Lions, dolphins, and penguins, oh my! Hotel animal habitats that will drive your kids wild

by Kelsey Blodget on August 3, 2010

Your kids can play with a spider monkey named Mario at the Paradisus Real in the D.R.

Your kids can play with a spider monkey named Mario at the Paradisus Real in the D.R.

Taking your kids on the trip of a lifetime is easier than you think. There’s nothing like wildlife to inspire awe in the little ones, and luckily for you, a handful of hotels on Oyster have the kid-friendly attraction to trump all kid-friendly attractions: animal habitats. That’s right — the following hotels don’t only host humans. Animals from lions to dolphins to penguins to monkeys call these properties home, and the thrill your kids will get from interacting with these exotic creatures can transform a humdrum family vacation into an awe-inspiring experience your kids won’t soon forget.

Hilton Hawaiian Village

Penguins at the Hilton Hawaiian Village

  • Animals: Penguins, turtles, and exotic birds (including parrots)
  • Price: $232/avg. per night
  • Pearls: 4
  • Location: Oahu, Hawaii

Penguins — in Hawaii? Yes, you read that correctly: The largest and kid-friendliest resort in Hawaii is home to a population of African Penguins that can survive in tropical temperatures. Your kids can watch penguin and turtle feedings Monday through Friday. With five towers, five pools, 20 restaurants, 90 shops, direct beach access, and separate lagoon, the Hilton Hawaiian Village truly is a veritable village — your kids will never run out of things to do.

Lion habitat at the MGM Grand

MGM Grand

Grand is the operative word. The biggest hotel (by room count) in Las Vegas has the biggest casino in town, many of the best restaurants, an enormous and fun pool complex, a huge range of on-site entertainment options — including a lion habitat, which you can visit for free. Go at 11:15 a.m. or 4:30 p.m. to see the lions getting fed.

Kahala Hotel and Resort, Oahu

Dolphin Quest at the Kahala Resort

  • Animals: Dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, tropical fish
  • Price: $493/avg. per night
  • Pearls: 5
  • Location: Oahu, Hawaii

The luxurious Kahala Hotel is Oahu’s top property, and it’s also home to the island’s only swim-with-the-dolphins experience. The hotel’s 26,000-square-foot lagoon is home to six Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, and for a (steep) price, kids and adults alike can interact with them firsthand through the hotel’s Dolphin Quest program. If it’s not in the budget, your kids will still get a kick out of the marine life pond, home to sea turtles, stingrays, and tropical fish.

Spider monkey at the Paradisus Palma Real

Paradisus Palma Real

The D.R.’s fanciest and most expensive all-inclusive, Palma Real has quality restaurants, a less-crowded beach, an enormous pool, free horseback riding, personalized service, beautiful grounds, and in-room Jacuzzis. Plus, you can hang out with a Spanish-speaking parrot and a spider monkey named Mario by the pool.

Mandalay Bay

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay

  • Animals: Sharks, endangered green sea turtles, prianha, rare golden crocodiles, moon jellies, sawfish, and giant rays
  • Price: $164/avg. per night
  • Pearls: 4
  • Location: The Strip, Las Vegas

The giant, 3,215-room Mandalay Bay offers more for kids than many Vegas resorts, including a wave pool, streaming lazy river pool, and most impressively, the 1.6-million-gallon Shark Reef Aquarium. In addition to sharks, the aquarium features endangered green sea turtles, piranha, rare golden crocodiles, moon jellies, sawfish, and giant rays.

Giraffe at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge, Orlando

The 762-room Disney Animal Kingdom is modeled after an East African safari lodge, and giraffes and gazelles freely roam the grounds. Its massive pool, free children’s activities, knowledgeable staff, and excellent gym make it one of Disney’s best properties.

Dolphin lagoon at Half Moon

Half Moon, Jamaica

  • Animals: Dolphin, horses
  • Price: $294/avg. per night
  • Pearls: 4.5
  • Location: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Stretching over 400 acres (including 2 miles of beach), this 400-room icoic resort offers attentive service, quality cuisine, and seemingly limitless activities — including horseback riding (the resort has its own stables) and more impressively, a swim-with-the-dolphins experience in a private cove.

The Mirage

Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage

  • Animals: Dolphins, lions, panthers, white tigers, leopards, sharks, stingrays, tropical fish
  • Price: $138/avg. per night
  • Pearls: 4
  • Location: The Strip, Las Vegas

Although it’s an elder statesman among the Strip’s megaresorts, the 3,044-room Mirage is young at heart, with a number of kid-centric activities. The most impressive include a giant volcano, a 20,000-gallon seawater acquarium (home to sharks and stingrays), and Siefried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat (home to lions, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, white tigers, panthers, and leopards).

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