Out of the Ordinary
There is more to do for excitement in the Orlando area than stand in lines to ride roller coasters at the theme parks. For example, did you know you can hang glide or go on a safari here? No kidding. We Came up with 23 extraordinarily fun things to do, so step out of that line and go for it.
Jump Out of a Plane!
Why wait until you’re about to kick the bucket to skydive? Few adventures will make you feel more alive than jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and freefalling for several thousand feet before deploying the parachute. Oh, right, you’re afraid to die. But it’s fighting to overcome your fear and anxieties that makes that first jump so nerve-racking and a blast at the same time. At Skydive DeLand (skydivedeland.com; 386-738-3539), you can take that once-in-a-lifetime leap of faith hooked to a skydiving instructor, riding down as a passenger on a tandem jump, or you can opt to experience the real thrill of skydiving—the solo freefall. The former was popularized by the movie The Bucket List and it’s the way to go for that celebratory jump, like on a birthday. The latter requires going through Skydive DeLand’s accelerated freefall program, a supervised seven-jump regimen that prepares you to become a certified skydiver. A tandem costs $179; AFF, $1,229. Whichever you do, on your inaugural jump, be sure to pay the $90 extra for the video and photo package so you can see the look on your face. It’s priceless.
Float Over Central Florida
Drifting over the Orlando area in a hot air balloon, you feel totally detached from the hustle and bustle a few thousand feet below. It’s peaceful up there but thrilling at the same time as you ride the oldest form of human flight. Orlando Balloon Rides (orlandoballoonrides.com; 407-894-5040) take off at sunrise from the Disney area. If you can stand up in the wicker basket, you can fly. Rides cost $165 per person (with online discount) and last about an hour, ending with a gentle descent followed by the traditional champagne toast and breakfast buffet.
Take a Dolphin Ride
If you think inching into chilly 77-degree water is exhilarating, wait till you’re nose-to-nose with a playful 12-foot dolphin. It rolls over for a belly rub, which you gladly provide, then pops up in the water and gives you a hug and a kiss. Grab its dorsal fin and off you go across the lagoon at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove (discoverycove.com; 877-557-7404). If you’ve ever watched the ’60s TV show Flipper, you get the picture. The lagoon itself is worth exploring, so grab a mask and snorkel and swim among beautiful tropical fish. But don’t be alarmed if a giant stingray “flying” through the lagoon brushes by you. All of the rays have had their barbed tails clipped. All-day packages start at $199 per person, with all activities, swim gear and food and refreshments included.
Drive Like Petty
If your reputation as a couch potato is eating at you, then maybe it’s time to move your butt to another seat—like the one behind the wheel of a 600-horsepower racecar. While you’re feeling the vibration of the engine at the starting line, you might wonder if you have the guts to drive laps around the Walt Disney World Speedway at 120 mph. But fear not: On the Richard Petty Driving Experience (drivepetty.com; 800-237-3889) you’re provided with plenty of pre-ride instruction and safety gear. And whether you choose to do 8 laps or 50, you’re following a car driven by a professional—you basically go where he does. Best of all, you’re driving a NASCAR beauty that has such tight steering you can’t help but stay on course in the turns. After a lap or two, you’ll loosen up—and speed up—and then it’s off to the races. Adventures range from a $99 shotgun ride with a pro to the 50-lap you-drive extravaganza clocking in at $2,099. The most popular package, the eight-lap Rookie Experience, is $449. The Petty experience also is offered at Daytona International Speedway.
Soar Like an Eagle
Hang gliding is not an activity you associate with Central Florida. After all, the area is pancake flat, with nary a hill from which to launch. But lack of elevation doesn’t mean your hang-gliding fantasy is grounded. Wallaby Ranch (wallaby.com; 800-925-5229) in Davenport takes you up in a hang glider towed by an ultralight airplane. At about 2,500 feet, the tow line releases, and you and your flight instructor, both strapped in harnesses, are on a blissfully peaceful ride over hundreds of undeveloped acres, with views of the Magic Kingdom and hot air balloons in the distance. For 20 minutes you sail aloft like an eagle riding the thermals. Cost: $120.
