Water parks, hiking trails, museums and more

A complete guide to summer recreation on land and water

Page 9 of 16

WEEDON ISLAND PRESERVE, 1800 Weedon Drive, St. Petersburg (727-579-8360). A half-dozen surrounding islands complement this 3,164-acre shore preserve. Mangroves, birds and abundant sea life make Weedon most popular with nature watchers, though visitors also enjoy fishing from the preserve's pier, or attending any of the various programs offered by the educational center. For info on guided hikes, call 727-453-6500. Open 7 a.m.-sunset.

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER PARK, 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd., seven miles east of Dade City in Pasco County (352-567-0264). This heavily wooded 260-acre area features picnic shelters, playgrounds, a fishing dock, primitive campsites, a reconstruction of an Indian village, an observation tower and 12 miles' worth of nature trails. Swimming and water recreation are popular, too.

WITHLACOOCHEE STATE FOREST, Forest Headquarters at U.S. 41 and County Road 476 in Hernando County (352-754-6896). The Withlacoochee State Forest incorporates several separate sites surrounding the town of Brooksville. Its greatest features are the dozens of trails — for hiking, nature walks, canoeing, horseback riding and bicycling — widely ranging in length. The forest's Croom district includes camping and recreation sites, one of the nation's finest motorcycle parks (permit required) and a large area for dogs. Informative brochures describing the features of the various districts are available from the forest headquarters.

ATTRACTIONS

ANIMAL KINGDOM, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits, (407-824-4321). This Disney attraction is a hybrid zoo theme park running the gamut from "wild creatures of southern Asia" to gibbons and other exotic animals. Top attractions include the jungle safari, a Jeep-style tour through the bush; and Dinosaur, a virtual encounter with beasts of the past. Open daily; hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $63.60 adults, $54 ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are also available. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

BEACH GAMELAND, This 21st-century family fun center features both traditional and high-tech gaming opportunities. Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. 162 129th Ave. W., John's Pass. 727-398-4494.

BIG CAT RESCUE, 12802 Easy St., Tampa (813-920-4130). This 45-acre facility is the world's largest nonprofit sanctuary for big cats who've been abused, abandoned or are retired from performing. More than 100 lions, leopards, cougars, tigers, lynx, caracals, bobcats, ocelots, servals and others call it home. The 90-minute guided tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sat. (ages 10 and up only); admission is $25 per person. The one-hour Kid's Tour (for children 9 and younger, $15) is offered 9 a.m. Saturdays. Feeding tours, photo tours and night tours available for $50 per person; other tour options also available. bigcatrescue.org.

BUSCH GARDENS, 3000 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa (813-987-5082). This 300-acre African-themed park and zoo boasts more than 2,000 animals, some scattered across a mock Serengeti Plain, some swinging in the trees of the Myombe Reserve. Attractions include a three story tree house playground, Land of the Dragons, roller coasters like Kumba, Montu, Gwazi, and the newest, SheiKra, and plenty of other rides. Edge of Africa features hyenas, giraffes and other jungle creatures, and a variety of guided Jeep tours allow guests to feed, observe and learn about giraffes, ostriches and other animals (for an additional charge). Visitors can also choose from an assortment of shows, restaurants and gift shops. Open daily; hours vary from week to week. Admission is $64.95 adults, $54.95 ages 3-9, and for Florida residents, this includes unlimited admission through the rest of the year (children 2 and younger enter free); parking is $9 (combo Sea World and Aquatica tickets also available). buschgardens.com.

EPCOT CENTER, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-824-4321). In the land where pigs and carrots sing, this renowned Orlando attraction makes learning fun. Be sure to check out Mission: SPACE, a thrilling interactive adventure. Future World features informative displays about technology and science, and Test Track takes visitors on the longest, fastest ride in the Disney Triumvirate, where guests see and feel the Arctic cold and desert heat, then zip along at 65 mph. Hours vary from week to week. Single-day passes are $63.90 for adults, $54 for ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are also available. epcot.com.

FLORIDA BOTANICAL GARDENS, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo (727-582-2100). See what's in bloom at this cute, 182-acre park, which is filled with native Florida plants and exotic tropicals displayed in both natural and formal gardens. The park is also a natural habitat for Florida wildlife and serves as part of Pinewood Cultural Park, its neighbors Heritage Village and Gulf Coast Museum of Art. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Free admission (donations welcome). flbg.org.

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