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It's a jungle out there

By Mike Fink
CNN Headline News

Feeding the monkeys at "Monkey Jungle."

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(CNN) -- Sometimes thrill seekers need a break from the long lines and wallet-breaking prices of mega-amusement parks. One alternative is the world of roadside animal parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

While these places can't offer the high-speed kick of roller coasters, tourists will learn there's certainly never a dull moment.

Outside of Miami, Florida, is "Monkey Jungle."

I was initially cautious of a place that advertises, "the humans are caged and the monkeys run wild." What you'll find are caged-in pathways where dozens of monkeys climb above and around you.

The highlight is feeding the monkeys. Visitors leave "monkey food" (aka raisins) in hanging metal cups. The monkeys then pull the cup up through the cage and cram the monkey food in their mouths before fellow primates try to steal it from them. They then carefully drop the cup back down for more.

There's also a pool where monkeys dive for other types of monkey food -- fruit.

"Big Cat Rescue" in Tampa, Florida, is a nonprofit "retirement home" to more than 170 exotic cats. At "Big Cat Rescue" you can "stand just 3 feet from tigers and lions" and get so close to the cats "that you can feel their hot breath on your skin."

A night tour is also offered where "you become the hunted rather than the hunter." Unbelievably, there are also opportunities to hand-feed cougars and tigers.

If you're more of a dog person than a cat person, check out "Howling Acres" near Williams, Oregon. "Howling Acres" is a sanctuary for more than 30 wolves.

The 13-acre haven offers educational tours in an effort to dispel the popular image of wolves as depicted in such stories as "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Three Little Pigs" and "Peter and the Wolf."

The sanctuary also offers something called "Weddings with Wolves." Apparently some people are quite enamored with the creatures.

In Dawsonville, Georgia, you'll find the largest collection of kangaroos outside Australia. That's according to the Web site of the Kangaroo Conservation Center.

The center offers "outback adventures" where you can see marsupials up close and pet them.

One of the highlights of the tour is getting to smell the kangaroo that smells like maple syrup.

And then there's "Gatorland," the "Alligator Capital of the World." Located in Orlando, Florida, "Gatorland" sets itself apart from the famous amusement parks nearby by claiming it is Orlando's "Best Half Day Attraction."

Here you can see all sorts of reptiles, including Alf, the 14-foot, 1,000-pound crocodile. When you're finished looking at them, find out what smoked alligator ribs and fried gator taste like at the park's smokehouse.

These types of attractions might not be as conspicuous as massive theme parks, but the great thing about them is they come in a wide variety. There are parks for skunks, turtles, rabbits, pigs and dolphins, to name a few.

But if such intimacy with animals makes you uncomfortable, there's still always Disneyland. But you just might want to steer clear of "Goofy's Wiseacre Farm," "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" or "The Country Bear Jamboree."

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