The Karen Files

Tag: florida adventures

Safari Wilderness

In February, George and I were offered the opportunity to go to Safari Wilderness, a sister company to the Giraffe Ranch. They were impressed with the blog post and video I had created for the Giraffe Ranch and asked if I would be interested in doing one for them as well.*  Aside from being incredibly flattered, I was thrilled at the chance to try something new!

I did recall later that I had visited Safari Wilderness once before, several years ago when my sister, her husband, and their two young daughters were in Florida for a wedding. I didn’t do a blog post for that trip which may be why I didn’t realize initially that it was the same place, but I did create a video of that trip for my sister which I will share along with two new videos at the end of this post.

And now… let’s go on safari!

Entrance to wilderness safari

First, I want to give you a little background. Safari Wilderness is located in the middle of a protected preserve known as the “Green Swamp” in Lakeland, Florida. It is surrounded by cattle farms, giving you that “middle of nowhere” feeling as you are driving to it.

View of wilderness safari grounds

The day we chose for our adventure couldn’t have been more perfect! It was neither too hot nor too cold and the clouds were huge and puffy, which helped to keep the sun from getting too intense and made for some dramatically beautiful pictures.

Behind the scenes wilderness safari

Have you ever known pictures of farm equipment to look this magnificent?

When compared to the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness is quite a bit larger with more animals and more room for them to roam. The pricing for each site is about the same, with each having the same basic adventure options like the vehicle tour or the camel tour. They do each have their own unique adventure options not available with the other – for Safari Wilderness, the one that most appealed to George and I was the kayak adventure, which gives you the opportunity to observe the wildlife and many bird species from the water. You also get to make a stop at “Lemur Island” to hand-feed grapes to the lemurs that reside there.

If you don’t want to spring for the kayak trip but really want to feed the lemurs, never fear! Just like the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness has optional add-ons available, and feeding the lemurs is one of them. I can’t speak highly enough about my experiences with feeding the lemurs, both at the Giraffe Ranch and Safari Wilderness. It is definitely worth spending the extra money on.

Lemur from above

As of now, I’ve fed these fuzzy little primates five separate times, and it has still not gotten old. I don’t even think it’s possible to get tired of feeling their soft little hands gently gripping your fingers as they semi-patiently wait for you to give in to adorableness and hand them another treat.

Lemur holding my hand

I could talk about lemurs forever but because there is so much more I need to get to, I must move on! As a family-owned working ranch, Safari Wilderness has free-range chicken and they bale their own hay, raise cattle for beef, and even breed, raise, and sell guinea pigs as pets. They keep their tours limited to twice a day and purposefully keep them small to ensure their animals don’t become overly stressed.

Beautiful rooster

For this trip we took the traditional vehicle tour, which made it easier to compare and contrast the differences of the two sister ranches. Our vehicle was a converted open air bus with comfortable padded seats, which we shared with a group of about 10 other safari-goers. The bus did have a canopy cover for shade – believe me, that is a valuable feature for dealing with the strong Florida sun!

Safari jeep with no one on it yet

As far as mosquitoes go… well, we were in the wetlands. Mosquitoes are pretty much a given. If you are very sensitive to mosquito bites I’d recommend putting on bug spray before you go on the tour (but please, not while on the bus if you want to be respectful to those around you who may be sensitive to sprays). I didn’t think to bring bug spray, and while I did see mosquitoes and I’m certain I was bitten, I didn’t react to the bites as I normally do. Usually if I’m bitten my skin develops itchy red welts that last for hours, but this did not happen here. Perhaps the mosquitoes here were a different species that I am not sensitive to, or maybe I was so enthralled with the beauty of everything I saw outside of the vehicle that I just didn’t notice the itch.

Branch on ground with water and blue cloudy skies

Our driver and guide to the safari was a woman named JJ, who was absolutely wonderful.  She was incredibly knowledgeable with a great sense of humor, and her chemistry with the animals was endearing and even comical at times. It was her interactions with the animals that really added a lot to the charm of the tour. She entertained us with stories of her days working in the circus (including Ringling Bros., which, while now closed, still has an awesome museum in Sarasota that I recently blogged about!). She also gave us interesting insights into the animals we “met” and happily answered any questions we had.

Some of the first animals we saw were the water bucks – named not because they spend a lot of time in the water, but because they use water to defend themselves against threats – they are capable of running through the water much quicker than their natural predators. To help us identify them, JJ pointed out a couple of their defining features:

  1. They have adorable heart-shaped noses.

A female waterbuck sitting in shade looking at us

  1.  On the aptly named “ellipsen” water bucks, they have white ellipse-shaped marks on their rear ends, which JJ artfully described as looking like “they just sat on a wet toilet seat”.

