Wakeboard to Wind Tunnel

By: Lauren Tjaden

For the adventurous among us, sunbathing on the beach isn’t much of a vacation. If you’d rather swim with the manatees instead of watching them through the glass, read on for thrills-filled Florida vacation ideas.

Let me tell you how it all started. I stretched out on my bright-yellow towel while the sun toasted my back. The crystal-blue ocean played its muted, soothing melody nearby.

“Are you having a good time?” my husband, Paul, asked. It was our first vacation together, some 25 years ago.

“Actually, I’m bored out of my skull,” I admitted. “I want to DO SOMETHING.” He laughed.

“Me, too. I’m going CRAZY just sitting here.”

If your idea of nirvana is relaxing on a Florida beach, expending only enough energy to occasionally twirl a miniature umbrella around in your tropical drink, you’re probably reading the wrong article. Don’t get me wrong. I like to relax, but only for a couple of hours at a time.

Blame it on my short attention span, my high energy level or whatever you want. It’s the truth. The reason I’m here is to help you folks who are looking for adventure, for new experiences, for the chance to learn a sport. My mission is to help you glimpse the world from a slightly different angle. I promise you this: If your fun-meter is running low, Florida is the perfect place to top off your tank, whether on land or water.

Adventures on the Water

The only challenge water lovers will face is picking out which adventures to try. Florida boasts 663 miles of beaches, 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways, plus a whopping 7,700 lakes that are 10 acres or larger.

Discover scuba diving with Holiday Isles in Islamorada with a one-day course; you may even discover a passion for reefs and rays. Harness the power of the wind and skim across the waves on a kiteboard or windsurfer. Wakeboarding is fun, whether you’re grateful to be standing up at all, or bouncing over wakes like a monkey on steroids. Ditto for water skiing. Racing around a slalom course, shaking it up with tricks or just cruising – it’s all good.

Hop onto an airboat to explore the Everglades. Investigate remote springs, like the one in Juniper Springs Recreation Area, deep in the Ocala National Forest, via kayak or canoe. Slip and scream down slides at Orlando’s Wet ‘n Wild waterpark for a cool, soggy blast. Did I mention surfing? I’d have to be crazy to leave that off the list. (No comments about my mental state from the peanut gallery, please.)

Adventures in the Sky

If the sky is calling you, you have an amazing array of choices. Try tandem hang gliding at Quest Air in Groveland, Wallaby Ranch, the first and largest aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world, near Walt Disney World Resort or over the water at Miami Hang Gliding. Soar without a motor in a sail plane discovery ride at Seminole Lake Gliderport. Enjoy a peaceful morning journey in a hot-air balloon, or parasail behind a powerboat.

Still more flavors of flying are available, including tours to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson with Key West Seaplane Charters. You can even jump out of a perfectly good plane when you visit Skydive City. iFly Orlando presents a slightly tamer alternative with its vertical wind tunnel. Polk City’s Fantasy of Flight, Wings Over Miami Air Museum and Pensacola’s National Naval Aviation Museum all provide G-force thrills, the last offering two state-of-the-art MaxFlight Simulators, which let you simulate air-to-air combat and stunt flying.

Adventures on Wheels

Prefer two wheels to four? Bring your bike to Ed Bargy’s Motorcycle Road Racing School in Jennings to sharpen your skills. Or, visit a rally, like Biketoberfest in Daytona Beach, for an experience that’s as different as chocolate on asparagus, and much more fun than the aforementioned snack.

Animal Adventures

Do you love horses? (I do, too.) Visit Rocking Horse Ranch in Altoona, the Florida Horse Park in Ocala or the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington to watch some of the best equine and human athletes in the world—including Olympic stars—battle it out in prestigious international competitions. Cheer on your favorite thoroughbreds racing at Tampa Bay Downs or Gulfstream Park. Climb into the saddle yourself at Horse World Riding Stables in Kissimmee.

If you love both water and wildlife, I recommend swimming with wild manatees in the Homosassa or Crystal rivers with Sunshine River Tours. Manatees are absolutely gentle, unbelievably huge and, surprisingly, seem to be fascinated with human beings.

Whatever adventures you choose, afterwards, you’ll find your fun-meter full. You may even be content to crawl into a beach chair and amuse yourself by twirling that miniature umbrella around in your drink. For an hour or so, that is.

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