Whether you want to swim with Florida “mermaids” or hand feed sharks, there’s an OPAL destination for your inner Jack Hanna.
Kayak with Manatees [North Palm Beach, FL]
The beloved “sea cows” of Florida can be found in warm waters near natural springs and shallow mangroves, so the best way to get up and personal is by cruising in a kayak along a mangrove-laden estuary. (Speedboats and other motorized watercrafts pose a threat and are why you’ll often see scars on the tails of manatee.) Jupiter Outdoor Center gets groups safely up close to learn why these creatures choose Florida’s warm waters, how they were mistaken for mermaids by drunken sailors, and why these herbivores have no real predators.
Riding with Alligators [Naples, FL]
Experienced airboat tour guide Billy Corey owns 200-acres of preserved Everglade land open to exploring rare birds and exotic tropical flora by way of airboat. Here, you’ll get face-to-face time with alligators, stopping to see them along waterways and marshland. Then, hold a baby alligator (with supervised assistance, of course) for a Kodak moment.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Hotel
Tiger Training [Sarasota, FL]
Southern Florida might be the last place you’d expect to see a Bengal tiger, yet, at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, you can watch them during training sessions and attend evening feedings. This rescue center fosters cougars, bears, tigers, lions, lemurs, and even a tortoise or two – all with a different backstory. Take a guided tour to learn how some avoided becoming fur coats, how they each have their own personalities, and little known facts about each breed.
Where to Stay Lido Beach Resort
Shark Feeding [Clearwater, FL]
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is best known for Winter, its resident dolphin and silver screen star, but there’s another up-close encounter to be had. Guests learn how staff preps meals for the aquarium’s two nurse sharks, Thelma and Louise, then help guide sharks into an adjoining private feeding tank. It’s hand-on, so guests will have the chance to feel the shark’s rough skin, look right into their eyes, and even be the one to feed the pair their lunch.
Where to Stay Sandpearl Resort