Ellipsen waterbuck eating

One frequent visitor to the bus were animals known as the “nilgai” which means “blue bull” or “blue cow”, named because the males turn a beautiful bluish gray color as he matures.

A male nilgai bluish gray in color

The nilgai were one of the animals we were asked not to feed from the bus, due to their tendency to become a nuisance to tours when they get used to being fed by visitors. However, JJ assured us that each of the animals on the ranch is fed, and fed well. They are given grain and hay each day, and have mineral licks in various spots throughout the grounds.

Nilgai looking for a handout

Of course, that didn’t stop them from begging to be the exception to the “don’t feed the nilgai” rule!

Nilgai looking up at camera

Another persistent visitor to the bus were the llamas, which were one of the animals we were permitted to feed. They hammed it up and did their best to look as cute as possible to compete with each other for the treats. But, really, how could you possibly choose between these adorable faces? I fed them all!

Llamas looking adorable

llama looking up at is with smiling teeth

“Perhaps you will give me another treat if I bat these gorgeous eyelashes a few more times!”

Llama with open mouth waiting for a treat, nilgai looking on in background

The ostriches were another animal that we couldn’t feed off the bus but, much to the delight of everyone on the tour, followed us around anyway, attempting to trick JJ into giving them snacks.

Wilderness Safari tour guide disciplining ostrich for stealing food

“You know very well that you don’t get fed off the bus! Don’t you give me that look!”

Did you know? The male and female ostriches have very different coloring, but unlike with most birds, the feather coloring differences are not to attract mates. Instead, the coloring assists ostrich parents with protecting their young – the dark coloring of the males is perfectly suited to keeping eggs hidden from predators at night, while the light coloring of the females is better for blending in during the day. For attracting mates, male ostriches develop a bright reddish-orange coloring on his beak and legs, which he shows off with some clever birdie dance moves to drive the ladies wild!

Male osterich with red legs

While in ostrich territory, JJ pointed out an ostrich egg and described just how strong they are – a human could stand on one and it would not break. During this conversation, a memory stirred about an experience I had in high school…

After learning a new trick where you could surround a chicken egg with your hand and squeeze as hard as you could and it wouldn’t break, high school Karen decided to share this new knowledge with her friend. Her class had just completed the assignment of carrying around hard-boiled egg “babies” for a week, making it the perfect opportunity for high school Karen to impress her friend with the “eggs-periment” The friend in question refused to believe that it was true, so high school Karen challenged her to try it for herself.  With only a bit of hesitation, the friend began to squeeze the egg, becoming more and more amazed as she increased the pressure. Just as the words “Wow, you were right!” were escaping her lips, the egg broke in her hand, spilling egg guts everywhere. The shocked look on her face had high school Karen in hysterics, and she to this day has no idea why the trick didn’t work that time. Was the egg weakened from being carried around for so long? Or perhaps it had a micro crack on it’s shell? The world may never know.

Back to the ostriches! One persistent myth about ostriches is that they bury their heads in the sand to hide from predators. This is actually not true; in reality, they will run quickly in a zigzag shape while throwing their wings around to scare off the threat. They are also pretty tough when they have to be – they’ve even been known to take out lions when challenged or when protecting their young!

A male ostrich looking serious

Of course, as the owner of a very tough little cockatiel, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Would you mess with either of these birds?

Ostrich vs cockatiel

The definite highlight of the tour was feeding the water buffalo. These gentle giant beasts delighted everyone on the tour with their large soulful eyes and their long skinny tongues which they used to take the food from our fingers.

Water buffalo sticking tongue out

They continued to circle the bus and accepted food from anyone who offered it until we had no more to give.

Water buffalo with open mouth

Water buffalo with eyes closed and mouth open

The zebras were another memorable part of the tour. Though we couldn’t feed them, they cleverly devised a scheme to get some treats their own way. Let me explain – Safari Wilderness has different sections throughout their grounds which are separated by large gates. These gates require that the guide get out of the bus to open the gate, then get back into the bus to drive through, and finally back out of the bus to close the gate behind us. In what appeared to be a group undertaking, JJ was shooing a couple of the zebra away from the gate so they wouldn’t try coming through. While she was distracted with closing the gate,  a third zebra managed to sneak up to the bus and help himself to the bucket of food, purposefully knocking it over so the pellets would spill to the ground for all three zebras to enjoy.

Zebra stealing food from jeep

Three zebra eating food

JJ took it in stride, saying that they let the zebras get away with it because it beats the alternative of them trying to run through the gates!

Now, while we’re on the subject of zebras – let’s talk about zedonks! Just like with the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness also had a resident zedonk (part zebra, part donkey). Because zedonks tend to be very protective of their herd and will make a big racket if they sense a threat, Safari Wilderness decided to give their zedonk the important job of being part of the “border patrol early warning system”, – meaning its main home is inside the double fence section that circles the property.  Don’t feel bad for the border patrol animals though, the fence circles all 265 acres of their property so they have plenty of room to roam!

