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World’s Largest Miniature Circus: Sarasota, Florida

miniature circus

The Big Show Entrance

If you played with doll houses, built model airplanes, or created LEGO lands, you understand the fascination with miniatures. As a kid, I took omnipotent pleasure in making these small worlds look and operate exactly the way I wanted them to. As an adult watching my kids do the same, I appreciate the technical artistry and attention to detail reflected in miniature figures and furnishings.

We brought this love of little to the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, where the world’s largest miniature circus fills 3,800 square feet of exhibit space, and can be viewed from two floors. Through 44,000 individual pieces, this circus tells a story, brilliantly, with moving elements and light and sound effects.

The Howard Bros. Circus Model was mostly built between 1956-1974 by Howard Tibbals, who named the circus after himself because he wasn’t allowed to use the names Barnum or Bailey. But in fact, it is a 3/4-inch-to-one-foot scale replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as it would have looked during the years 1919-1938. It would span 11 acres if it were life-sized.

Ringling Museum

The View From Above

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World’s Largest Airboat: Sarasota, Florida

Myakka Wildlife ToursIf you live in Florida (and I have), alligator sightings are about as rare and exciting as observing a squirrel in its native habitat here in the northeast. But Floridians know that northerners think it’s thrilling to see gators while we visit their sunshine-y state, so a whole subset of the tourism industry has evolved to give us that opportunity. One such business, Myakka Wildlife Tours in Sarasota, sweetens the deal further with a ride on the world’s largest airboat.

During our December visit, the weather was perfect for outdoor exploration; sunshine, breezes, and low humidity. We spent a happy, restorative day in Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s largest and oldest state parks. Follow the signs to find the tour boat dock and ticket booth.

The world’s largest covered airboats are actually two identical twin boats, the Myakka Maiden and Gator Gal. Both are 53-feet long and 16-feet wide. Each can seat up to 57 people for the 45-minute cruise. There are three cruises offered daily in the slower (hotter) summer season, June 1 through December 15. Four or more cruises, depending on demand, are offered during the high season, December 16-May 31.

The Gator Gal

The Gator Gal

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The Go BIG “B” List

Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” “The Sweetest Thing” by U2. What do these tunes have in common? They were all “B” side hits. For those of you who remember records (those vinyl discs that music was stored on back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), you’ll recall that the popular songs were on the “A” side, and the secondary tracks were relegated to the “B” side.

We’ve had some “B” sides in our travels, too, so I’m giving them their due in today’s post. In our (okay, my) overzealous quest to seek out BIG attractions, we sometimes visited places solely because of their size. Some have been less than a BIG hit with the kids. Still, I contend that there’s something interesting in all of these large sites, and not just because of their size!

World’s Longest Bridge Tunnel

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, also known as the Lucius J, Kellam Bridge Tunnel, connects the eastern tip of Virginia at Fisherman’s Island to Virginia Beach.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

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Taking the Kids to Big Cat Rescue, Tampa, Florida

Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue

The Girl is a BIG fan of animals, thanks to a steady diet of “The Wild Kratts” on PBS. A trip to Tampa allowed us to visit Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary in the country, and possibly the world, dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats.

Big Cat Rescue is home to some 100 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and other wild cats, who live in enclosed habitats on 67 acres in the Citrus Park area of north Tampa. These majestic creatures were, for the most part, former pets or victims of the “pet trade,” who were mistreated or abandoned. Some had been used for performing acts and were no longer wanted. The mission here is to end the abuse and abandonment of captive exotic animals and promote preservation of the species in the wild.

After learning all this, I explained to the kids that this was not a zoo, and these animals were not there for our entertainment, but because this was the safest place for them to live now that they were no longer accustomed to living in the wild. It was important for them to know that, although I tried to keep the message lighthearted for my six-year old.

You get to learn the cats’ individual stories along the way, both from the tour guide and from the posted signs which provide their name, the date they came to the Rescue, and where they were found. In many cases, this is an eye-opener. Divinity the Bobcat, for example, was rescued from a fur farm.


Divinity the Bobcat

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My Take on LEGOLAND Florida

LEGO storeEditor’s Note: The Boy, now 13, hates when I put conditions on some of the fun writing assignments I have. But the quid pro quo for getting to visit LEGOLAND Florida again was that he had to write another post. Here’s his take:

This summer, I was lucky enough to go to LEGOLAND Florida for a second time. The first time was on the Grand Opening day, and Mom and I had to lie to my sister and tell her we were going to Czechoslovakia. This time we had tried not to mention the whole “Czechoslovakia” thing as The Girl was with us.

