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Endangered Vacays

Dragon Tales

Cayman Islands

the draw

The Blue Iguana, no pet-shop cutie. It grows to more than five feet long, and it's so ugly, your kids will think it's the coolest thing since the T. rex. And it's nearly extinct.

how to see it

Head to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (botanicpark.ky) on Grand Cayman. Take a guided tour of the Blue Iguana breeding facility. After you've seen how they care for and cuddle (!) the critters, the “warden” takes you on a trail safari. You may stumble upon free-roaming iguanas, as they have little fear of humans. Just don't go if it's cloudy: The hotter and sunnier it is, the more active they are. The park's also home to 56 butterfly types; five can only be found here.

where to crash

A ten-minute ride from the park, the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa (starwoodhotels.com) is posh but fam-friendly. Their SPG Kids Pass—an all-inclusive, round-the-clock meal and snack plan—is a good deal for finicky kids.

while you're there

Doggy-paddle with massive green sea turtles. Some at the Cayman Turtle Farm (turtle.ky) weigh in at over 500 pounds. They crush conch shells in their jaws like we tear open fruit-snack packets. You can swim (and snorkel) in the farm's two lagoons, where you'll also see southern stingrays gliding alongside you. During breeding season (May through October), you can see turtle nests on the farm's beach.

Gator Zone

Miami, FL

the draw

Everglades National Park. It's the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, famous for its sawgrass prairies and gators. But at just 45 minutes from Miami, pollution and urban expansion is doing it in.

how to see it

Take an airboat tour (ecosafari.com). More of a raft than a boat, it's like Disney's Jungle Cruise…but for real. Float past ten-foot American alligators, turtles, pelicans, turkey vultures, and if you're really lucky, a Florida panther. (Keep an eye out for the Skunk Ape, the Everglades's answer to Bigfoot.) Lunch at the Everglades Seafood Depot is included. Should you tell the kiddies the nuggets are made of gator? They kinda do taste like chicken.

where to crash

The Miami Marriott Doral Golf Resort & Spa (marriott.com) is about the closest, and your kids will go bonkers over the five pools. There's also a swanky spa with a hot massaging waterfall.

while you're there

Drive over to the Miami Children's Museum (miamichildrensmuseum.org) and your kid can compete in the Olympics. Mt. MiChiMu (also known as an awesome rock wall) is the site of the museum's Summer Olympics competitions. Make a day of it by heading across the street to Jungle Island, a tropical zoo. You can meet an 11-foot Liger and feed a Rainbow Lorikeet.

Bear in Mind

Yellowstone Park, WY

the draw

The geysers thrill, but it's the wild woolly and feathered creatures (many of them threatened)—the grizzly, gray wolf, bald eagle, lynx, and wolverine—that are the stars.

how to see it

Stop at the Junior Ranger station and ask the ranger where the best sightings will be that day. Early morning and evening are when you'll have the most luck (during the summer, the gates are open 24/7). Or sign up for the ranger-led bus tour. More options: an escorted llama riding trip (yellowstonesafari.com) and the stagecoach wildlife tour (travelyellowstone.com), which includes an Old West steak-and-wiener cookout. Tweens can opt to meet you at the cookout via horseback.

where to crash

The Holiday Inn in West Yellowstone (holidayinn.com) is a rustic lodge. They set up dogsledding tours for guests, even in summer. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center (grizzlydiscoveryctr.com) is five minutes from the hotel. Stop in to meet grizzlies Kobuk and Nakina, and check out two wolf habitats.

while you're there

Visit Grand Teton Park (nps.gov/grte). They offer junior ranger programs for kids and guided fishing outings for families on the Snake River. The parks are 90 minutes apart, so you may want to spend a night at the Homewood Suites by Hilton, in Jackson, WY. The suites are huge, and hot breakfast is free. Then take a dip at Boiling River Park. Stand with one leg in the chilly Gardner River and the other in the toasty Boiling River. Small “hot tubs” are carved in the rocks, and there are inlets where 'rents can watch wee bathers.

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