A Zedonk behind a fence

Next up – the forest buffalo! They are kept fenced apart from the travel areas because they have a tendency to get aggressive when stressed out, and vehicles driving around them multiple times a day would be quite distressing.  Forest buffalo are red in color, which might seem counter-intuitive for a prey animal that lives in the (green) forest, but because their main predators are big cats (such as leopards) which can not distinguish between red and green, they have no problems blending in with the trees.

Forest buffalo in trees

The wildebeest, also known as the “blue gnu”, are funny looking creatures which JJ aptly described as looking “like they were thrown together out of spare parts”.

Two blue gnu or wildebeest behind fence

If these guys look familiar to you but you can’t quite place them, you may be thinking of an old viral YouTube video showing what happens in a standoff between wildebeest and crocodile. Or, if not that, you might be remembering a National Geographic episode showing these animals during their “great migration” in Africa – and “great” it certainly is! Wildebeest travel in groups so large (think millions), that they can be seen from outer space.

Throughout the tour we found ourselves in the company of various species of cattle, many of whom would walk up to the bus while licking their lips, hoping beyond hope for a special treat.

Cows licking lips

Cow at jeep door hoping for handout

These big-horn beauties are called “angola” or “watusi” cattle. Can you imagine having to have such large growths coming out of your head? It doesn’t seem to bother them though!

Long horned angola or watusi cattle

Now for a guessing game! Can you tell me what kind of farm animal this fella is?

sheep that looks like a goat

If you said goat, NOPE! It’s actually a sheep. Sheep can sometimes look quite a bit like goats, but JJ told us a little trick on how to tell them apart: goats have tails that are usually pointing up, and “goat” ends with a “t” – the tail on the letter is up. Sheep usually have tails that are pointing down, and “sheep” ends with a “p” – the tail on the letter is down. Burn that to your memory, because you never know when it might come in handy!

And now (hooray!) it’s time to talk about lemurs again. During the tour we drove past Lemur Island, though we couldn’t get up close and personal with them in our land-based vehicle. We did, however, get to see the delightfully entertaining spectacle of them playing together!

Lemurs having fun playing

You might be wondering, “how do they get the lemurs to stay on the island? Can’t they swim?” Actually, they can’t. They are in a class of primate called “simian”, and apparently, simians can only swim if taught. So if just one lemur made it to the island who had a knowledge of swimming, he’d quickly teach everyone else and Safari Wilderness would have quite a messy situation on their hands!

Three interesting lemur facts:

    1. All ring-tailed lemurs have 13 rings from the day they are born (so unlike with tree rings, you don’t count them to see how old the lemur is).
    2. The only place that you would find lemurs in the wild is on the island of Madagascar (yes, it’s a real place, not just a cartoon!).
    3. Lemurs have a matriarchal society – which means it’s the FEMALES that run the show!

Post Tour:

After the vehicle portion of the tour had ended, those who had chosen to participate in one of the optional add-ons split off from the rest of the group. Besides the lemur feeding (which I already talked about), George and I had two other extras – hand feeding the guinea pig colony and feeding the petting zoo. For the guinea pig feeding, I had pictured in my mind that it would be us sitting in the middle of the colony and feeding them as the swarmed around us. But alas, that is not how it went down. We stayed on the outside of the pen and fed them from there. It was fun to watch them run around and listen to them squeak, but I think this option might be more interesting to the kids. I remember that when my nieces had been here many years ago that they were fascinated by the guinea pigs – even more fascinated by them than the baby cow that happened to be wandering around.

swarm of guinea pigs

The one major difference from the first time I went with my sisters family that I do remember – the guinea pigs were inside previously, but now have moved to the outside. They do have protective netting over the outdoor pen and a little “cave” where they can all hide from extreme weather…

or nosy cats.

cat snooping around guinea pig pen

Did you know? There are some countries that actually consider guinea pig meat a delicacy! You can easily find videos of people trying this “delicacy” for the first time on YouTube. However, we were assured that these “pet” guinea pigs were not the same breed that are normally eaten – the “food-grade” guinea pigs are a bit bigger. Of course, I couldn’t help asking what barbecued guinea pig might taste like… the answer? “Probably chicken.”

Next up, feeding the petting zoo! Once again it was not quite what I expected… While we did enjoy feeding the goats and the pigs, the “petting” part of the description was a bit misleading. The animals were behind a wooden and wire fence that was fairly high, so the animals were partially hidden, and there wasn’t much petting going on. It is an inexpensive option though, at only $5 a person, so it would probably be a fun thing for the kids to do!

