Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Monday, June 04, 2007

S. FL, Wed., May 23rd... Part One

We had decided to put off Parrot Jungle until last. That was Woodrow's idea -- save the best for last. I was very worried about that plan, because I was concerned that I would run out of steam and say, "Aw, scwew it, I ain't goin' out n' more." And my feet were getting more swollen as the week wore on, and after the disaster of the Seaquarium, I was just plain worried about being disappointed.

Honestly, I have more to say about that. I was expecting to be disappointed with Parrot Jungle Island. The old Parrot Jungle was historic and quaint. Yes, it was crowded, and the jungle path was so overgrown that you had to go sideways through some areas. At the back of the tiny park, there was a stone cottage reminiscent of Snow White's cottage with the dwarves. The old Parrot Jungle was quite obviously a throwback to another time, an older, gentler tourism day. And I liked it that way just fine. The emphasis was on parrots, dammit, and not much else.

After sleeping late on Tuesday, I set four or five different alarms to wake us up on Wednesday, because I was absolutely determined to beat the heat. I know Peytyn and her family kept saying it was "cold," and they kept putting on long-sleeved shirts as soon as the sun went down, but I was burning up hot the whole time I was there. Peytyn's crazy. And she's skinnier than I am, which might explain why she was so cold. She needs some fat for insulation. Like me.

I had also picked up breakfast the night before at Dunkin Donuts, so believe it or not, we were dressed, fed, and out the door by 9:00 in the morning. SERIOUSLY! While I sat on the front stoop, a neighborhood duck came by and asked for some of my coffee. I told it to take a hike, and it obliged by just moving along once it realized I wasn't going to feed it.

We hit the road and made it to downtown Miami more slowly than the day before -- the residual going-to-work traffic really *was* heavier than the 11:00 traffic -- but we still managed to find the new Parrot Jungle Island.

It's ... bigger.

It's much... MUCH bigger.

And not nearly as quaint and darling, but at least the parking garage afforded some shade for the car.

Because it was the off-season and a Tuesday, we got a parking space quite close to the front entrance. We got in line to get our tickets, armed with more buy-one-get-one-free coupons from dear Perry, and dang it, that was the slowest line I've ever seen. After one woman spent eight minutes at the window, and the next woman was up there trying to buy her tickets, I excused myself and went to the ladies' room. It was very spiffy and had automatically flushing toilets and automatically running faucets.

The whole place was very... spiffy.

The courtyard where you buy your Parrot Jungle Island tickets is immense, clean, and well-landscaped. And it's surrounded on three sides by three or four floors of attractive, clean, well-designed, stucco'ed buildings. One building contained the cafe, photo developing service, and a temporary exhibit from an African heritage museum on its first two floors. One building held the gift shop on the first floor. All the rest of the floors and buildings held offices and meeting & banquet spaces.

At the back of the courtyard, you enter through a gate and the first thing you encounter is the posing-with-parrots opportunity. Of course we posed. We must! It's a tradition! I have a photo from the first family visit to the old Parrot Jungle in 1999, and a photo of me and Amy from our visit in 2001. That part, at least, was familiar and friendly.

The parrot perched on my shoulder decided to chew on my ponytail holder's beads, so I yanked it out of my hair. As a result, our family picture looks like monkey butt. The kids look a little better, although Woodrow seemed *awfully* stiff and nervous. Even the photographer commented on his nerves, telling him to relax, he wouldn't be bitten. Woodrow knew he wasn't going to be bitten; he was just so overjoyed that he couldn't relax. Woodrow was THRILLED to be at Parrot Jungle Island, and out of all of us, I think he had the best time.

I'm doing the math -- I guess Woodrow was six years old the last time he was there. Maybe that explains his excitement.

We stopped and talked to the parrots just inside the entrance. And yeah, we fed them a little. I love the little birdies!

After that, I consulted with the park guide and discovered that the bird show was starting within the next few minutes, so we hightailed it over to the amphitheatre that holds the bird show. On the way, we walked over the second-floor view of the Manu Experience and declared that we *must* find our way back here later.

When we got to the amphitheatre, we discovered a few school groups and a whole bunch of disappointments. The emcees kept exhorting the audience to holler and yell and clap. That's never a good sign to me. I've done too much theatre -- and way too much children's theatre -- to know that when they tell you, "Let us hear you!," what they really mean is, "We don't have much content, so we need to fill the void with pointless noise."

And the schoolkids were more than happy to oblige, shrieking and giggling at decibel levels perceptible only to dogs.

Now... there was some seriously interesting stuff in that show. I could barely hear it because the sound system sucked so badly, but I know it was interesting from reading the lips of the emcees and from the sheer weirdness of the birds. The bird show used to be almost entirely parrots, but now they have vultures and stuff like that. The Cassowary in particular was fascinating beyond all belief. It was roughly the size of an emu, but it was brilliant blue. I mean, the body and skin of this bird was brilliant blue. The feathers were black. And it has a big, ugly, bony thing on its head that makes it look like a dinosaur.

The interesting things about this bird are hard to list in one place, but here's what I remember just off the top of my head:
1. It jumped REALLY high.
2. It swallowed an apple whole, and then the apple made a lump in its long neck on the way to its stomach.
3. It is the most homicidal of all the birds in the world, having killed and injured many men over the last hundred years...
5. The specimen at Parrot Jungle Island is the ONLY trained Cassowary in the whole... freaking... world.
6. Did I mention it's bright blue underneath its feathers? COOL!!!!

