Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Forget hair-raising roller-coaster rides. Try hairy critters slobbering on your windshield. Indeed, the animals that roam Lion Country Safari, which is located west of West Palm Beach, make Orlando's mouse seem rather mundane. Developed in 1967 by a group of British and South African entrepreneurs who wanted to bring the African safari experience stateside, the park is now home to more than 1,200 animals that roam freely around visitors, who are warned to stay in their cars. While this may sound like the ultimate couch-potato experience, the place has a rich history. When it opened more than three decades ago, it was the first cageless zoo in the nation. Furthermore, a drive through the park underscores how oxymoronic the term "reality-based TV" truly is; it offers a new incentive to get out of the house. Where else can you commune with curious ostriches (albeit through shatter-proof glass)? And where else can you watch giraffes spar while you hope they don't lose their footing and turn your SUV into a battered Dodge Ram? And not only neophytes are captivated by the zoo's natural wonder. Famed chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane Goodall uses the attraction as part of her ChimpanZoo program, in which trained observers record the animals' activities to help scientists understand how man's closest relatives live. If all that anthropological stuff seems like too much, don't worry. A park at the end of the trail features a merry-go-round, mini-golf, and pedal boats.
You've got your workhorse Brian Grant, your streak shooter Travis Best, and your rookie phee-nom Caron Butler. But in the murk of the Eastern Conference basement, only one light shines with star power: Eddie Jones. Maybe Jones can't single-handedly lift the Heat into the playoffs or even make the team a consistently scrappy opponent. (Those 30-point losses take their toll.) But on any given night, he's fun to watch. He's whip-fast and unpredictable. He'll spin past some cement-legged defender to tomahawk the ball through the hoop or lay back and, with a sleepy, ruminative stroke, sink a three. (He always has one of the highest three-point percentages in the league.) Injury-prone, constantly rumored to be trade bait, Jones can't carry the team like Alonzo Mourning used to do. But he has provided Heat fans with more than his share of enjoyable moments this past season -- and there weren't many.
With one of the only working lighthouses in South Florida, easy access to the ocean, and freedom from drawbridges, why take your boat anyplace else? Instead of getting stuck in the rush-hour-thick marine traffic of the Intracoastal, the New River or one of South Florida's narrow canals where the no-wake zones won't let you go past the double digits and the bridges have longer waits than the tollbooths, set loose from the Hillsboro Inlet and fly off into the ocean. Port Everglades might be bigger, but in the Hillsboro Inlet, you won't get run over by a cruise ship bigger than a skyscraper. You will be just minutes away from some great dive spots with living coral reefs, can find a quiet place to coax some fish out of the ocean, and speed, sail, or glide through the water. Either parallel the coast for a few hours or head for the Caribbean. After your trip, you can dock at the Cove and enjoy a nice dinner.
When we passed by an alligator baking under the sun in a round puddle that was too small to contain his long tail, the 7-year-old with us observed, "He's in his hot tub." And in a way, he was. You get intimate with the gators out in Shark Valley, where a paved, 15-mile bicycle trail cuts through the heart of the 'Glades. They are everywhere. We must have seen 60 or so on a recent two-hour stay at the park, which is on Tamiami Trail (or U.S. 41) 18 miles west of Krome Avenue. There were dozens of babies and one great big granddaddy that must have been more than 100 years old. Add to that huge Florida garfish, majestic anhingas and herons, and the occasional deer (we missed out on that sight) and you've got one magical afternoon. You can either bring your own bicycle or rent one of theirs (at $5.25 an hour -- and some come with baby seats if a real newcomer is tagging along). About the midway point is an observation tower that gives you an incredible vista of the River of Grass. Or if you don't feel like pedaling, you can walk a couple of their short trails. Or, we add with a sigh, you can kick back and ride the tram for $12 ($11 for seniors, $7.25 for children 12 and under). Whatever you choose, we guarantee you'll see just about every form of wildlife. Except sharks, of course.
How can we tell Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria doesn't give a flying fish about winning in this town? Let's just take a look at the ones that got away. Two spring trainings ago, in a salary-dumping move, the team traded its closer, Antonio Alfonseca, and its fifth starter, Matt Clement, for Julian Tavarez and a pitching prospect. What happened? The absence of Alfonseca disrupted the bullpen, forcing setup men to try out for the closer role, while rookies were plugged into middle relief and setup slots. The result: inconsistency and blown saves. Tavarez is and always has been a bum, and he pitched like one. Meanwhile, Clement finally had his breakout year, going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and keeping down his walk totals while striking out 215 batters -- all for an awful Cubs team. During the 2002 campaign, the Marlins "brain trust," in two more salary-driven transactions, traded away the team's most feared hitter (Cliff Floyd) and most experienced starting pitcher (Ryan Dempster). Granted, Dempster struggled for most of last year, but don't even try to argue that Carl Pavano is an improvement. Juan Encarnacion is a nice player, sure, but compare his on-base percentage and slugging percentage last year (.324 and .449) to Floyd's (.388 and .533). This off-season, management executed a series of deals -- and nondeals -- that, in true Ari Fleischer fashion, it has tried to spin as a demonstration of its commitment to winning. They term it "small-ball" -- pitching defense and speed. Baloney. Replacing a jovial clubhouse presence and consistent hitter like Kevin Millar with a known bust like Todd Hollandsworth is an insult to both the players and fans. All this to save the $500,000 difference in their 2003 salaries. Way to pinch those pennies, guys. The three-way trade with the Rockies and Braves was the capper, though. Yes, the contracts of Preston Wilson ($28 million through 2005) and Charles Johnson ($26 million over the next three years) were onerous, and both players were underperforming, especially CJ. But to go through all those machinations and end up with a punch-and-judy hitting center fielder who never draws a walk (Juan Pierre), a young reliever with more tattoos than total major league wins and saves combined (Tim Spooneybarger), and to be paying Mike Hampton $30 million over the next three years to play for the stinkin' Braves? Ludicrous. Outrageous. Disgusting. But hey, at least we then got Pudge, right? Yeah, this year. Don't come crying to us when the Marlins are paying him the rest of his back-loaded $10 million contract to play for somebody else, too.
Few places on the island of the rich and famous make outsiders feel more welcome than the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course. Well, at least they won't look at you funny for being worth less than a million. This city-owned mini-course, at 2,450 yards, is perhaps the island's best deal and affords some of the best views. For $17 in the morning and $15 after 2 p.m., duffers get amazing ocean views on four holes that run along the dune and Intracoastal sights from three holes on the opposite side of Ocean Boulevard. Check in at the shack-sized clubhouse, and for an extra $10, jump in a cart if you're absolutely lazy. Don't worry about checking with the starter, because there isn't one. Carts have the keys in 'em. Frequent customers can buy a 12-play card for $210 that makes this 18-hole course the best for the buck. Be warned, however, that this short course was designed for those who can afford to spend their weekdays golfing. Thin fairways running along water and sloped greens make for tough shots. And if you want to fit in, bring your plaid pants and speak loudly about how much you love the entire Bush family.