Feeding goats

After we returned from our petting zoo feeding, everyone from the tour was given the opportunity to feed the camels, regardless of if they purchased tickets for the petting zoo.

Camel with mouth open looking like he is singing

Three fun facts about camels!

  1. Unlike llamas, camels actually don’t spit, despite what you may have heard from certain cartoon genies. Instead, if you make a camels angry, they just might vomit on you.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, the humps on the camel do not contain water – they are actually fat reserves, which can be used as a food or a water source when needed.
  3. Remember the 40/40/40 rule for camels: they can live to be 40-50 years old, they can drink 40 gallons of water in one sitting, and they can run up to 40 mph.

Two camels with beautiful sky

One more extra that is definitely worth a mention is feeding the budgies. We didn’t do it this time, but I’ve done it in other places before and I have loved it! I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid of birds flying closely to them… and even if you are a bit nervous about the idea, I say give it a shot, at least for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These little guys are pretty small (with tiny little poops if that has you worried) but they are oh so cute! It is so cool when they fly over to you and land on your hand or arm and nibble on the treat stick provided. I actually grew up with pet budgies as a kid, at one point we had a total of 10 (we started out with just two, but decided to put in a nest box to see what would happen…  you can figure out the rest!) I have fond memories of them having races with each other, flying from the kitchen to the living room, landing on the lamps, and then flying back again.

Parakeets or budgies

This is about the point where we fed the lemurs, but I already spoke about that at the beginning of the post so I don’t want to repeat myself… but I will mention that I took video of the feeding with my GoPro on a chest strap, and I thought the video turned out really fantastic! I’ll share the link to that at the bottom of this post.

But before we get to videos, let’s finish out the tour with the walking portion! After the extra add-ons were completed, JJ walked us around the immediate area to look at the pigs, turtles, porcupines, and other animals they kept up in front.

Piglets with their mom

We chatted with the porcupine for a short while (who was, by the way, very disappointed that JJ forgot to bring him some grapes). Those teeth almost make him look like a cross between a porcupine and a beaver.

Porcupine with paws on fence

Did you know? Porcupine quills are actually just hardened hair, which they can’t shoot out at predators. In reality, if a porcupine feels threatened he would stand up and shake his quills which creates a rattling noise that would hopefully scare off the intruder. If that doesn’t work, they turn, backing into the threat. This is how the quills break off and get stuck in other animals.

We saw a few more lemurs, including this beautiful chocolate lemur. His eyes were almost hypnotic!

Chocolate lemur

“Look into my eyes. You will bring me grapes, and hundreds of them. And you will do it now.”

At the very end of the tour, JJ brought out a ferret, giving anyone who desired a chance to hold him and stroke his belly. It was then I learned that apparently in some states, ferrets are illegal as pets, and even the states that allow them as pets require that they all be fixed.

Ferret getting belly scratched

And at last, that is the end of our Safari Wilderness adventure! George and I took our time looking around the gift shop and taking pictures outside before heading home, so ours was the last car left in the parking lot (leading to a very picture-worthy scene).

Empty parking lot at end of safari

Now – when comparing my experience at the Giraffe Ranch vs. my experience at Safari Wilderness, I honestly can’t choose one over the other. They each had their own unique differences that were fun to experience. The Giraffe Ranch had the feeding of the giraffes and the optional add-on of feeding and bathing the rhino, both of which were really awesome experiences. However, Safari Wilderness was larger, had more animals and a beautiful landscape. They also had the feeding of water buffalo, and let’s not forget how amazing our tour guide was! The pricing between Giraffe Ranch and Safari Wilderness are about the same, but Safari Wilderness had the inexpensive add-on options of feeding the guinea pigs, feeding the budgies, and feeding the “petting zoo”, at only $5 for each of these. From what I recall, the cheapest add-on option at the Giraffe Ranch was the lemur feeding at $25 (which is the same price at both places but I still say that price is always worth it!)

OK, now let’s get to the videos! There are a total of three this time: two from this trip (the lemur feeding portion seemed like it deserved its very own video) and the third is the video from when my nieces were in town. It’s nice to compare the experience with kids vs. without – because each experience really is completely different. It’s great to see children experience animals like this up close for the first time, and to see the joy and wonder in their eyes, but it’s also nice to experience it sans kids, interacting with the animals without worrying about whether your child is having fun!

Video 1: Recent Tour – No Kids!

Video 2: Recent Tour – Lemurs!

Video 3: Previous Tour – With Kids!


*Full disclosure – Safari Wilderness let us experience this adventure for free, but I don’t believe the people we interacted with were aware of that fact; this meant we had the same experience any paying customer would have. I did, however, pay for the adventure when I went with my sister and her family.

