by Paul Ruben
It’s rare that I travel any further south in Florida than Walt Disney World. But the World Waterpark Association’s 33rd Annual Symposium and Trade Show brought me to West Palm Beach last fall. While in South Florida I discovered three new things.
First of all, I discovered Cuban food. Where has this been all my life? [Probably better in Florida than Cuba – Ed] Found a little Cuban restaurant not far from the trade show and had a meal to die for! As my friend and former Texas coaster builder John Pierce once said: “Them’s good eatin’.”
Second, I went air boating for the first time ever. And not just any air boat, but I took the original airboat tour of the Everglades, Coopertown Air Boat Rides. It’s located just west of Miami. With a guide manning the giant fan that powers the boat, we skimmed into the vast open saw grass that fills this huge marsh, past a small island called a hardwood hammock, stopped at alligator holes where the creatures floated right past our boat, and saw a variety of birds and other wildlife. The eight-mile boat ride was more educational than thrilling, but I gained an appreciation for the unique and fragile eco-system that is the Everglades.
Third, suffering severe theme park depravation, I headed to Jungle Island. Imagine stepping into a lush tropical jungle just minutes from the heart of Downtown Miami. It seems almost seems too good to be true until you walk through the front gates and are transported into an oasis full of extraordinary animals from around the globe. Jungle Island is a contemporary theme park, featuring extremely rare twin orangutans, the world’s largest cat, the liger (half lion, half tiger) and over 300 vibrant birds, including the world’s only trained Cassowary.
Until 2007, the park had been known as Parrot Jungle. This is Florida’s home for planned parrothood. For me, the highlight of the visit was to get very close to not one, but four parrots. Maybe too close, as you can see here. They were very friendly. I continued down the path past a variety of parrots, then came to one with a red string tied to its left leg and a green string tied to its right leg. I asked an attendant the significance of the strings. She explained it was a highly trained parrot. If you pull the red string he speaks French; if you pull the green string he speaks German. So I asked what happens if I pull both the strings. The bird screeched: “Je tombe de mon perchoir, Dummkopf!”
Although there are no amusement rides, there are alligators. Not as many as on the airboat ride, but alligators nevertheless. Everywhere in Florida there are alligators. But Jungle Island is more than just an animal attraction. With its unusual flora and fauna, it has created a jungle in an urban setting. As you walk through this jungle, you encounter the variety of animals. My favourite animals, as you may have guessed, were the parrots, which you could touch and feed. Which reminds me, do you know what’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot. [You’re fired! Ed]