Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mold-A-Ramas in the Miami Area (the Museum of Discovery and Science, Zoo Miami, Monkey Jungle, and Seaquarium)

In the continuing (and are you thinking endless?) saga of our Mold-A-Rama Road Trip, we went from Orlando down to Delray Beach to visit my aunt and uncle, and on our way south stopped in Ft Lauderdale for a quick trip to the Museum of Discovery and Science.  It was free with our reciprocal membership to Discovery World here in Milwaukee, and we spent a couple of hours there.

It's a small science museum, but what they had they did well.  We saw our first spiny lobster, and they also had fish and turtles.  The giant shark sculpture was kind of cool.  The second floor had a lot of puzzles to solve, which kept us busy, and they also had an exhibit on "fear" which was interesting.  They had a great screen where you had to use your shadow to catch fruit falling from a tree without being attacked by a shadow lion.  Quinn was amused to pieces antagonizing that virtual cat and happily did that until closing time.

There was one Mold-A-Rama machine at the Museum of Discovery and Science, and that's where we got our second fighter jet.

After the museum closed we headed to the beach until the sun went down.  It was so warm!  The glory of wearing shorts and dipping your bare toes into the ocean in February can not be overstated.  I'm not even a beach person (seeing as I have the complexion of a vampire and swimming in natural water doesn't appeal to me) but I was so happy on the beaches in Florida.  I can spend forever walking up and down the shore looking for shells, and there is nothing like standing on the the edge of the water while the waves continually shift the sand under and around your feet.

Our only problem in the Miami area was finding hotel vacancies (something about a boat show and golf) and we almost ended up sleeping in the van one night, but it all worked out.  The place we wound up staying in had no smoke detector, and we had to build Quinn a bed out of chairs (he laughed in the evening when I would tell the girls to go to bed and him to go to chairs), but we got the rest we needed, there was a pool to play in and breakfast in the morning, and we were happy and together and life was good.

Our first full day in Miami we hit the zoo in the morning.  It was one of our "zip through" locations, and since we got half off with our reciprocal zoo membership we sprung for a nifty pedal car rental to get us around.  I'm glad we did, because the zoo is a large loop with a lot of antelope related creatures with large habitats to get through, and we were able to see the whole thing in about half the time it probably would have taken us on foot.

Highlights of Zoo Miami were the cassowary (Finally, we've seen one!  We're starting to think they don't actually have one at the Brookfield Zoo since we are 0 for 3 visits for seeing the one they supposedly have there) the super nice people in the gift shop who gave us a membership discount even though our membership was for Milwaukee, Quinn bought himself a jaguar toy (that he likes to pretend is a clouded leopard) which makes him very very happy, and there was in impressive LEGO show of life-sized animals and small models of habitats.
Nobody at the entrance knew where all the Mold-A-Rama machines were, but I learned a long time ago the best people to ask (about finding almost anything) are janitors and cleaning crew people.  The cute girl manning the goats thought she maybe saw one once off that way maybe, but the woman with the broom and dustpan gave us a detailed list of ten locations.  Which was exciting, because we thought that Zoo Miami only had eight machines! 

We pedaled, and kept an eye out, and sure enough we found ten Mold-A-Ramas!  Including a few that were new for our collection: a koala, a camel and flamingos.  Unfortunately, the one at the monorail with the monkeys didn't work, and they didn't have it at guest services, but they did have a tiny broken scrap of the bottom of one of those that they let us have to use as a stand in.  (It says "zoo.")

The bulk of our day was spent at Monkey Jungle.  Their slogan is, "Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild."  It's a 30 acre park established in 1933, and the monkeys live in the most natural environment of its kind in the country and are often studied by scientists.  Apparently the rain forest they managed to build there had a real canopy level and the park had its own weather system for a while, but a hurricane destroyed many of the plants years ago and the canopy will never recover because it's no longer legal to import such vegetation from other countries.

It's still an amazing place to visit, though.  You get to walk through caged paths and observe the animals roaming free in large areas.  The squirrel monkeys were adorable, and you can feed raisins to the the Java Macaques by putting the food in little dishes that they can pull up with chains themselves.  That was ridiculously fun, and the Macaques will see you coming and if they are hungry they will shake a chain to rattle a bowl to get your attention.  You can also feed gibbons and spider monkeys and other primates that are in enclosures by dropping food down a tube.  The monkeys in the jungle areas aren't fed by keepers and actually survive on what they find among the plants. 

They have a retired circus gorilla who wouldn't do well among other gorillas because all of his front teeth were pulled when he was young, an orangutan, a couple of capuchins that we spotted during a lecture when they put out fruit to lure the squirrel monkeys over, and one red howler monkey.  They also had displays with birds and tortoises.  We learned about how squirrel monkeys live in sex segregated groups because otherwise the females beat up on the smaller males (during mating season the males fatten up so they can take the beatings), and we found out Java Macaques have an incredibly complicated social structure.