Ringling Circus Museum

I can only recall visiting the circus once as a child. Because I was at the big top as just a wee tot, my memory of the show itself is hazy, but I have a clear vision of a crowded arena and of being captivated by the glow of hundreds of light-up novelty toys glowing in the dark – like fireflies on a warm summer night.

artistic rendering of my memory of the lights in the circus patron crowd

For many reasons (which I will not get into on this post), the circus has fallen out of favor in recent times. This ultimately lead to one of the most recognizable shows – the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – shutting its doors forever in 2017. The day may soon come where there are no circuses left to entertain the masses, but with any luck, the nostalgia will still remain.

What is all this circus talk is leading up to? Will this be a post about a trip to a circus?  The answer to that is yes… and no. We didn’t go to a circus per se, but we did go to the next best thing. A circus MUSEUM!

The Ringling Museum is yet another Florida gem that, until recently, I had no idea existed. It’s located in Sarasota on a huge plot of land which previously belonged to the late John Ringling and his wife Mable. It was also used as the winter quarters for the circus in the early years of the Ringling Brothers. If you’re interested, this map shows a layout of how the space was used, and also gives you a pretty good picture of the massive size of the property.

For $25 (adult pricing) you get access to the original Circus Museum, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and 66 acres of surrounding property including Mable Ringling’s beautiful rose garden and a number of other gardens and landscapes located around the estate. Because we were short on time and the museum property closed at 5, we declined to purchase the optional guided/self-guided tour of the the mansion (named “Ca’ d’Zan”) where John and Mable had lived.

Expert tip – if you decide to visit, make sure you get there early. The hours are 10-5, but there is so much to see! There are also multi-day packages available if you don’t want to squeeze everything into a single day.

Our first stop was to the original circus museum. We walked past the heavy curtains which separate the museum from the rest of the world, pausing to let our eyes adjust to the dim lighting. It’s strange… I know that we were in a public place and that there were plenty of other people in the room having their own museum experiences, but when I think back my impression is that it was only George and I, exploring the exhibits alone.

Paintings of sideshow artists at ringling circus museum

You are greeted by painted representations of the “freak show” artists as you enter.

After you get your bearings, one of the first features you might notice is a large pea-green section of train. This is “The Wisconsin”, a luxury private rail car once owned by the Ringlings.  John and Mable had sold the car many years ago, but it was recently re-acquired and restored by the Ringling estate. It’s now one of the major attractions of the museum. While you can’t get on board to explore the inside, you can peek through each of the windows to see the multiple bedrooms, staterooms, kitchen and dining areas and, of course, bathrooms  – all of which have exactly as much glamor and showiness you might expect from the wealthy of nearly 100 years ago.

Ringling Museum Train

The Wisconsin in all her majesty

Looking down the hallway in John and Mable Ringlings Private Train Cars

Looking down the hallway from the back of the Wisconsin

Bedroom on the train

John Ringling’s private room

Steps away from the Wisconsin sat a cannon-equipped car, once used to shoot brave (or foolhardy) performers into the sky.

bruno zacchini's super repeating cannon

Why yes, that is a cannon on my car… but I’m also happy to see you!

Important side note – they frown on people trying to climb into the cannon to see if it still works – so don’t try it, no matter how tempting it is.

As you continue to walk deeper into the museum, you can see much more circus equipment, performing props, and parade wagons – the latter of these immediately made me think of those little boxes of animal crackers I ate as a child. Do they still make those?

Animal crackers (life-sized)

In one of the eerier sections of the museum, there are life-sized outlines of behind-the-scene circus folk performing their everyday duties. The shadows cast by the cleverly placed spotlights created an ambience that left me feeling as if I had wandered into a two-dimensional circus of ghosts.

Spooky circus

Spooky circus 2

Another side note – there is an excellent half hour movie shown in the museum about the early life and beginnings of the Ringling circus, and specifically John and Mable Ringling. I highly recommend that you leave yourself time to see it.

Lights from circus show (turned off)

“Perhaps we can frighten away the ghosts of so many years ago with a little ILLUMINATION!”

Tall man on stilts

Who’s taller now, hmmm?

As strange and wonderful as I came to expect this museum to be, there were still some exhibits that left me scratching my head wondering, “What in the world?” One example – there was a bird cage with an old shoe in it. The description said only that it belonged to Lou Jacobs and it was used in the “Greatest Show On Earth”. Lou Jacobs was a clown who worked in the Ringling Bros. Circus, so perhaps the shoe was his pet bird? I suppose if you use your imagination and squint your eyes real tight, it does look a bit like a canary.

Yellow shoe in a bird cage

“I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”

Then we come to this horse, which seemed to have sunken halfway into the floor. Was it quicksand? Tar? Horse leg theft? Or did the statue builders just get lazy? We may never know. I do have to admit that at the time, I didn’t think to look for a description around the horse. I took the picture specifically so I could make a Never Ending Story reference in the photo caption.

