Water parks, hiking trails, museums and more

A complete guide to summer recreation on land and water

Page 10 of 16

GATORLAND, I-4 East to exit 62, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando (800-393-JAWS). Established in 1949, this place claims to be the alligator capital of the world, and hey, who wants to argue? Step through the gaping gator mouth entrance, take the swamp walk and watch gators lounge, stroll down a wooden boardwalk through a canopy of trees and enjoy a view of the 110-acre natural habitat from a 3-story observation tower, or check out the park from the safety of the Iron Horse train. There's a petting zoo (sorry, no gators), reptilian shows, an aviary, educational programs, and Lilly's Pad, a water fountain park for kids. After working up an appetite, sample smoked gator ribs and deep-fried gator nuggets at Pearl's Smokehouse. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission is $22.99 adults, $14.99 ages 3-12. gatorland.com.

HISTORIC SPANISH POINT, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941-966-5214). An environmental, archaeological and historic site featuring a prehistoric Indian mound, pioneer homestead buildings, trails, boardwalks, a butterfly garden and gardens from the estate of Mrs. Potter Palmer. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 for adults ($8 Florida residents and seniors), $3 ages 6-12; children 5 and younger enter for free. historicspanishpoint.org.

ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE, Universal Studios grounds, 1000 Universal Studios Plaza (East I-4 to exit 75A), Orlando (407-363-8000). This mega-theme park dazzles visitors of all ages and tastes with five distinct islands in which to indulge. Visit Seuss Land, which is based on the popular children's books, or check out Marvel Superhero Island. Jurassic Park lets you ride the Dueling Dragons inverted roller coaster with two trains speeding, at times, 12 inches apart. The Triceratops Encounter is a peek at virtual 'saurs — including a 24-foot Triceratops that feels, acts, smells and even defecates like the real prehistoric pets. Hours vary from week to week. Admission is $69.99 adults, $58.99 ages 3-9; children 2 and younger enter for free. universalorlando.com.

ELLENTON ICE AND SPORTS COMPLEX, 5309 29th St. E., Ellenton (941-723-3663). The 115,000-square-foot site features two NHL-sized rinks for public and inline ice skating, youth and high school ice hockey league opportunities, video games and a fitness center. Hours and prices vary. ellentonice.com.

TAMPA'S LOWRY PARK ZOO, 1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa (813-935-8552). Recognized today as one of the top three midsize zoos in the country, Lowry Park Zoo currently features 41 acres of lush, natural habitats. Natural outdoor exhibits of more than 2,000 animals from Florida and similar locales include a Florida wildlife center, manatee hospital, Asian Gardens, Primate World, free-flight aviaries, an Australian-themed children's zoo, and Safari Africa. The park also encompasses rides, shows and hands-on interactive exhibits. Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $18.95 general, $17.95 seniors, $14.50 ages 3-11, and free to children 2 and younger. lowryparkzoo.com.

MAGIC KINGDOM, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-934-7639). Visit your old pals Mickey and Minnie and enter the hub of Florida tourism. Get sick on the spinning Mad Tea Party ride, laugh at the Pirates of the Caribbean's animatronic mateys, watch the kiddies ride around in circles on Dumbo and pilot your own star cruiser in the interactive Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $63.90 adults, $54 ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are available as well. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941-366-5731). The lovely waterfront gardens boast a living (6,000-plus) orchid collection and more than 20,000 plants spread generously over the 9.5-acre property. Other features include distinctive areas like the Bamboo Pavilion and Banyan Grove, a koi pond, the Christy Payne Mansion (a historic home that holds rotating botanical art and photography exhibits), an indoor rainforest, a butterfly garden and a dart frog collection. This is a great place for plant and outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, out-of-town guests and anyone seeking solace from the daily grind. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12 adults, $6 ages 6-11 (free for members and children 5 and younger). selby.org.

MGM STUDIOS, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-824-4321). If you love movies but hate L.A. (and who doesn't?), this park offers a behind-the-scenes look into the film industry. Battle with the evil Empire in Star Tours, a simulated ride inspired by the Star Wars movies; delight in rock star treatment via MGM's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster; catch the popular Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular; take the Backstage Studio Tour; and much more. Hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $64.30 for adults, $54 for ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are available as well. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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