balloon fun, Wii competitions, a scavenger hunt and more. Average rate per night (weekday) for a Deluxe Double Room is $279 in August. For more information, visit loewshotels.com or loewshotels.com/en/travelagents.