Artax the horse in quicksand

Artax! No! You’re sinking! You have to move or you’ll die!

By now you are surely wondering, “All of this is semi-entertaining so far, but we’re talking about the circus here! Weren’t there any costumes?” Oh yes, impatient one. There were costumes.

Life-sized circus clown Circus dancer costume
Emmett Kelly holding mask to his face The Ringmaster

Circus museum floor

The circus propaganda affixed to the walls was another entertaining aspect of this wonderful place. The below poster in particular spoke to me (not literally of course, but with everything else I’d seen so far, that actually wouldn’t have been so far-fetched).

A hippo is a childs best friend

I want a circus hippopotamus for Christmas… Only a circus hippopotamus will do!

Two grinning children riding a saddled hippopotamus… What could possibly go wrong? While we’re on the subject of hippos, did you know how close America came to importing and using hippos for meat purposes in the early part of its settlement? I make sure to mention this interesting fact whenever I happen to be discussing hippos (which actually happens more often than you’d think).

Moving on! There were a few museum exhibits that encourage you to “play”… but again, and I can’t stress this enough, NOT the cannon.

Toy Cannon that was out of order

You can only play with this toy cannon…if it’s working.

I tried my hand (er, foot) at walking across the tightrope and made it all the way across on my first try! I’m thinking new career path? I was also able to squeeze myself into Lou Jacobs’ clown car. How I got out I still have no idea.

Sitting in the clown car

And now we are up to the most impressive feature in the circus museum – the miniature circus. We probably spent close to half our museum time marveling at this creation.  As a child, I had my own obsession with miniatures and had a dollhouse to place them in, but this setup made my dollhouse look like a dollhouse for ants.

Miniature Circus

This masterpiece, known as the “world’s largest miniature circus”, was built by Howard Tibbals, a circus collector who has been working on this big-tiny representation of the fictional “Howard Bros. Circus” for over 50 years. If you were to visit the Ringling Circus Museum and see nothing else, your time would not have been wasted.

Animal section of circus train

Not only can you see a mini-version of the show itself, but you’re also privy to behind-the-scenes action that you’d normally never see. There are circus folk relaxing between showtimes, elephants and other animals being fed, bathed, and trained, workers building components for the next big show (you can even catch some of them slacking off!), and so much more. The attention to detail on this circus is, for lack of a better word, awesome. The buildings are decorated with tiny posters, tiny tickets are in the hands of the tiny people, and though most people would never see it, there is even tiny money in the tiny cash registers. We learned that bit of trivia by watching an interview with Mr. Tibbals, which was playing in the background in one of the rooms.

Workers cutting logs for use in the circus, copper power lines above

Each time you visit the Howard Bros. Circus you are certain to see something new – either because you missed it before, or because Mr. Tibbals is still working on the circus today. You might even be lucky enough to see him working on the next addition in his museum workshop!

Goliath the Elephant Seal eats a fishie

Goliath the Elephant Seal

The unexpected details were so much fun to find. They had an elephant bathing in a creek! I got way too excited about this when I saw it.

Dumbo the elephant taking his bath

Hey Dumbo! You missed a spot!

And that, my friends, brings part I of my Ringling adventure to an end. But we’re not done yet! Feel free to take a break, get a snack or stretch. I’ll wait.

Oh, You’re ready? Fabulous – on to part II!

So, we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art on this trip. We had spent a lot of time at the Circus Museum and the clock was ticking ever closer to 5… but we really wanted to visit the rose garden and see the Ca’ d’Zan before we left.

Path in the rose garden

The Mable Ringling rose garden is the oldest rose garden in Florida. As you walk down its paths, you are surrounded by floral fragrances and weathered statues.  The flowers all look to be lovingly cared after –  perhaps by the spirit of Mable herself? Many of the roses are labeled with species names and the years planted. I was shocked to see that some of the roses were dated back to the early 1900’s. I had no idea roses could live that long!

roses with statue in background

Roses in the rose garden
When we’d had our fill of roses, we began our journey to the mansion… a journey that was fraught with the perils of pine cones.

Watch out for falling pinecones

Coming up on the mansion… At this point I was glad I wore my comfortable shoes. Oh, who am I kidding. I always wear my comfortable shoes.

Ringling mansion

One thing that the Ringlings really did right with their ornamental decor was their choice of “guardian” statues that were placed on either end of some pathways. This one below was my favorite. I was almost afraid to cross their path lest they detect fear in my heart and obliterate me with laser beams shooting out from their eyes (another Never Ending Story reference!) .

Angry Statue

I wouldn’t mess with her… would you?

In contrast, this happy little character had no semblance of danger – in fact, I was half expecting it to jump up and lick my face to greet me!

