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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

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

As a voyeur from behind the glass, you’ll make a circle around the floor, and follow the chronology of a circus coming to an American town. At that time, the circus would perform in 150 towns each season, covering 15,000 miles by train.

miniature circus

Walking around the glass walls.

The first scenes are at the train station, where cars are emptied of the equipment, building materials, animals, and performers. The circus traveled with 1,300 workers and performers, and 800 animals – elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, even polar bears. After that, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at the circus family members setting up their own tents in the “backyard.”

Circus performers

The “Backyard”

As you peer closer into the glass, you’ll get a glimpse of performers sitting in front of mirrors in the dressing tent. You can watch the performers eating their meals under a common tent. You’ll see trolleys pull up to the entrance, where the balloon seller holds a rainbow of colors.  You may even spot a runaway elephant!

Every few minutes, the lights in the exhibit area will dim, and the lamps in the tents illuminate, indicating nightfall. In a few moments, daylight returns, and the circus opens to the fans lined up at the box office. In the Big Top, the three ring circus amazes the bleacher-bound crowd with tightrope walkers and aerialists, daredevil stunts, lion acts, and plenty of clowns.

Three Ring Circus

Three Ring Circus

The Big Top could seat 13,000.

Big Top

Under the Big Top

The movement and sounds completely pulled us in.

There are plenty of other intriguing exhibits at the Circus Museum, which is just one building on the Ringling grounds. You’ll see collections of circus memorabilia, props, costumes, and even parade wagons. While the whole place is kid-friendly, there are several interactive exhibits on the second floor that our kids loved. They tried fitting into a clown car, propelling a human cannonball, and walking a high wire. There were video kiosks showing clips of circus performances, and a magnetic board where they could create their own circus posters.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Ringling Circus Museum
5401 Bayshore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243
941-359-5700

high wire

Not-So-High Wire

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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

Jamie, our seasoned captain and narrator, steered us out onto the 2.5-mile long Upper Myakka Lake, pointing out visible wildlife along the way. Since these vessels have shallow hulls and are powered by air, they can venture into the shallow, grassy areas for a closer look at the creatures living along the shore. We saw several species of majestic birds we don’t get to see up north, like egrets and herons, as well as more familiar osprey and bald eagles.

Upper Myakka Lake

Birdwatching on Upper Myakka Lake

Of course, the main attraction is the alligators. My northern-bred, squirrel-satiated children are always up for a good gator encounter — remember this? There are an estimated 1.7 million alligators in Florida – only Louisiana can claim more. Up to 1,000 of them live in Upper Myakka Lake, so it was easy to spot several peeking their heads above the water, or resting on the banks. The Girl was enthralled by all the gator data Jamie shared, such as the facts that alligators have been around for 200 million years, and that their brains are the size of a walnut.

alligator

Gator!

So they may not be the most intelligent creature on Earth, but they do have a downward bite pressure of more than 2,900 lbs per inch; they can run up to 35 miles per hour on land; and they can jump the length of their body. Your best bet—should you encounter one in the wild—is to just back away slowly! They’re not normally aggressive during the day.

If you want to experience this ride (and I think you do), plan to get to Myakka State Park early to purchase tour tickets, which go on sale at 9:00am every day. All tickets must be purchased for the same day; they are not sold in advance.

While you’re at the park, leave time to enjoy a nature walk, canoe or bike ride, or take the narrated seasonal “Tram Safari” tour through shady oak and pine forests. Look for the Canopy Walkway, a pedestrian bridge suspended 25-feet high connecting two wood towers. You may be too chicken to walk across, but it’s worth seeking out!

Myakka River State Park

The Canopy Walkway

Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Myakka Wildlife Tours
13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, Florida 34241
941-365-0100

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World’s Largest Watering Can, Utica, New York

Serendipity gets all the credit for our latest BIG find. While at the Utica Zoo in Utica, NY this past weekend, we passed a really large watering can on display. I almost walked on without a second look, because I hadn’t read seen anything about it in my research for this trip. Usually these things pop up on the radar while I’m reading about a destination.

watering can

World’s largest watering can, Utica, NY

Looking at the sign, I was surprised and delighted to discover that this 15.5 foot tall, galvanized steel structure is indeed the world’s largest watering can. It was made for the zoo in 2000, and weights 2,000 lbs.

 

Sign

In the warmer months, water sprays out of the spout. Even though we were there in late March, it’s still cold and icy.

The Utica Zoo, by the way, is a great little zoo with 200 residents, and it’s open year round. It never fails to thrill me and the kids to see lions, zebras, monkeys, camels, and sea lions in the middle of a city.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Utica Zoo / World’s Largest Watering Can
1 Utica Zoo Way, Utica, NY 13501
315-738-0472

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The BIG Times: News about the Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

We haven’t published an issue of the BIG times in quite a while, but there is a BIG news highlight we want to share!

Carnival Cruise Line, the world’s largest cruise line, announced the details of what will be its largest ship, the Carnival Vista, arriving later this year. I attended the press conference two weeks ago in New York City, and was treated to a preview of some of the special—and truly unique—features this ship will offer.

Among the BIG thrills you can expect on board:

WaterWorks
Carnival’s largest water park will include the line’s first Kaleid-O-Slide water tube attraction. You, alone or with a friend, will hop on an inflatable raft and travel 455 feet through a twisting, turning enclosed tube with stunning kaleidoscopic visual effects.

