Florida's mild climate makes it home to an amazing variety of animals.
Millions of birds stop by on their annual migratory journeys and a similar number stay here year-round.
The state is surrounded by salt water and is home to multitudes of dolphins, a friendly and smart mammal.
Manatees, also known as sea cows, are comfortable in the warmer waters around the state.
They can’t survive in waters below 60 degrees F., so they congregate in various warmer waters around the state in the cold months.
There are countless opportunities in Florida to observe and interact with these creatures especially around Florida’s many springs.
DAY TRIP 1
Manatee Watching at Blue Spring State Park
2100 West French Ave, Orange City, FL 32763.
From mid-November to March, hundreds of manatees crowd into the spring run here to seek protection from the cold weather.
It is an unforgettable sight to witness as many as 500 of these creatures floating in the clear waters of this park.
The park has built a long boardwalk along the spring run so you can easily see the manatees.
This is a popular activity in Central Florida, so don't be surprised if the park is extremely crowded. Sometimes the park is closed when it reaches capacity.
The fee to enter the park is $6/vehicle.
DAY TRIP 2
Crystal River Manatee Swim
American Pro Diving Center, 821 US Highway 19, Crystal River, Florida 34429. Tel: 352-563-0041
Crystal River is a small town 70 miles north of Tampa where the West Indian Manatee like to congregate in the waters that are crystal clear and have a year-round comfortable temperature of 72 degrees F.
Manatees cannot survive in water that is colder than 60 degrees, so this location is perfect for them.
There are numerous businesses in Crystal River that will take you on snorkeling expeditions so you can visit with what is estimated to be as many as 400 of the giant gentle creatures who come here
The best time to visit is November through March when you can swim with the manatees or just observe them from a boat or a dock in Kings Bay.
DAY TRIP 3
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel, Florida 33957. Tel: 239-472-1100
This 5,200 acre refuge is part of the United States National Wildlife Refuge System.
It is located on Sanibel Island and is named for cartoonist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling.
The refuge was established in 1976 to protect one of the country's largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems. The refuge is well known for its migratoryy populations.
You can learn more at the Visitor and Education Center and also explore the Indigo Trail and the Bailey Tract.
DAY TRIP 4
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida 33602. Tel: 813-273-4000
Florida Aquarium is ranked very high by organizations that decide which aquariums are “kid friendly”.
The museum has many innovative ways to tell visitors all about the ecological cycles of Florida’s unique water systems.
nteractive programs such as “Swim With The Fishes” and “Dive With The Sharks”, and other programs let you safely swim with other giant fish and even schmooze with a penguin.
The aquarium also has an outside fun zone with water cannons and other fun things for the kids.
DAY TRIP 5
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548. Tel: 850-243-9046
The mission of Gulfarium is to educate, entertain, and inspire its guests to respect and preserve wildlife by providing unique and memorable experiences that will help people of all ages connect with marine life.
There are a large number of animal encounters here, including those with dolphins, stingrays, gators, reptiles, turtles, penguins, seals, sea lions, and birds.
They even have a feature called Breakfast with the Dolphins. Most of the encounters require an advance reservation.
DAY TRIP 6
Farm Tours of Ocala
801 SW 60th Avenue, Ocala, Florida 32668. Tel: 352-895-9302
You will enjoy a 3-hour 15 minute guided tour of Ocala’s working farms.
Marion County is considered the “Horse Capital of the World”, and on this farm tour, you see one of only four major thoroughbred centers in the world!
Marion County produced American Pharoah, Triple Crown Winner of 2015, and Nyquist, winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, and more.
You will go behind the scenes and can chat with the professionals who train and care for these thoroughbreds.
DAY TRIP 7
1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami, Florida 33132. Tel: 305-400-7000
Jungle Island has been around for more than 75 years in one form or another. It was formerly called Parrot Jungle and located south of Miami.
It was famous for letting birds fly around without cages.
The attraction moved to its current location on downtown’s Watson Island in 2003 and changed its name to Jungle Island in 2007. It is home to more than 2,000 varieties of tropical plants and 1,100 tropical birds.
The birds still fly free.
DAY TRIP 8
9600 Ocean Shore Boulevard, St. Augustine, Florida 32080. Tel: 904-471-1111
Marineland was established in 1938 and has a mission of fostering the preservation of marine life and to use interactive education and onsite research to inspire visitors to value and respect marine mammals and their environment.
This is an attraction where you can touch and feed dolphins, have a birthday party for your kids or friends, and experience a dolphin adventure where you get into the water with the friendly animals.
DAY TRIP 9
Miami Seaquarium, Miami
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, Florida 33149. Tel: 305-361-5705
Miami Seaquarium is a 38-acre attraction that offers many child friendly experiences that the entire family will enjoy.
You can see and interact with dolphins, sea lions, sting rays, sharks, birds, fish and more. There are shows where you can see dolphins and sea lions perform.
You will learn about each mammal’s lifestyle. The focus at Miami Seaquarium is on education and conservation.
This is one of the few places in Florida where you can swim with the dolphins and even have penguin encounters.
DAY TRIP 10
Mill Creek Farm Retirement Home for Horses
20307 NW CR 235A, Alachua, Florida 32626. Tel: 336-462-1001
The owners of Mill Creek Farm wanted to do something to help old horses that were too old to be ridden or used in various businesses and police departments any longer.
They also wanted to help rescued horses that had been abused and saved by the SPCA or other humane societies.
The farm has 200 rolling acres of shaded pasture land for the horses to wander around in wherever they’d like. There are about 100 horses living on the farm at any given time.
You can meet some of them for an admission fee of 2 carrots.
DAY TRIP 11
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Florida 34236. Tel: 941-388-4441
Mote is an independent research institution that originally specialized in the study of sharks, but in recent years their scope has greatly increased.
They study the population dynamics of manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and coral reefs.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy the working aquarium which has a variety of marine animals and fish along with 2 touch tanks and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat, and more than 100 species.
DAY TRIP 12
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
3701 Bayshore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34234. Tel: 941-355-1112
Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a 10-acre tropical site that is home to more than 200 native and exotic animals including birds of prey, parrots, macaws, primates, small mammals, dozens of snakes, lizards, iguanas, alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles.
A favorite of visitors is the population of Florida pink flamingos.
The flamingos are friendly and often greet guests personally and face to face.
One may feed them by hand or just enjoy watching them strutting by.
DAY TRIP 13
Seacrest Wolf Preserve
3449 Bonnett Pond Road, Chipley, Florida 32428. Tel: 850-773-2897
The wolf preserve offers visitors a walking trip into large natural habitats that are home to Gray, Arctic and British Columbian wolves.
Visitors become part of the pack.
This hands-on experience allows them to interact with the wolves and learn important facts about this amazing species.
Saturday Wolf Encounter Tours last approximately 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
A break is taken along the way, and there are places to stop and rest. All tours are by reservation only by calling the wolf preserve.
DAY TRIP 14
Tradewinds Park, 3600 W. Sample Road, Coconut Creek, FL 33073. Tel: 954-977-4400
Butterfly World is located near Fort Lauderdale in Tradewinds Park. It opened in 1988 and has become famous as the largest butterfly park in the world.
The park is home to about 20,000 live butterflies. It also has the world’s largest free flight hummingbird aviary. The site’s museum features mounted exhibits of beetles, scorpions, moths, and other insects.
The Bug Zoo displays live insects including water bugs, spiders, wasps, walking sticks, and mantids.