As the show ended, I barely noticed when the emcee yelled in closing, "And have a great day at... JUNGLE ISLAND!!!!" Hmmm. Jungle Island? Where did the parrots go?

When the show was over, we waited for the school groups to vacate the building, and then we made our way to a path to a ... an ... oasis of some kind. There was shelter, and there was a hot dog stand, and a poorly-stocked gift shack, and two guys with a baby alligator and a camera. Emily wanted to pose with the alligator, and I said, "Sure! Let me turn on my camera."

The guys said, "Oh, no, only WE can take the picture."

I gaped at them and protested, "Even Disney lets you take your own pictures!!!!"


To me, this was the worst thing I encountered in Parrot Jungle Island. They're so blatantly edacious, they won't let you take pictures during shows. They won't let you take pictures posing with animals. They're GREEDY PEOPLE!!!!!

And they're dropping the "Parrot" from Parrot Jungle.

As we made our way around the long, wide, winding paths, I could swear we ran into fewer parrots than I used to see in the old Parrot Jungle. But it could just be that the new place is so big that it just *appears* to have fewer parrots. I did see a flock of flamingos at a pond. And that was new to me. But I really, really missed that one, sweet cockatoo that died between my 1999 and 2001 visits. It was so sweet.

We made our way back to the Manu Experience, which is a three-story recreation of the clay cliffs of Manu, Peru. The macaws and Amazons that live in Manu chew on the clay, and scientists speculate that they do this to counteract their diet of berries which are, quite honestly, too poisonous to be ingested by other creatures. The Manu Experience has very heavy doors and you can't open one without making sure the one behind you has already closed and there's not a bird in the doorway with you.

There are also little monkeys living in there, and a couple of giant iguanas. Poor iguana. One of them was shedding and didn't want to move or eat, and he definitely didn't appreciate all the humans gawking at him.

We liked the Manu Experience a lot -- it felt like the right way to do a parrot exhibit. And man, some of those parrots are territorial! A pair of scarlet macaws has claimed a spot just inside the doorway, and they waddled menacingly at one of the park employees while we were in there.

That guy was pretty darned good. He could be a Disney CM. Very knowledgeable and easy to talk to. He was the best employee we saw all day. But he was definitely rattled when the macaws started threatening him. Macaws have *such* big beaks!

Then we wandered around some more paths and passed the lorikeet aviary, which was closed and locked and said they would be open for feeding at 2:15. I made a mental note. We love the little lorikeets!

Now, while wandering around, we did find more parrots to feed just outside the "Wild Things" amphitheatre. I kept getting change so I could get food out of the machines. I know that I had three dollars of quarters at one point to get handfuls of Zupreem pellets. This was another improvement over the old Parrot Jungle, which, if I remember correctly, had sunflower seeds in the vending machines. Parrots love the sunflower seeds, but man, they're fatty and devoid of nutritional value. It's kind of like eating potato chips all day.

But I could be wrong. Maybe the old Parrot Jungle had fruit pellets, and I've just forgotten it.

We also saw some big jungle cats, one of which was a "liger," a hybrid of a lion and a tiger. They wuz some big kitty cats in that large cage.

And monkeys of some sort. Orangutans? I guess? I don't know, don't care, monkeys bore me. Gibbons. Stuff like that. Yawn.

We found our way to the Everglades habitat, which was kind of a hoot because we had already visited the real Everglades, and there were way more painted turtles in the habitat than I had seen in the real Everglades.

The show was starting at the Wild Things Amphitheatre, so we piled in with the school groups and watched the worst show of the day. If I could have walked out, I would have, but they locked the gates at the bottom of the theatre and said we couldn't leave because walking close to the stage might disturb the animals.

The writing of the show was supposed to be about conservation, but the girl emcees were dressed in such ridiculously tiny safari shorts that bared so much pelvis and cleavage that I'm not sure anyone heard what they were saying. Also, they had... that... *show delivery* going on. Y'know, the modern equivalent of Shakespearean iambic pentameter. "LADies and GENTleman, I present... theeeeeeeeee... LIGERRRRRRR! THIS animal is SO fierce and SO big, we can't even TRAIN HIM! And you know what happens when you can't train an animal, don't you? RIGHT! Our show TOtally SUCKS!"

And *every* single word was punctuated by a gesture and pose. It was dizzying. It was hypnotic.

It was terrible.

At the end of the show, they offered up two really cute baby animals with which you could have your picture taken -- FOR FORTY DOLLARS PER ANIMAL. That's right. You could hold a tiny little tiger cub for forty bucks, and if you add in the baby orangutan, that's $80.

UP FRONT. Money first, people, then you get the shutter click.


And the last thing the scantily-clad chicks intoned was, "Annnnnnnnd... enJOY your DAY at... JUNGLE ISLAND!!!!!"

Hey, man, they were right about the "jungle" part.

Anyway, at that point we were starving and I was dying for a cigarette. Parrot Jungle Island has two designated smoking areas -- back in the courtyard through which we entered, and way out in the back end of the property. I was starting to get a little hinky. And the maps were not carefully marked, so I saw cigarette butts all over the paths.

To be continued....


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