A round-up of adventures sure to provide lasting memories… and a surge of adrenaline.
It may be due to their careers (think firefighters and special forces soldiers) or hobbies (like underwater cave diving and motorcycle racing), but some people live closer to the edge than the rest of us.
But even if our day jobs are far from life or death, many of us still crave a dash of serious excitement now and then. I’m happy to report that Central Florida offers plenty of activities for daring souls. Whether you’re seeking just a few thrilling minutes or a longer adventure, read on to find your perfect adrenaline rush.
Hint: These experiences also make great gifts for the thrill-seekers in your life!
Go ahead and jump out of that plane in a tandem skydive adventure at Skydive Space Center in Titusville. You’re safely harnessed to a jumpmaster who’s in control of the whole experience, so all you have to do is have fun.
Allow about three hours for the whole experience, with the first 30 minutes or so spent on the ground in pre-flight preparation. All gear is provided (including a reserve parachute). You must be at least 18 and the weight limit is 220 pounds.
“We can go to 18,000 feet, which is the world’s highest jump and you’ll freefall for a minute and a half, or 15,000 feet which gives a freefall of one minute 15 seconds,” explains Patty Nardi, co-owner of Skydive Space Center.
Even though you’re falling at 120mph, the floating sensation makes it feel like you aren’t going that fast. After freefall, you’re drifting serenely under canopy (parachute) for anywhere from seven to eight minutes. And landing is a breeze, “like jumping off a small stool,” assures Patty. No “drop and roll” required.
Skydive Space Center
(800) 823-0016 > skydivespacecenter.com
Wind tunnels offer skydivers an opportunity to practice without a plane, but they’ve also opened up a whole new sport known as “bodyflight” to the public.
At iFly in Orlando (there’s one in Tampa, too), you can experience indoor skydiving in a 30-foot tall wind tunnel for anywhere from one minute and up.
Wearing a helmet/goggles, ear plugs and a slightly baggy flight suit that helps create lift, you’ll stand in the doorway to the wind tunnel, instructor at your side. As you raise your arms and lean into the wind, you’ll feel it catch you and lift you up. In a moment you’re horizontal and “flying.”
Skilled fliers can rise all the way to the top of the wind tunnel, but first-time fliers usually hover just a few feet. Choose the “high flight” option and you can go higher with an instructor.
Training programs are available if you want to take your flying skills to the next level or even compete in freestyle and formation flying.
(407) 337-4359 > iflyworld.com/orlando
Go Hang Gliding
If you’re seeking the thrill of flight but want to stay airborne longer than skydiving, you’ll probably love hang gliding. Wallaby Ranch in Davenport is known for their tandem discovery flights. You’ll soar for 15 to 20 minutes, but the memories will last forever.
“We’ve been doing this longer than anyone else in the world and have taken people from age 3 to 100,” says owner Malcolm Jones, who has even taken Al Roker from the Today Show. Wallaby Ranch is the world’s first aerotow hang gliding park and has been operating seven days a week since 1991. The operation emphasizes safety, and all hang gliders fly with backup parachutes.
In your discovery flight, you’re partnered with an instructor in the glider. After being towed by plane to the desired altitude, you’re released to glide freely. You’re wearing a helmet, but other than that you need only to dress appropriately for the weather. There’s no fitness level required, although there’s a 240-pound weight limit.
Takeoff and landing are on the glider’s wheels for a smooth transition from land to sky and back again. For the smoothest air, you’ll want to schedule an early morning flight.
(863) 424-0070 > wallaby.com
Trust me, you won’t believe you’re in Florida as you whiz above dramatic terrain that includes canyons and lakes at the aptly named Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours in Ocala.
Opt for the full tour, which takes about 2 1/2 hours and includes nine different ziplines, two rope bridges and a rappel. The highest zipline is an impressive 130 feet, but don’t worry. You’re safely harnessed in and a sturdy cable and snap connect you to the steel zipline. You’re also wearing the provided helmet and gloves. The heavier you are, the faster you’ll zip along, so this is one occasion where weighing more is a plus.
Because the attraction is built around old quarries that flooded, some of the ziplines go over water. Guides are all about safety but are also fun loving and happy to share the history of your scenic surroundings.
Plan to catch the first tour in the morning, which starts about 9am. Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are highly recommended.
The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours
(352) 351-9477 > zipthecanyons.com
Fly A Helicopter
Take to the skies in a two-seater, Robinson R-22 helicopter, one of the world’s most popular training helicopters. This high-soaring adventure begins at Kissimmee Gateway Airport, where you’re in the capable hands of an FAA-certified flight instructor.
Once the pre-flight checklist is completed, you’ll climb into the bird and join the pilot, who handles take-off and landing, but in flight, you get to take the controls. Experience what it’s like to fly straight, climb, turn and then descend. It’s a flight lesson you’ll never forget.
Cloud 9 Living
(866) 525-6839 > cloud9living.com
Drive A Race Car
If you’ve fantasized about driving in the Daytona 500, this puts you one step closer. When you sign on for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, you’ll actually drive a real NASCAR race car on the famed track at Daytona International Speedway.
