When it’s time to go wild, be sure to visit Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. One of the largest accredited sanctuaries for exotic cats in the world, this is home to about 100 lions, tigers, bobcats and cougars that have been rescued and are now cared for by loving staff and volunteers. Another place to enjoy close encounters with animals is Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, five-time winner of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence. Spend a day observing animals from Africa, Australia, Asia and beyond, learn about their habitats and how to protect them, and you’ll easily see why it’s rated so highly.
Discover all of the wonders that lie beneath the water’s surface at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Meet penguins, dive with sharks (SCUBA-certified only), swim with fish (for ages six and older) or sharks (for ages nine and older), or cruise out onto the waters of Tampa Bay to watch for dolphins.
In its 46th year, the largest non-profit wild bird sanctuary in the US—the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores (located between St. Petersburg and Clearwater)—has been dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and (hopeful) release of sick, injured and orphaned birds.
North of Indian Shores, Winter, the star of Dolphin Tate, makes her home at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and is always happy to greet her fans. Plenty of other marine life live alongside Winter: stop and say hello to her friends, Hope and Nicholas, and the resident sea turtles, otters, stingrays, sharks, pelicans and clown fish. You can get out on the water here, too, on board the aquarium’s go-minute Sea Life Safari.
Take another look beneath the water and you’ll find mermaids in the crystal-clear waters at Weeki Wachee Springs.
More amusement is found winding down the Weeki Wachee River on a Bayport River Safari; cooling off in the new indoor ice rink at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel; creating art at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa; indoor skydiving at the new iFly in Brandon; and walking among life-size dinosaurs at Dinosaur World in Plant City, not to mention the thrilling rides at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.