Happy lion statue

And now, the Ca’ d’Zan! While we didn’t opt for the add-on ticket to tour the inside of the mansion, we were still able to wander around outside of it.

 Brick porch at ringling museum

Yes, that is a bride  and groom in the above picture. Funny story – as I got closer I realized I knew the bride from my office. Neither of us live anywhere near Sarasota or had any idea the other would be there – but I suppose such is the magic of the circus.

Beautiful windows at ringling mansion

A beautiful choice for the backdrop of wedding photos!

View from the balcony of the Ringling mansion, overlooking the water.

View from the balcony of the mansion, overlooking the water. Nice view the Ringlings had!

There was so much more to look at on the Ringling property. Garden sculptures and courtyard statues were everywhere. Towards the end of our walking tour, we came across these statues of animal heads which confused us at first… until it hit us that they were representations of the Chinese New Year animal zodiac!

Chinese new year statues

It was shortly after this point when a groundskeeper found us and told us that the museum and grounds were now  closed. We looked at the time and were surprised that it was after 5! What felt like minutes was actually hours.

And so, my friends, this post has come to an end… at least until I update it when I visit the parts that I missed!

May all your days be circus days.

Riding a bicycle in the sky during rainy season

Instagram Pictures:

Trip to #TheRingling #CircusMuseum in #Sarasota #Circus #Museum #SarasotaFL #Florida

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Dinosaur World!

Dinosaur World T-Rex

If you’ve ever driven down Florida Interstate 4 near Plant City, you probably couldn’t help but notice Dinosaur world. The boring views of asphalt, cars and trees is suddenly transformed to extraordinary as you pass by several prehistoric creatures towering over buildings amongst the trees.

Long Neck Dinosaurs

Whenever I happened to be traveling that way I would point it out to whomever I was with and suggest we stop to check it out. Unfortunately, no one ever seemed as intrigued by the place as I was. “Oh, that place is for kids” was what I most often was told. I figured they knew what they were talking about with me being more of a newcomer to Florida then they were, but I couldn’t help but think of a childhood movie favorite: “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”, where Pee-wee and his friend Dottie climbed up inside a giant dinosaur in a park and watched the sunrise from behind the dinosaur’s teeth. I figured this could be my chance to finally experience seeing the world from inside the mouth of a dinosaur!

Fast forward to six years after the first time I learned of its existence – my boyfriend and I were trying to come up with something interesting to do that weekend. We decided to finally check out Dinosaur World. He too had never been (despite living in the Tampa Bay area for most of his life) but had always been curious about it. With our plans agreed upon, we hopped into the car and headed off to Dinosaur World – for once as a destination and not just a drive-by curiosity.

Dinosaur World Entrance

Entering the prehistoric realm of Dinosaur World

I’ll let you know right off the bat that they did NOT have a dinosaur which you could climb up and sit in, but it was still an awesome place to visit – even without bringing kids. The best way I can describe it is that it is basically a botanical garden… but with DINOSAURS.

Near the beginning of your walk through the grounds you will find yourself face-to-face with a family of mammoths.

Wooly Mammoths
There are plenty of photo opportunities with these prehistoric elephants, the perfect chance for you to get that unique Facebook or Instagram picture that will make all your friends wonder, “Where the heck are they now?”

There was something so enchanting about walking through these beautiful gardens which were decorated with giant depictions of the (extreme) past. So what if science now says many dinosaurs actually had feathers? These were the dinosaurs I had grown up with! And they were HUGE!

Sizing up the dinosaur

That dinosaur doesn’t look so tough.

I was really impressed with how the whole place was set up. They put a lot of attention into every detail and the entire park was incredibly clean and well-maintained, which is exactly what you would expect from a botanical dinosaur garden.

Trash Can Shaped Like Baby Dino in Egg

FEED ME (Your trash)!

Even the trash receptacles had a dinosaur theme. I do have to admit that it took me a second or three to figure out what this brightly colored dinosaur baby with a hole in it’s chest was, but once I figured it out I was amused enough to take a picture of a trash can.

The day we decided to visit the park was not overly crowded, so we didn’t have to wait around to get a good look or a good picture of the cooler dinosaurs. I’m not certain how busy Dinosaur World normally gets, it was quite a hot day which could have kept some people away, but it’s also possible that there are many other people like me who notice it on their way to somewhere else and think that they would like to visit one day but it falls to the back of their mind.

We saw more dinosaurs that day than I could possibly identify. There were many old favorites, but also quite a few that I had never heard of before. They even had baby dinosaurs for that necessary “awww” factor.

There were also dinosaurs in the process of hatching…

Baby dinosaurs coming out of eggs

…with an empty egg perfect for climbing in (though not so easy to get out of as an adult!)