Not only are you on the famous track, but your car is the real deal, one that’s actually been driven by NASCAR drivers. Your experience includes a timed racing session, which means no lap counting and no lead car you have to follow. You also have in-car racing electronic radio communication with your own personal spotters.
And just like in a real race….passing is allowed.
Richard Petty Driving Experience/NASCAR Racing Experience
(704) 886-2400 > drivepetty.com
Ride A Bucking Bull
If you’re dreaming of that high-scoring, eight-second ride, here’s your chance to get started. There’s no realistic way to learn how to ride a bull in a few hours, which is why this experience is a three-day school. It takes place November 9-11, 2018, in Zolfo Springs, Florida.
With professional instructors guiding you every step of the way, you’ll have classroom instruction, training exercises, drills and rides on real livestock. All equipment is provided for use during the school and can be purchased at special discount prices if you choose.
Safety is stressed, and participants are matched with livestock according to the student’s age, ability, experience and physical condition. Quality safety gear, including protective vests, helmets and “Brain Pad” mouth guards, are also used.
Cloud 9 Living
(866) 525-6839 > cloud9living.com
Explore Sunken Shipwrecks
Immerse yourself in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa Bay and discover a world of sunken underwater discovery when you sign on for the Florida Aquarium Shipwreck Dive Adventure. Certified divers (no more than six at a time) on this specialized outing will go out with a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain and one to two dive masters.
The trip starts early in the morning, leaving from the Fort De Soto boat ramp. Your first stop is the USS Narcissus, a Civil War ship that exploded and sank in the late 1860s. Resting in about 15 feet of water, this historic Florida shipwreck was a gravesite. After spending about an hour diving and learning about the wreck’s history, you’ll head on to explore a second site, the Debbie Ann, a banana tug boat that was intentionally sunk as part of an artificial reef project in the late 1980s.
The experience is typically a two-tank dive, and the whole outing takes about four to five hours.
The Florida Aquarium
(813) 273-4000 > flaquarium.org
Explore Off-road ATVing
Be prepared to get dirty—maybe very dirty.
“We don’t send anyone home clean,” laughs Kevin Jowette, owner of Revolution Off Road. “If it’s dry, you’ll get dusty, and if it’s wet, you’ll get mucky.”
With 230 acres of trails, this adventure destination just south of Clermont includes a great variety of Central Florida terrain, including sand, mud and even some hills.
Choose from several off-road vehicle options: ATV, ATV+ (driver and passenger side-by-side) and Mucky Duck, an eight-wheeled amphibious vehicle that tackles both land and water and can hold up to four people. Vehicle, helmet, goggles, instruction and a guide are part of the experience.
To drive the ATV, you must be 16 or older with a photo ID. To drive the ATV+ or Mucky Duck, you must be at least 18 and a licensed driver.
Including safety briefings, experiences last anywhere from one to two hours.
Revolution Off Road also offers archery, skeet shooting and bass fishing on a private 65-acre lake.
Revolution Off Road
(352) 299-5650 > revolutionoffroad.com
For a flying adventure that includes land and sea, head to Daytona Beach Parasail in Ponce Inlet where you’ll parasail from a boat for an amazing birds-eye view of the coast.
The parachute is inflated right off the back of the boat; once it’s in the air, you are strapped securely into a harness, which also functions as a seat of sorts. You simply sit on the deck and the parachute lifts you up. Depending on the package you purchase, the parachute’s line will either be let out to 600, 800, 1,000 or an amazingly high 1,200 feet.
Once you’re airborne, just kick back and enjoy the amazing view from hundreds of feet in the air. At the end of your ride, the parachute lowers and you land gently on the back of the boat. The entire adventure—including boat ride, flight and return to dock—takes between 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes.
Daytona Beach Parasail
(386) 547-6067 > daytonaparasail.com
Dive With Sharks
Enter the waters of the largest habitat (500,000 gallons!) at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and you’ll find yourself face to face with sand tiger sharks and a nurse shark. Moray eels, barracuda and even a green sea turtle are also in these waters.
You must be a certified diver age 15 or older to participate in this remarkable experience, which takes place once daily by reservation only at 9am. No more than two participants at a time can take part.
You are lowered into the water in a cage and then swim out into the open habitat with a dive master for a 30-minute dive. The entire experience from start to finish is a little over an hour, and equipment is provided.
The Florida Aquarium
(813) 273-4000 > flaquarium.org
Break out your inner James Bond and learn to flyboard at Falcon Flyboarding. This gravity-defying adventure that has only been available to the public since about 2011 will have you feeling like a super hero once you get the hang of it.
After a brief pre-flight instruction you’ll be on the water. You’ll wear a Coast-Guard-approved life vest and helmet. Weight restrictions are 100 to 250 pounds.
“You fall a lot when you’re learning, but there’s definitely nothing else like it,” says Justin Smith, owner of Falcon Flyboarding and one of the instructors. “Once you’re fully levitated, it feels like you’re flying. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Smith takes clients out on Lake Virginia in Winter Park and Lake Ivanhoe in downtown Orlando. The instructor is in the water on a jet ski, and the power from it runs the flyboard. When you’re learning you’re usually about 2 feet above the water, but experienced flyboarders are often 10 feet in the air.
Falcon Flyboarding Orlando
(407) 575-9383 > falconflyboarding.com