Carnival Vista Water Works

Carnival Vista Water Works

Sky Ride
SkyRide is a first for the cruise industry. This is a pedal-powered open-air aerial attraction, allowing adventurous riders (not me) to cycle one of two hanging recumbent-like bikes around the 800-foot suspended track. You’ll enjoy panoramic views. You’ll also be dangling 150 feet over the sea. Read the rest of this entry »

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World’s Tallest Holiday Inn

World's tallest Holiday Inn

World’s tallest Holiday Inn, New York City

Last week, I was in New York City for the New York Times Travel Show. It’s an annual ritual; I go to get travel inspiration, network, and learn what I can in the trend seminars. This year, I stayed overnight, in the world’s tallest Holiday Inn hotel! It’s downtown, in the financial district, and really close to the “1” subway line.

This property is really new—it just opened in October 2014—and was built from the ground up where a parking garage used to stand. It’s more than 453 feet tall, with 50 floors – and my room was on the 43th floor!

To say the views were spectacular would be an understatement. I was in a corner room, and the longer side of windows provided me with this view of the Hudson River and New Jersey beyond.

 

Hudson River Views

Hudson River Views

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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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BIG Views of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Binoculars and Camera

It’s one of the world’s largest waterfalls, though technically Niagara Falls is a set of three: Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. To make the most of your visit, there are several ways to view Niagara Falls – you can ride a boat to their base, peer down at them from a tower 700+ feet overhead, or even take a peek from a tunnel behind them.

We took the kids to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and seeing them from different vantage points was important. The Teen has become a budding photographer, so great views were an overriding priority. So, these were our locations of choice:

At the Bottom of the Falls: The Hornblower Niagara ride

It’s one of the most popular things to do in Niagara Falls for a reason. Riding in a boat ride along the bottom of falls is a thrilling adventure for all ages! You’re close enough to get drenched by the powerful spray, and it feels as if you could reach out and touch the rainbows arching through the mist. If you’re on the American side, you take the Maid of the Mist. If you’re on the Canadian side, you take the Hornblower cruise, operated by Niagara Parks.

Hornblower cruise

Hornblower Cruise, Niagara Falls

Our 700-passenger catamaran traveled from the dock on the Niagara Great Gorge past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the midpoint of Horseshoe Falls. We didn’t get completely soaked—much to The Girl’s dismay—because we chose a relatively dry spot in back of the bottom deck, and we made use of the complimentary souvenir ponchos. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, ON: World’s largest indoor free-flight aviary

Sure, you go to Niagara Falls to watch 225,000 cubic feet of water per second plummet nearly 200 feet into the gorge below. After taking in the scene for 15 minutes…then what? With kids in tow, you need a plan. Luckily, there is plenty to do in Niagara Falls, especially on the Canada side. One of our favorite attractions was Bird Kingdom, home to the world’s largest indoor free-flight aviary.

You can easily spend an hour or more here, going through the three floors of exhibit space – themed as the “lost kingdom” home to hundreds of both bird and animal species. You set your own pace in each area, which for us meant less time in the Nocturnal Zone looking at the bats and Brazilian giant cockroaches (eek!), and more time in the Explorer’s Base Camp, where you can pet and talk to several animals, like Bearded Dragons and Toucans.

Bearded Dragon

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Rock City Park, Olean, NY: World’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate

Rock City ParkOur family is on a nature exploration kick lately, and no one is more surprised than me. It’s never really been our thing. Granted, we stick to “bunny slope” versions of hiking trails, and I don’t go anywhere without a backpack filled with antibacterial wipes and provisions for a potential week in the wild.

Earlier this fall we scrambled over a mossy rock embankment to reach the Old Stone Church in Dover Plains, a town park in the Hudson Valley. Most recently, we explored Rock City Park, home to the world’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate, in Olean, New York. It’s a small city in the western part of the state, just north of the Pennsylvania border. And it was a little—okay, a lot—out of the way as we headed toward Niagara Falls, but we got to spend some time with Matt’s cousin, who told us about this “world’s largest.” We couldn’t resist!

This place makes you exclaim “wow” on a continuous loop. Rock formations, created 320 million years ago, surround and engulf you as you make your way through the 45-minute hiking trail. The rocks represent a combination of shale with exposed quartz veins, non-quartz sediment, and Olean conglomerate. Geologists believe the crevices and fractures formed 280 to 225 million years ago.

kids hiking

Your tour starts by descending down stairs into one of these crevices, called “Fat Man’s Squeeze.” There are endearing names like this for most points along the trail, as well as for many of the largest rocks.

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Save the Date: The world’s largest family reunion, June 6, 2015

Global Family ReunionWhat are you doing on June 6, 2015? Don’t know yet? I know where we’ll be – at the world’s largest family reunion, which being held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York. The story behind this event is so cool…

Officially known as the Global Family Reunion, it’s a project spearheaded by best-selling author A.J. Jacobs. His goal is to build a massive family tree of the entire world, with the help of geneaology sites like Geni and WikiTree. Currently, it’s at 77 million people, and being recognized as part of a “revolution” in genealogy, enabled by the internet and its ability to connect us to our communal ancestry.

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