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30 Jan, Monday
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Montreal Families

Family-friendly Miami

Last March, I was trying to figure out where to go on holiday with my husband and 31/2 year old son. I had a set of fairly strict criteria in my mind about what I wanted. Because we would be going for only one week and would be travelling with a toddler, I didn’t want to go where there would be a time change. Plus, I was looking for a direct flight (maximum four hours) to a warm destination with family activities and a beach.  

Then I read a travel piece in the Globe and Mail about Miami, certainly not a place I had ever thought of as family friendly. This South Florida city is more renowned for its hopping night life, high-end shopping and world-famous art deco district. But after reading the article and doing a bit of research, I discovered there is plenty for kids to do in this city and it happened to fit all of my criteria. 

We had left it too late to book a direct flight from Montreal but we were able to fly into Fort Lauderdale, which is only 45 kilometres north of Miami. We stayed in a two-bedroom suite with a fully equipped kitchen at the Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach (20 minute drive north of Miami). This high-end resort has a children’s program for kids ages 5-12 where they learn about marine biology through arts & crafts, experiments and various other hands-on activities.

During our stay in Miami, we visited the Children’s Museum, Jungle Island, Metrozoo and the Seaquarium. But there are many more attractions for families, including an Alligator farm, a Monkey Jungle, Grapeland Water Park, Everglades Safari Park, a Science Museum and more. And, of course, miles and miles of free family fun with an endless stretch of beaches — a sandcastle haven for little ones.

Miami Children’s Museum
After enjoying an afternoon at the beach building sandcastles and running through the waves, we needed a respite from the heat so decided to head over to the indoor, air-conditioned Children’s Museum. Geared specifically to kids under the age of 5, this museum is housed in a two-floor building with 55,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits. My son, Max, was most excited about getting dressed up as a firefighter, pretending to drive a fire truck and having a chance to slide down the pole. He also enjoyed climbing through the two-story sandcastle, cruising on a police motorcycle, and dancing in the world music studio.  family on outdoor golf cart

Jungle Island
Directly across the causeway from the Children’s Museum is another kid-friendly attraction called Jungle Island. This zoo-type park is home to 3,000 exotic animals and 2,000 species of plants. You can discover some of the world’s most fascinating birds, including a very rare Andean condor, a 6-foot tall Cassowary (a large, flightless bird), macaws, singing and talking cockatoos, and many other interesting feathered friends.  There is also a liger — half lion/half tiger, red kangaroos, South African penguins and more.

This park is home to killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, manatees, crocodiles, sharks and more. For parents who are prepared to dish out an extra $130 for adults and $99 per child, the Seaquarium offers a dolphin encounter, where you can actually go into a shallow pool with these intelligent and fun-loving mammals. The program begins with an informative classroom session where you learn all about the dolphins and then you have a chance to touch, feed and play with them. Children age 5 and up can participate in the ‘Dolphin Encounter’ program, which you can learn more about by going to the website and watching a video. Having also been to Sea World in Orlando, in comparison the Miami Seaquarium is quite run down and looks a bit outdated and shabby. But that didn’t bother Max, who spent a lot of time running around Salty’s Pirate Playground, a two-level pirate ship featuring water blasters, cargo nets, punch bags, padded areas and a spiral slide. 

Miami Metrozoo
Rated one of the top 10 zoos in the United States, the Miami Metro Zoo is a vast park with more than 1,300 animals in a cage-less setting. My son was more intrigued by the monorail train that takes you around the zoo than any of the beautiful or exotic animals roaming the grounds. I thought the monorail would give us a great view of the animals from above but the slow-moving tram is really just for getting families from one area of the zoo to another. The newest addition to the Metrozoo family is Amazon and Beyond; an area with 600 animals, including six-foot otters, an anaconda snake, jaguars and more. I highly recommend renting one of the quadricycle (a four-person canopy-covered bike) to get around as the 740-acre park is so vast that even the most fit adults and keen children will find it very tiring (especially on a hot day).

Getting to Miami
American Airlines flies direct to Miami. Several airlines fly direct to Fort Lauderdale, which is only a short drive to Miami (45 kilometres).

Visitor information
Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.This is the official tourist information centre.

There are a variety of accommodations to suit every taste and budget.
Call (888) 766-4264 to order a vacation planner or go to wwww.MiamiandBeaches.com.

Acqualina Resort & Spa
17875 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach
(888) 804-4338


Miami Children’s Museum
980 MacArthur Causeway
(305) 373-5437

Jungle Island
1111 Parrot Jungle Trail
(305) 400-7000

Miami Seaquarium
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway
(305) 361-5705

Miami Metrozoo
12400 SW 152 St.
(305) 251-0400

Save money
If you plan to visit many attractions during your trip to Miami, the Go Miami Card is a good way to save some money. The card gives you access to more than 30 of Miami’s most popular attractions, tours, museums and local cruises. These include Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, Children’s Museum, Metrozoo and more. You can purchase a card that lasts between one and seven days. The card is activated after you visit your first attraction and can be used for up to two weeks. Call (866) 637-8817 or go to www.GoMiamiCard.com

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