Climbing into a dinosaur egg with the dinosaur babies

Everywhere you went there was something interesting to see.

There were even dinosaur feeding stations – though I preferred to feed my dinosaur the old fashioned way.

feeding the dinosaurs

What kind of dinosaur is “koi”?

Ok, so many of the activities were obviously geared towards kids. They had a place where you could do a fossil dig and a gem excavation, which we didn’t attempt to do, but they also had a place they called “The Bone Yard” where you could pretend to be a paleontologist and dust sand off bones. It was empty when we walked by so we took the opportunity to sweep up some dirt and take some pictures!

Playing with dirt and bones

And of course the Bone Yard also had a section where you could see the fully dug up and put together skeletons of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur skeleton

There was one unexpected section of the park that had a warning of graphic violence – young children and the faint of heart should not enter. It was within that area where you could see the violent nature of dinosaurs. This part of the park showed dinosaurs eating dinosaurs, some who were missing eyeballs and limbs. It was fascinating and disturbing all at once, but they did have it clearly sectioned off with warning signs of what was contained within so those with young sensitive kids could easily avoid it. This was one of the milder scenes – the predator has caught one of the smaller dinosaurs while it’s buddy escapes.

dinosaur eating dinosaur - wide shot

You’ll have to visit for yourself if you want to see the more violent parts!

Here are two dinosaurs who obviously liked to roam, as they had to put up a rope fence to contain them.

Do not feed the dinosaurs

However, upon closer inspection of the fence, it looked like an escape was a distinct possibility in the near future!

Frayed rope fence

This little guy just happened to be at the scene, which lead me to believe that it was his attempt to organize a jailbreak for the big guys. Why else would he possibly be there?

Lizard on the dinosaur rope

This odd-looking dinosaur caught my eye right away. Not because of it’s huge horns or it’s big red beak-like nose…

Horned Dinosaur

…but because of it’s incredibly sad-looking eyes. What could be causing a dinosaur this much emotional pain?

Close up of sad eyed dinosaur

This was another weird-looking dinosaur that got my attention. Doesn’t it look like it’s belting out a love ballad a la Frank Sinatra?

Dinosaur that looks like Frank Sinatra

At the end of our park visit (but before the gift shop!) there was a building that housed mechanical dinosaurs which moved and roared semi-realistically. It was quite dark in the room so I wasn’t able to get any pictures or video that was worth posting here, but it was interesting (and a tiny bit spooky) to walk through.

I left the park satisfied that I could finally say I had visited Dinosaur World. Would I visit again? It’s possible, though that would be much more likely if I were bringing kids or another curious adult who had always wanted to see it but never found anyone willing to go with them. Of course, if they added a 50-foot dinosaur with seating in the skull, I don’t think you could get me to leave!

Warning falling meteors may cause extintion sign

Instagram pictures for this adventure:


Bathtime Buddies

Imagine this scenario, if you will. You wake up at 6am and manage to stumble bleary-eyed into the bathroom to take a shower. The water finally hits the perfect temperature and you reach for your bottle of shampoo. At that moment, you realize that you are not alone.

Lizard in bath with water droplets

Yes, you have a bathroom guest in the form of a gecko. This friendly critter has been showing up in my shower randomly for the past few weeks. I never know when he will appear, and he never fails to surprise me when he does.

If you have a keen eye for detail, you might notice from the picture above that his tail seems to be unusually short. As a defense mechanism, some lizards will “drop” their tails to trick predators into thinking they have caught their prey. The tail continues to wiggle for a few minutes after it falls off – which is extremely interesting to see in person. This tail drop happened as I was trying to gently remove him from my shower. He decided I was a threat – and off came his tail.

Lizard tail in bath

I don’t believe they feel pain from this defense mechanism, but it can cause them to have issues with balance as they get used to the change. It also makes them more susceptible to predators – they no longer have a tail to drop. The tail will eventually regenerate, but I still felt terrible for being the “predator” in this situation.

I honestly don’t mind geckos, or any bug eating creatures really, hanging out in my bathroom – but this little guy was right in the path of the shower stream and I didn’t want him to drown! I still had to catch him. After a short struggle, I finally managed to grab him.

Once he was sitting on my hand he was relatively calm – though I am sure it was just because he was terrified. I took a quick picture (after all, we do live in a time when everything must be photographed) and I placed him in a safer area. As soon as he had the chance he quickly scurried out of sight.

Lizard sitting on finger

After I sent the picture of me holding the gecko to my sister, my 5-year old niece decided his name was “Iggy”. Iggy still pops up occasionally in my shower just to freak me out and keep my showers interesting, but I have noticed fewer bugs since he started visiting regularly so I’m cool with that. Free meals and no predators for him, and no annoying bugs for me. It’s win-win!

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