LEGOLAND has improved in some very large ways, as well as some smaller ways. One of the main ways it has improved is offering the VIP Experience. Being a VIP allows you to have an assistant and some free meals, as well the chance to meet a master builder. This master builder was one of three master builders on staff of LEGOLAND, and he was the builder I met last time I was there.

LEGO master builder

As a VIP, you get the Hero Access pass to go to the front of the lines, so you get to essentially cut the lines. And you get a cabana at the water park (which could be a life saver, as it was with us).  If you are going to go to the water park, this is the way to do it right.

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What’s New at the World’s Largest LEGOLAND, Winter Haven, FL



We covered a lot of ground on our trip to Florida this summer, and, finally, The Girl got the chance to visit LEGOLAND® Florida, the world’s largest LEGOLAND theme park.

Two years ago, we were invited to visit for the grand opening, but I only brought her older brother, who was the real LEGO fan…at the time. Since then, she’s almost caught up to his level of fervor for the colorful plastic bricks. She especially loves the “Friends” line just for girls.

So, our visit was successful in alleviating my motherly guilt about not bringing her the first time, but also in seeing what’s been introduced since it opened.

Editor’s Note: Check back on Friday, when The Boy will offer his own LEGOLAND review!

New LEGOLAND highlights include:

LEGO World of Chima

There’s an entirely new area of the park called the LEGO World of Chima, which complements the animated show on Cartoon Network. There are several rides and activities, the highlight being “The Quest for CHI” wet ride. You board watercraft in small groups, and battle other boats with water cannons. There’s a definite masculine vibe here, especially at the Speedorz Arena where you race rip cord LEGO vehicles.

World of Chima

World of Chima

The VIP Experience

Another new offering at LEGOLAND Florida is the VIP Experience, which we were able to experience as part of our hosted media tour. With this package, you’re escorted by a private guide, you get “Hero Access” to skip the ride lines, and you get a snack and lunch.

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NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: Still Open, and Worth The Trip

space suits

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

This U.S. government shutdown is going to do a number on the tourism industry, since all national parks, monuments, and historic sites are closed. And while NASA, the space agency, is also closed, it’s important to note that Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, FL is still open. The Visitor Center Complex is managed and operated by a private concern, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, and not funded through public monies. There are a few services within the attraction, such as the KSC Bus Tours and the KSC Up-Close Tours, which won’t run until the furlough is over, but there is still a full day’s worth of activities you can enjoy.

This summer, we visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center because it’s home to three world’s largests: the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos; and the world’s largest store for space-related memorabilia.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

It’s a smart strategy to consult the visitor complex map to make a plan for your day. We scheduled our day around the astronaut meet-and-greet. One of the biggest highlights for us as a family was the chance to meet astronaut Rick Searfross following his presentation at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, during which he described his experiences piloting three space shuttle missions. Translating that from Geek to English, we met Santa Claus, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, all rolled into one.

Rick Searfross

Meeting former astronaut Rick Searfross, and trying to keep it cool.

We actually didn’t get the chance to see a movie in the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater, because we had two other priorities: Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Angry Birds Space Encounter.

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Dinosaur World, Plant City, FL: World’s Largest Dinosaur Attraction

Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World, Plant City, Florida

In the summer “Pro” column: school’s out, so we can take fun trips to BIG places. In the “Con” column: school’s out, and having two kids at home leaves little time to blog about it!

We’re just back from almost three weeks in central Florida, and we made tracks across that state, let me tell you. We’ll be sharing the details in future posts, but our trip included visits to: the world’s largest manmade penguin colony; the world’s largest LEGOLAND; the world’s largest Hard Rock Café; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos and historic spacecraft; and the world’s largest accredited sanctuary for big cats!

But our first stop was to Dinosaur World, the world’s largest dinosaur attraction. I’ve seen the giant T-Rex menacingly stalking the I-4 highway many times on the drive between Tampa and Orlando, and have always wanted to stop in.

I could not have picked a hotter day to visit. It was 173 degrees in the shade. This is what I looked — and felt — like:


The friendly Dilophosaurus, best known for appearing in the movie “Jurassic Park.”

Actually, this is just one of more than 150 life-sized dinosaurs you’ll see as you take the paved – and gloriously shaded – “Dinosaur Walk” through a forest setting. Fact-filled signs near each creature provide paleontology lessons along the way. The dinosaur models, up to eighty feet long, are made of fiberglass, steel, and concrete.


These Brachiosaurus can also be seen from the I-4 highway. Which could be startling at night if you’re not expecting them!

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World’s Largest Peach, Gaffney, South Carolina

It’s summer, which in my book means road trips! And when I think about road trips, I naturally think about quirky roadside attractions (and now I’m starting to sound like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”).

Water towers are especially fun – and very noticeable from the road — when they’re painted to look like something else. We saw the world’s tallest water tower in New Jersey, but it didn’t have half the charm of the “Peachoid” in South Carolina, the world’s largest peach.

In this month’s guest post, Kelly Rae Smith, Editor of Explore Travel Guide, tells us all about it:

Where is it and how did you find it?

The Peachoid has been a part of my landscape my whole life. You see, I grew up less than an hour from this peach-shaped water tower. Four-stories tall, it sits on the side of the road on Interstate 85 in Gaffney, South Carolina (Cherokee County) where it captures the attention of every passerby. I’m from Anderson, SC, and so any time I’ve traveled to Spartanburg or Charlotte, or indeed to Gaffney, I have the pleasure of beholding this incoherent piece of fruit.


World’s Largest Peach, Gaffney, SC

Why did you go there, exactly?

I finally decided to pull over and get this particular picture in 2010 because my friend edits a newspaper in Scotland, and this was taken for her “Where in the World” section. Scottish readers had to guess where this pic was taken. Surprisingly, many answered the call with exact highway instructions!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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World’s Largest Crocodile and Crab, Myrtle Beach, SC

I wanted to call this post “BIG Critters in Myrtle Beach,” or “GBOGH Meets Utan and Tommy,” but that wouldn’t work well for SEO now, would it? While we were on the South Carolina shore for spring break, we discovered the world’s largest crocodile at Alligator Adventure, and the world’s largest crab at the – wait for it – Giant Crab restaurant. Both water creatures; one real, one not-so-much!


Alligator Adventure

Alligator Adventure, Myrtle Beach, SC

Alligator Adventure Myrtle Beach, SC

Alligator Adventure, one of the world’s largest facilities for reptile life, is home to more than 1,000 alligators, as well as Utan, the “world’s largest Crocodile.” Utan, the largest crocodile to ever be exhibited in the U.S., is more than 20 feet long. He was born in 1964 (older than me, go figure) at a crocodile farm in Thailand. He’s a hybrid of two species – Siamese and Saltwater croc. He was transferred to Alligator Adventure in 2002.

Having personally met an alligator, I feel qualified to offer a little background on crocodiles. They average 18-21 feet in length, and can weigh up to 2,600 lbs. Crocodiles are known for their incredible jaw strength — they can exert over 5,000 lbs. per square inch, as compared to the great white shark, at 400 lbs. per square inch.

Utan was not being cooperative. He stayed under the murky water, for the most part. The relentless rain that day wasn’t making us very cheerful, either, so I can’t blame him.


Utan the Crocodile. Yeah, he’s down there.

The day wasn’t a total wash. We enjoyed a live animal show presented by a naturalist, and the kids got to pet a blue-tongued skink and an albino snake. Another high point was seeing a two -headed turtle in a tank inside the Hospital/Research station. There are marshes, swamps, and other habitat exhibits covering 15 acres, where you can also see Siberian tigers, lemurs, monkeys, and bats.


That’s a “skink”. Not to be confused with “skank,” which is what I accidentally called it. The Boy got quite the kick out of that.

Also, Alligator Adventure is located in the Barefoot Landing shopping and dining district, so there is a lot of other things to do and see, like a carousel and a magic shop. At River City Café, you can color all over the table and walls, and throw peanut shells on the floor. The Girl didn’t know where to start.

Giant Crab Restaurant, Myrtle Beach, SC

If you enjoy pancakes and/or seafood, you’ll be happy as a clam in Myrtle Beach, where every other storefront is a pancake house or seafood buffet. You can pick The Giant Crab out from the crowd, mainly because “Tommy,” the world’s largest crab, hangs over the front door.


Tommy, the Giant Crab!

(Editor’s note: Tommy is not to be confused with the world’s largest horseshoe crab in Blanchester, Ohio, who we met last year through Terri at Travel 50 States with Kids.)

The restaurant does an admirable job recreating a Fisherman’s Wharf Village via outdoor decor. One side of the building features a 40-foot waterfall; a lazy river wraps around the entire village; and there’s a 50-foot lighthouse. At 4.5 tons, Tommy is the jewel in the crown. Named for the restaurant’s owner, he’s 25 feet tall and 35 feet wide!

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