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Now that the barometer is finally climbing past the freezing point in most of the country, it’s time to turn our attention to a pressing to-do: planning that much-needed summer getaway.
But while swimming with dolphins and donning binoculars to go early-morning birding can be highly satisfying vacation activities for animal lovers, there are some other memorable critter encounters that you should consider this summer. Hint: You don’t have to head to Africa to hang out with these dappled beauties.
Long necks. Lanky limbs. Lustrous eyelashes. What’s not to love about giraffes? That’s the thinking behind this 47-acre, hands-on wildlife preserve located about 45 minutes north of Tampa. Visitors can mingle with the gentle creatures on a 4WD safari tour or — if you’re really feeling intrepid — try a camelback ride. Other exotic animals also call this place home, including Austrian Haflinger horses, pint-size Irish Dexter cattle, pygmy hippos and zebras.
Before You Go: The ranch offers two reservation-only safari vehicle tours a day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The fee for children over the age of 2 is $59.99; adults pay $69.99. You can also sign up for a camel safari ($150 per person) and take part in a ring-tailed lemur feeding ($20). www.girafferanch.com.
Sure, birding can be fun, but what if you could actually hold, let’s say, a bird of prey? At this 1,300-acre resort, guests can attend the on-site British School of Falconry, which offers hands-on lessons with trained Harris hawks. Once you’ve taken an introductory lesson, you can set off on a “hawk walk.” As you stroll along the property’s wooded grounds, the bird follows along in the treetops, occasionally swooping down to fetch a morsel of meat from your gloved hand.
Before You Go: Lessons cost $118; hawk walks are $185. (Sorry, no kids under 12.) Vacationing with your whole clan? The school also offers special family packages. www.equinoxresort.com.
If you can’t help but shed a tear whenever Budweiser runs its legendary Super Bowl commercials, then you’re likely already smitten with Clydesdale horses, best known for their iconic white-feathered legs. You can glimpse these majestic mammals up close on a behind-the-scenes walking tour of the Budweiser Clydesdale Stables at the Busch family-owned Grant’s Farm. You can also opt for a private two-hour expedition aboard an open-air vehicle, which includes a visit to the farm’s Deer Park (home to bison, red deer and black buck antelope), a tour of the horse stables and a photo op with a Clydesdale.
Before You Go: Admission to the farm is complimentary (there is a $12 parking fee). The private excursion costs $215, and reservations can be made up to 24 hours in advance. www.grantsfarm.com.
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