It’s more fun if you have to sign a waiver. When enjoying Florida’s great outdoors, amp up your travel plans with a little adventure. You don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to get your blood pumping with a good thrill. Risk is always present, but experienced professionals guide newcomers through activities once reserved for the seemingly insane. A white-knuckle grip and the urge to scream usually mean you’re doing it right, so float, fall, swim and soar your way into adventure while creating stories to tell for the rest of your life.
Southeast - Going Under
For anyone who has wanted to visit an alien planet, slipping beneath the open sea for an hourlong swim is the next best thing until E.T. comes back. Florida boasts some of the best scuba diving in the continental United States, especially the shallow, coastal reefs from West Palm Beach to Key West. The very act of breathing underwater is a unique experience. Add to it a close encounter with a barracuda, moray eel or a playful pod of dolphins, and you may need to remind yourself to breathe. Dive centers such as Silent World in Key Largo charter small boats to keep the crowds at a minimum and take divers of all levels to find the exciting marine life Florida has to offer. The Sunshine State also boasts a plethora of shipwrecks to dive, including the 522-foot USS Vendenberg, which was sunk off Key West in 2009. Would-be divers who aren’t certified can still get in on the fun. Silent World and many other dive operators offer a “resort course” for the inexperienced. This means that students take a lesson in a pool and then head out into the open ocean. Warning: Swimming through a colorful, lively coral reef can become an obsession.
Central - The Ultimate Flotation Device
Boarding an airplane is fairly normal for travelers, unless that airplane is Zero-G Corporation’s modified Boeing 727 named G-Force One. Until commercial space travel becomes a reality, this flight is the closest feeling to being in outer space that anyone but astronauts can have. In fact, astronauts train in jets like these, which create a weightless environment inside the aircraft through the performance of extreme maneuvers at 30,000 feet. Nicknamed “Vomit Comet,” Zero-G’s plane flies in wavelike patterns called parabolas — essentially a series of 45-degree climbs and dives. Though this may sound like a nausea-inducing ride, the feeling inside the plane is less roller coaster and more awe-inspiring: a few seconds of 2 G pressure (double your normal weight), and then you’re floating. Each parabola creates about 30 seconds of weightlessness, during which passengers twist, flip, dance on the walls, fly like Superman, eat floating candies out of the air and nearly anything else imaginable at zero gravity. Operating out of Cape Canaveral, Titusville and Miami, Zero-G is the only company in North America that offers this one-of-a-kind journey of weightless exhilaration.
Southeast - Leap of Faith
Walking to the edge of an airplane’s open cargo doors — while in flight — requires a certain sense of adventure. Stepping off that edge requires a little bit of crazy. For pure thrills, nothing compares to jumping out of an airplane and plummeting 15,000 feet down to solid ground. Many first-time jumpers, including this writer, report a complete inability to breathe from pure excitement for the first several seconds of freefall while speeding toward the Earth at approximately 125 miles per hour. These breathless moments are often immediately followed by adrenaline-infused screaming. The chute opens after about a minute of freefall, and the previously frightening scene shifts to tranquil wonder. During the slow drift down, the wind rushing past is the only sound you hear, and there are few sights more surreal than that of your feet dangling a few thousand feet above the ground. Dozens of great skydive centers are located throughout Florida, but our favorite is Skydive Sebastian, partly because the drop zone is just two miles from the ocean. The view of the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean on the way down makes this unforgettable experience simply unbeatable.
Southeast - Dream Flight
Ever have a dream you were flying? Not in an airplane, just you, soaring through the air over the ocean or a grand cityscape. One great way to make that dream come true is to strap on a giant wing and take to the skies in a hang glider at Miami Hang Gliding Inc. (with an experienced pilot accompanying newcomers). The glider launches from the waters of Biscayne Bay and is whisked into the air while tethered to a boat to gain some altitude. the rope releases after a few hundred feet, and then it’s time to fly. As you reach altitudes higher than 1,000 feet during flight, the views of Key Biscayne, downtown Miami and South Beach are unparalleled. You don’t have to crane your neck to peer out a tiny window, and if you fly through a low-hanging cloud, you can actually feel the moisture, or better yet, open your mouth and taste it. Even first-time fliers can control the glider for a few turns for added aerial adventure. Full lessons and solo flights are available if you can’t shake the desire to go up again.