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There's more to Florida than Disney and beaches. In South Florida, you can stare into the jaws of a great white shark, explore the wildlife of an Amazonian rainforest, or tromp around in knee-deep swamps.
Our wet-and-wild tour of Florida begins in Miami, traverses Everglades National Park, and ends with watery fun in Everglades City.
Start your trip with a visit to the Miami Seaquarium, one of Florida's premier attractions. With four live shows and plenty of animal exhibits, this aquatic emporium will put smiles on your kids' faces!
You won't have time to see all the top acts -- Top Deck Dolphin Show, Flipper Dolphin Show, Killer Whale & Dolphin Show, Golden Dome Sea Lions. So be sure to see at least one; the sea lion show is a local favorite.
Next stop: Monkey Jungle, a timeless South Florida attraction "where humans are caged and monkeys run wild!" Visitors tour the zoo from inside cages while monkeys run rampant outside. Kids will especially love the antics at the Orangutans' Asiatic Ape Exhibit, as well as the gorilla jungle and lemurs of Madagascar Island.
When you're done monkeying around, head over to the Miami Museum of Science & Space Transit Planetarium. With regularly changing exhibit schedules, you're sure to find excitement here. Past exhibits have included Sharks! Fact & Fantasy and Kinetosaurs, a fun and interactive prehistoric exhibit that featured life-size, moving dinosaurs.
Contrary to popular belief, the Everglades National Park is not just a big 'ole swamp. This 1.5-million-acre preserve -- the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in America -- is teeming with alligators, lizards, and other swamp creatures.
Canoeing is the best way to see it all, though travelers with small children are better off exploring on foot or by motorboat. Rent boats in the Flamingo area, just south of the main entrance; you'll find easy canoe trails there too: Nine Mile Pond Loop (5.2 miles), Noble Hammock Trail (2 miles), and Hells Bay Trail (3 miles).
If the kids are up for it, take them on a ranger-led swamp tromp. From December to early April, guided canoe tours leave from the rental house in Flamingo Valley. Tours range from half-hour to two hours, depending on ability level.
Although the park is one-third water, it's still hikable. Try the half-mile Bobcat Boardwalk and quarter-mile Otter Cave Hammock Trail in Flamingo, or Tram Road, a 15-mile, flat, paved route for trams, bicycles, and pedestrians in Shark Valley. Keep your eyes peeled for alligators, herons, egrets, deer, and turtles.
End your trip with an airboat ride through the thick swamps of South Florida. You'll get up close and personal with giant alligators, Florida panthers, and some of the country's most poisonous snakes.
A definite hotspot is Wooten's, a one-stop adventure shop in Everglades City. Explore the mysterious Everglades wetlands and swamps, safely and comfortably, on a swamp buggy. The large, automobile-like vehicle easily navigates the thick marshes of the swamps. Or ride above the muck in a motorized airboat that speeds over the wetlands, grasslands, mangrove jungles, lakes, and islands of the Everglades. The airboat tour glides down old Indian canoe trails used during the Seminole wars.
Afterwards, take your WWF fans to an alligator-wrestling match, where humans and gators square off in a unique test of strength and wits. Bring the camera! And don't miss a picture of your little ones holding a baby crocodile. Then, head over to the Animal Sanctuary, where you can see live terrapin and black Florida panthers in their natural habitat.
Type of trip: Sightseeing, hiking, wildlife
Best ages: All ages
Ideal trip length: Minimum 4 days
Distance: Miami (35 miles), Ft. Lauderdale (62 miles), Orlando (267 miles), Tallahassee (515 miles)
Best time to go: Peak season is mid-December through mid-April, though the park is open year-round. Most people visit during the cooler winter season.
Weather: 75/50 degrees in winter, 90/73 in spring and summer, 90/66 in fall. Summer visitors should bring rain gear; afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Lodging: Rates range from $95 to $115, double occupancy at the Flamingo Lodge Marina & Outpost Resort (inside the park). Outside the park, in Miami, Marco Island, and Homestead/Florida City, rates range from $90-$200.
Squirm factor: None
Everglades National Park 40001 State Rd. 9336 Homestead, FL Phone: 305-242-7700
Flamingo Lodge #1 Flamingo Lodge Hwy, Flamingo, FL Phone: 800-600-3813 Note: Reservations recommended
Miami Seaquarium 4400 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami, FL Phone: 305-361-5705
Monkey Jungle 14805 SW 216th St, Miami, FL Phone: 305-235-1611
Miami Museum of Science & Space Transit Planetarium 3280 S. Miami Ave., Miami, FL Phone: 305-646-4200
Wooten's US 41, Tamiami Trail, Ochopee, FL Phone: 800-282-2781
Miami Chamber of Commerce Phone: 305-350-7700
Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce Phone: 305-247-2332
The Oyster House Restaurant Chokoloskee Cswy, Hwy 29 South, Everglades City Phone: 941-695-2073 Note: Feast on an impressive selection of sea critters in a casual setting.
Local foods: Seafood
Best souvenir: Bring the ocean home with you with a conch shell, sold at stores and by street vendors.Annual events:
Traffic alert: Roads are open year round. Summer visitors should expect heavy congestion and delays in the park, and in surrounding gateway cities. Parking during the summer is also difficult.
Wind down your trip with a catamaran tour of nearby Naples. It's a safe, comfortable, and fast way to see this pretty city, while sipping tropical drinks on the sun deck.
Then, stretch out on one of the area's beautiful beaches. The most popular ones include Lowdermilk Park, Naples Beach, Vanderbilt Beach, Delnore-Wiggins Pass, and Clam Pass Park. All are fitted with showers and picnic tables, perfect for a lunch break!
If you decide to go ashore, book a trolley tour of town that takes in the city's historical landmarks, shopping areas, local attractions, beaches, and waterways. You can exit and re-board the trolley as often as you like!Contact: