Tag Archives: Sarasota

If Wheels Could Talk…

The Ringling Museums & Mansion are a full day of educational fun! I just love stuff like this. Another must-do during off season. The grandeur and splendor that await at this vast estate are amazing, astonishing, and really cool! The stories behind it all are fascinating. And I thought I heard the voices of various animal handlers and performers whispering to me throughout the day….and maybe Mable herself. At the entrance you are greeted by a bevy of little old ladies waiting to tell you about different exhibits and shows in the visitor center, hand you programs, sell you tickets and make sure you stay on the walkways! (They are rather strict about this.) The miniature circus exhibit takes up the entire first building that we decided to check out and is based on the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919. It took the model builder, whom the building is named after, Howard Tibbals, 50 years to create the finished product, referred to as the “Largest Miniature Circus in the World.” He started building it in college in 1956. Pretty impressive that what started as a hobby turned into a life-long pursuit. The second story of the Tibbals Learning Center was closed for renovation when we were there.   The Circus Museum is the second stop with its musty smell of Grandma’s old steamer trunks and attic, but as is also the case, it is filled with costumes, dresses, trinkets and such that were once treasured by their owners and now tell a story of times past and lives lived long ago. There is a collection of parade wagons, some original, some replicas, the difference pretty apparent, but not always. I just loved the ornate hand carved wooden wheels. Another exciting find here is the original rail car that John & Mable Ringling traveled in all across the country. Plenty of original woodwork, fixtures and glass are still present in the impressive car circa 1905. The restoration is ongoing. A refreshing stop at the Banyan Cafe’ centrally located on the grounds was perfect timing for lunch. A couple of college aged guys took our orders, fried up and prepped a few chicken strips and sandwiches and had the most amiable dispositions of those we encountered the entire day. Couldn’t help but notice they were also the only employees who appeared to be under age 60. The food was very good, but pricey for small portions, not surprising though since they are the only option, they have AC, indoor and outdoor seating, and they serve cold beer. On to the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, while we quickly finished our ice cream cones before they melted in the heat & humidity that engulfs SW Florida year-round. Owners John & Mable Ringling were so enamored with a particular style of architecture from Venice, Italy, Venetian Gothic, that they built their 36,000-square-foot (that’s right, 36,000, I did not misplace the comma) in that style on the expansive shores of Sarasota Bay which somewhat mimicks the canals of Venice. Ca’ d' Zan means “House of John” in Venetian  and was apropos since we had Grandpa Jon with us that day. The mansion is heavily roped off and visitors are allowed very limited access to the estate’s 41 rooms & 15 bathrooms. For an extra $5 per person you could access 5 more rooms upstairs, but we declined. Seemed quite restrictive, frankly, what little they would let you tour. Nonetheless, I just loved it!! I could have stayed in there for days daydreaming about fancy dinner parties featuring sideshow acts and a full staff of servants, dessert on the marble terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay while watching the sunset with a couple hundred of your closest friends...ah the life they must have led. By far my favorite part of the day, if I had to choose, which I am glad I didn’t.       Next was the enormous Museum of Art. This place is so big, I almost had to stop and take a nap halfway through. There is almost too much to see...room after room after room. Some of the highlights though are the largest of the paintings, which John Ringling actually built the museum to house. These things are so big!! A single one of these monstrous pieces of art takes up more square footage than my first apartment! You could probably make a day just of the Museum of Art if you wanted. The courtyard is in the middle of the museum’s two wings. This is a very inspiring location on the property and features casts of original works from the Renaissance, including Michelangelo’s David, in all his glory, as well as many others, several fountains and plenty of flowers and vegetation that stays green all year in this tropical climate. This was the end of our day at the Ringling Grounds and well worth every dime we spent. There was a special on the tickets that day and I think we spent less per person to see all this than we did at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens just down the road. So if you have limited time in Sarasota--hands down, you must make a day of the Ringling Museums & Ca’ d 'Zan before devoting time to any other tourist sites. Be sure to have plenty of batteries for your digital camera and take your time wandering through the acres and acres and many thousands of square feet of rich, Ringling estate. And please, be sure to tell Mable I said “Hello” and “Thank you.”

In Search Of The American Flamingo

Sarasota Jungle Gardens was a stop on our Florida  trip that I was super looking forward to. I have always wanted to see a real, live, pink flamingo, and once I read that you could feed these right out of your hand--I just couldn’t wait. I am not sure what the fascination is with the tall pink birds. Maybe it is just that they are pink..? I don’t know, but I was excited.
We drove in from I-75 and after mapping it online I saw that we would also be really close to the Ringling Museum and Gallery and Ca’ d Zan. Therefore I thought it might be nice to take the scenic route to the gardens. So we took the University Parkway exit to the end, went through the light across US 41 and onto Ringling Plaza. Wow! What a sight the Ringling Museum is as soon as you enter the plaza! It is huge and impressive looking with its big gate across the front! I am already excited about that visit one day soon, but I had read that the Ringling grounds may take a full day-- at least. So we took a left at the gate on Bay Shore Road and followed it all the way to the Jungle Gardens. Off-season is the perfect time to hit these tourist hot spots and the parking lot only had a handful of cars on this early Saturday afternoon. The prices were a little high though, $15 per person except Grandpa who was over 60 and only $14. Luckily I had a coupon for $1 off everyone in the party and I think they are pretty much always available on their website, so don’t go without it! Then you can use your savings to buy the large bag of Flamingo Food that is for sale at the ticket counter. You have to feed the flamingos--it makes the visit! And off we went! There was a reptile show going on when we arrived, but we opted for the self-guided tour and passed by the zoo keeper holding the snake entirely too close to the humans for my comfort level! First we checked out the alligators and crocodiles which Florida is famous for. They were huge and looked to me to be in entirely too small a wading pool for such a beast...they didn’t move, but I guess they were all alive and happy--enough. Directly past the archaic monsters was the parrot  and exotic bird area with at least 40 colorful and quite vocal feathered friends. They were amazingly vibrant in their colors and several spoke to us saying, “Hi!” and “Hello.” The most surprising part about the parrots was to learn that several of them were 60 or 70 years old! Apparently most of the animals who make Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home are all from rescues, rehabs or owners who have “donated” them with the decision that they could no longer care for their exotic pets. That makes sense since the lifespan of the various  parrots is at least that of the  average human. Probably not a good pet choice, just my opinion, unless you have kids who can take care of it 50 years or so after you buy it. It doesn’t seem fair that the more common pet, our most loyal and cherished companions, dogs, don’t get even a quarter the life span of the parrot. Oh well, they were pretty. Next on the path were prairie dogs and monkeys, and we made our way through the butterfly garden and around to the lake, across which I could spot in the distance--The Flamingos!! So excited! Get the food ready! The seagulls, ducks and one big black goose who have all voluntarily made Sarasota Jungle Gardens their home (who can blame them, tourists passing through every few minutes with big bags of food) were first to arrive for grub. We did manage to attract one flamingo who was not shy and made his way through the crowd of shore birds to claim his lunch. We continued to wind our way through the lush 10-acre jungle with over 100 species palm trees, reading all the little placards that describe plants and animals. We eventually came out on the other side of the lake approaching the large flock of waiting flamingos. The aggressive big black goose led the way when he spotted us, and I swear I think he had even stalked us through the trees a few times, knowing that we still had most of an entire bag of food left. These extremely tall pink birds are not shy! And when I say tall, I mean that you will be eye to eye with them if they stretch out their long pink necks even part of the way! The flock is probably numbered at near 30 birds, and they are truly majestic and awesome. The most surprising characteristics about the friendly fowl are how long their necks are, how tall they are and how their beaks curve at an almost 90 degree angle! Most, if not all, of the salmon-hued birds were hatched here at the gardens and hand raised by zookeepers until they joined the flock to roam free which explains how friendly they are. I could have stayed there all day hanging out with the tall coral-colored creatures, but the heat was almost unbearable combined with over 80 percent humidity, the index had to be over 100. So we made our way past the recovering birds of prey, another favorite of mine since I volunteered at the Raptor Rehabilitation Center outside of Charleston, SC, when I was in college, and found respite in the nicely air-conditioned gift shop that you have to pass through on the way to the parking lot. Still enamored with the flamingos we just had to buy a five dollar beanie baby version for the youngest of our crew to take home as a keepsake...although, I admit, I really wanted the stuffed giant one to sleep with myself! All in all though I do have to say that the price seemed high, and as far as zoos go, I have never been a huge fan because it is hard to reason to myself about their cramped living conditions. However, I tried to keep in mind that the majority of these animals came from inhumane situations or rescues from the wild and they are being rehabilitated and are now hopefully educating the public. The flamingos, though, made the trip completely worth it! Let me know what you think.