Monkey Jungle cost about $130 for the five of us (no discounts available), but it's a pleasant place and we were happy to spend a few hours there.  There's nothing else I know of quite like it.

Monkey Jungle has two Mold-A-Ramas: a waving gorilla, and the monkeys.  (Mold-A-Rama monkeys are always set up three in a row doing a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" pose.  In the Monkey Jungle gift shop they had a set of "no evil" monkey salt and pepper shakers with a fourth monkey just sitting there to have an even number of shakers.  We have since spent much time contemplating what evil that one is avoiding.  Thinking no evil?  Sitting on no evil?  Maybe it's really just no weevil?")

The last place in the Miami area we visited was Seaquarium the next morning.  We actually got a Seaquarium figure (an orca) from my niece for Christmas, but it was exciting to pick up another one ourselves.

Seaquarium reminded me of Sea World (which I visited as a kid back when there was a Sea World in Ohio of all places).  We saw two dolphin shows, an orca (and dolphin) show, a sea lion and seal show, a shark feeding, and a manatee lecture.  There was a pool full of rays to touch (Quinn will proudly tell you he touched 78) and some beautiful fish tanks.  There was also a giant reef display that apparently you can pay to don scuba gear for and go inside to feed the fish.  We also enjoyed the wild iguanas that happened to be scrabbling around the park, and we always enjoy the ubiquitous egrets and ibises that we came to expect everywhere in Florida.

The shark show was funny because a flock of pelicans familiar with feeding time were all camped out waiting to snatch up fish for themselves.  The woman giving the lecture of shark facts had a stick with a purple disk on the end to nudge the pelicans back as she fed the sharks.  The manatees at Seaquarium are all in various stages of recovery from boat accidents.  The ones that can be returned to the wild will be set free and monitored for a time, but a couple have injuries too severe to risk having them live anywhere but in a tank.

We always enjoy a good dolphin show, and I liked that most of the ones we saw at Seaquarium required the trainers get in the water and do some work as well.  I really can't imagine what it's like to balance on the nose of a killer whale.  What a job!  There was one dolphin show with a Flipper theme, and we had to explain to the kids that Flipper was a TV show about a dolphin version of Lassie.  (Then we had to explain Lassie.)

Seaquarium is not a big park which makes it easy to get around, but it's busy with its shows in quick succession.  It is expensive: $42 for adults (both Aden and Mona qualified as adults) and $32 for kids.  However, Ian's military discount paid off big time because he got in free and the rest of us were half price.  (Seeing as we were there on Ian's birthday that kind of worked out as a present!)

Our outdated list said there were eight Mold-A-Rama machines at Seaquarium, so when we stumbled upon an ninth it was quite exciting!  (We checked at the desk before we left to make sure we hadn't missed any others.)  With the exception of our Christmas orca, all of these figures were new for us, and a couple of them like the sailfish and the seahorse were particularly nice.

After bidding Miami adieu, we paid a brief visit to the Everglades National Park, and on our way to Sarasota as we skirted the park and a preserve we spotted alligators practically everywhere we looked.  Mona (our best spotter of animals and Mold-A-Rama machines) kept saying, "There's an alligator!  And there's an alligator!  And there's an alligator!" and although we believed her, none of the rest of us were seeing them at first.  Then I discovered if I settled my eye on nearly any given spot as we zipped by there was an alligator sitting in it, and suddenly the whole world was alligators.  It was insane.  We continued west and north until we reached Sarasota and friends and birthday treats.

Next stop: Tampa

UPDATE:  I just learned that Seaquarium has had Mold-A-Rama machines since 1962!  They are the longest running operator of such machines in the country.  Pretty cool.


  1. I'm so enthralled with your trip and your ever-growing collection. Keep the tales coming!

    1. I'm so glad you are not bored! I have other things to say, but need to get the Mold-A-Rama adventure on the record somewhere so when the kids look back and want to know what/where/when we'll remember any of it.

  2. I'm enjoying your Mold-A-Rama tales (although clearly am way behind in commenting... and my own blogging... oh well). Anyway. You have to document this kind of stuff, that's the best part of a blog.

    I am fascinated by that monkey place, never even having heard of it, and you've inspired me to perhaps visit Florida and see some of these interesting places one day.

    I love the tip about asking the janitors for where the machines are, that is awesome.

    I remain jealous of beach pictures.

    1. I honestly never had much interest in Florida before, but there is a lot of interesting stuff there! Especially if you are not limited to locations with Mold-A-Rama machines.

      My kids actually knew about Monkey Jungle because it shows up often on the nature shows they watch. They were really excited to be there in person!

  3. I love posts that list free things to do in a city. I’ve never been to Miami but hope for it to be on my future list of travels!