Nursing a hangover from a cocktail-fuelled night out on the town, Bev Fearis takes her 3-year-old to Miami's top children's attractions. Is she mad?
A hearty breakfast of hashed browns, crispy bacon and delicious corn bread at neighbouring Maxine's repaired a lot of the damage from the previous night's indulgences, but we were still feeling a bit worse for wear when we got in the cab to the Children's Museum. It's about 20-minutes from the Catalina, just after you cross the causeway where all of the cruise ships are docked.
We had learned that the museum had just opened a weebles exhibit (hence our rather odd conversation with the Russian barman the previous night), and we'd been trying to explain to Freddie what a weeble was. He wasn't really getting it, but as it turned out it didn't really matter because the weebles were merely sponsoring the new exhibit, not actually featuring in them. Instead, it was a fun interactive trip around the various States of the US, exploring each one's unique geography and characteristics. It was noisy, colourful and hands-on - all the things that children love but which don't go well with the hangover from hell. Warren and I clutched our bottles of Evian, hardly able to speak, while Freddie was so excited he didn't quite make it to the loo in time - not just once, but twice. The same thing had happened at Disney, so I was prepared for it and had spare spiderman pants in my handbag.
We chased him around the various rooms of the museum, helping him to fish from a sailing boat, drive a fire engine to an emergency, record a song in the music room, and lots more. Unfortunately, some of the exhibits weren't working 100%, but then I guess you're going to get a bit of wear and tear when you've got hundreds of children bashing their way around the museum every day.
Next stop was Jungle Island, just across the road but not very easy to get to when you're travelling by foot. There are lots of developments going on nearby (apparently various other museums are relocating to the same part of town), so we had to navigate our way around highway junctions and construction sites, the hot sun bearing down on us and adding to our dehydration.
But we timed our arrival at Jungle Island perfectly - just in time for the 1.30pm bird show, Winged Wonders. Jungle Island started life as a park devoted purely to tropical birds but has now expanded its collection to lions, tigers, alligators, and other wildlife, some of them very rare. But the shows are the highlight.
Winged Wonders is performed in the 1,200-seater Pepsi Parrot Bowl, and is a mixture of Disney-style entertainment and fascintating educational facts. Pinky the cockatoo rode a high-wire bicycle across the stage while beautiful parrots flew above us, like Red Arrows, bringing gasps from the audience. And that was just the warm-up. We watched as giant vultures swept down from above us and a six-foot tall Cassowary, Mamma Cass, strutted on to the stage, a rare sight indeed with its strange form and its distinctive blue head. Mamma Cass demonstrated her aptitude for jumping several feet into the air for food and the young presenters told us the Cassowary does this in the wild to get fruit down from the trees and can jump up to eight feet high. They told us how a kick from the Cassoway's hind legs can kill a man. In fact, the Cassowary kills more humans in the Australian outback than crocodiles. "I'm glad we didn't sit in the front row," I whispered to Warren.
Later, we watched the high energy show Dr. Wasabi's Wild Adventures. Imagine a live version of Andy's Wild Adventures (it's a show on CBeebies for all those non-parents out there), but presented by Steve Irwin, with Fat Boy Slim providing the sound track. Dr Wasabi, in safari khakis and with a microphone that he didn't really need, brought several unsuspecting animals on to the stage, from a baby alpaca to an alligator snapping turtle, shouting interesting facts to us and occasionally thrusting the poor creatures into the audience and encouraging people to pat them. For the finale, Dr Wasabi came running through the audience waving a lemur around, making its bushy tail brush people's faces while singing along to "I like to move it, move it", which was pumping out over the speakers. It was all totally bizarre but the kids loved it. I took another paracetamol.
Later on, we were standing admiring the bulk of a white lion when we overheard one of the Jungle Island staff talking to a visitor. He was telling her about the park's 'VIP encounters' where thrill-seeking rich folk can pay a few hundred dollars to go inside the tiger cage, or meet the orangutans, or have a face-to-face encounter with the Cassowary. "Personally, I wouldn't go anywhere near the Cassowary," he said. "I just don't trust it." He noticed me earwigging and recognised me as the 'journalist from the UK' and invited us to have a quick 'VIP encounter' with some adolescent monkeys. Of course, we jumped at the chance. We were taken to the animal hospital and told to sit on a table in a small room and not to be too loud or make sudden movements. Then, two capuchin monkeys came leaping out from behind the door and began jumping all over us, wrapping their tails around our necks and sticking their little pink noses in our hair and ears. It was hilarious. Freddie froze with a mix of delight and fear. He giggled, slightly nervously, and so did we. "It won't be long before these little ones are too big and dangerous to allow people to meet them like this," our guide told us. "Oh, and how do you know when it gets to that stage?" I asked, slightly anxiously. "Oh, it can literally happen overnight," he said. "I hope it wasn't last night," I said, as I held Freddie's hand a little more tightly and gave Warren the nod that it was time to make an exit!
Thursday, February 14, 2013