By Ken Hegan for MSN Travel

For nutty tourist attractions, it’s sure hard to beat Florida.

Prime example: a private zoo near Tampa Bay called ‘Dade City’s Wild Things‘, is offering a once-in-a-lifetime chance [or should that read ‘last-in-a-lifetime’?] to ‘Swim with a Tiger’.

Tiger-swim

Yep, for $200 US you can jump in a pool and paddle around with a tiger named Tony. And Tony is a real tiger, too, not some cartoon tiger that jumped off a cereal box.

Dade City’s Wild Things is a “beautiful 22-acre zoo” with a trolley that takes you to 150 exhibits featuring over 200 animals. All the animals at Wild Things were born in captivity.

According to their website, you can have a “hands-on encounter with a lion cub, tiger cub, skunk, gator or monkey.” Judging by their promo video, they encourage tourists to let their kids hold snakes, kiss tigers on the face, dress monkeys up like Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, and let a baby monkey claw your child’s nose.

Which sounds way more fun than, say, the local Kumquat Festival.

Tiger-cub-swimming

The zoo’s tiger swim has become a huge hit with tourists who’ve apparently always wanted to cross ‘Swim with a jungle cat’ off their bucket list.

It’s billed as “An amazing encounter that you will never, ever forget!”

But don’t worry about getting your face mauled off. Randy Stearns, the zoo’s president and head trainer, told Fox News in Tampa Bay that the swims are sorta kinda somewhat safe. For starters, there’s a trainer nearby.

“It’s not like we’re going to just throw you in the pool and say, ‘Here’s the tiger,'” Stearns said. [Which is a shame, I might pay a little more to watch that.]

Watch this news clip about the experience shot by Sun News. Seriously, check it out, it’s worth a quick look.

You’ll notice a few things in the video:

1) Nobody dies or gets mauled on camera, which probably disappointed someone at the network

2) The park ranger kid’s goofy leather hat is worth at least $5 towards your admission

3) The big-headed girl looks much too young to be swimming with a jungle beast

4) The girl smiles when she’s in the pool. But after swimming with the tiger, she looks dazed and traumatized.

5) Near the end of the video, watch the mother’s lips as her daughter talks. As one reader pointed out, it looks like the mom is a ventiloquist.

6) Tiger cubs make cute sounds when you towel off their bellies. And by ‘you’, I mean ‘you’.

Because unless you knocked me out, zipped me inside a hockey bag, and threw me into that pool, there’s NO WAY you’d get me to swim with a meat-eating predator.

Now, far as I know, Dade County’s Wild Things is the only place in America that offers tiger cub swims. Well, at least legally. There might be some sick, mean, billionaire’s club than I’m not aware of. But if all this makes you squeamish or worried, fear not: Florida state law says that tigers (who are naturally excellent swimmers, by the way, and have webbed toes to prove it) can only be with the public until they’re 40 pounds. And that’s with a leash.

Your $200 tiger-swim fee gets you cuddly play time on the lawn, 30 minutes in the water next to the beast, plus you can help bottle-feed Tony, too. Oh, and to nobody’s surprise, Dade City’s Wild Things lets you swim with a 4-foot alligator, too.

If you want to swim with Tony, you’d better get down to Florida fast. Tony weighs just 18 lbs, but he’ll eventually grow up to weigh 1,000 lbs. It won’t be much fun to swim with Tony then.

What do you think…is it cool to swim with tigers? Or is this yet another example of how people are the Worst Animal Ever Invented?

— Ken Hegan

BING: how to survive a tiger attack

Read all Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

Photos courtesy Dade City’s Wild Things. For further info, visit dadecityswildthings.com

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