Feel Like an Astronaut
You don’t have to catch a ride on the space shuttle to experience the feeling of weightlessness. You can book a flight on Zero G (gozerog.com; 888-664-7284), a specially equipped Boeing 727 that takes a dozen “floaters” on the ride of their lives. As the jet flies an arc pattern (up at 45 degrees to about 34,000 feet, then steeply over toward the ground), everyone floats for up to 30 seconds. The plane does 12-15 of these maneuvers for a total of about 8 minutes of weightlessness. At $4,950 plus tax, it’s our most expensive fun thing to do by far. The next scheduled flight from Cape Canaveral is Aug. 20.
Scuba Dive at Epcot
Not everything at Walt Disney World is a fantasy: You can actually put on air tanks and dive into The Seas With Nemo & Friends exhibit at Epcot (disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/epcot-dive-quest/; 407-939-8687). It’s simpler than any scuba trip you’ve been on: You get a backstage tour of The Seas, gear up and plop into the 5.7-million-gallon tank. There are turtles and rays and sharks. But don’t worry, they’re well-fed and you’re not on the menu. However, you are part of the show for tourists gathered at the viewing ports or eating in the Coral Reef Restaurant. The cost is $175 for certified divers 12 and up, gear included.
Pilot a Warbird
Your heart will be in your throat—and down around your ankles and up near your ears—as you take the stick of a restored World War II-era T-6 airplane and send it into an upside-down loop. While on a flight with Warbird Adventures (warbirdadventures.com; 407-870-7366) in Kissimmee, you’re in control of the aircraft as a backseat instructor talks you through some of the same aerial acrobatic maneuvers fighter pilots once learned in this trainer airplane. Flights run from 15 minutes to an hour, starting at $240.
Swim With ‘Lucky’
If you’re bored with swimming laps in a pool, then “enter the food chain.” That’s the motto Orlando dermatologist John “Lucky’’ Meisenheimer has given to the free open-water swims he leads six days a week behind his house on Lake Cane (luckyslakeswim.com; 407-352-2444). The main requirements are being able to make it across the lake and back (1 kilometer) and acknowledging that you’re sharing space with gators and turtles (they haven’t raised any serious objections in two decades of swims), not to mention the occasional watercraft. Lucky, 53, and his gang hit the water at 6:30 weekday mornings, 7:45 Saturdays, year-round. After the swim you can put your name on Lucky’s Lake Swim Wall of Fame; more than 3,000 swimmers have so far. A longtime competitive swimmer, the good doctor himself has made well over 10,000 crossings of the lake. If you think he’s obsessed with swimming, you should see his yo-yo collection!
Fly On a Bed of Air
You don’t have to jump out of an airplane to experience the sensation of skydiving. iFLY Orlando (iflyorlando.com; 407-903-1150) is an indoor skydiving simulator that sends you aloft on a blast of air. Anyone in decent health and of almost any age can fly in iFLY’s wind tunnel. The best part of the experience is spinning upward into the tunnel and back down. You’re in the grasp of an instructor, but it’s still a wild ride. Prices start at $49 for two, one-minute flights.
Watch an Underwater Light Show
Kayaking in total darkness may not be your idea of fun, but what if the water lit up as you paddled? That’s what happens on dark nights in the Indian River Lagoon near Merritt Island when bioluminescent creatures such as dinoflagellates and jellies radiate a ghostly green glow. To see the underwater light show at its brightest, schedule a guided tour with A Day Away Kayak Tours (adayawaykayaktours.com; 321-268-2655) when there’s a new moon. And don’t forget your bug spray.
Swing for the Fences
OK, so maybe you missed out on that seven-year, $140-million contract years ago, but you can still live your dream of playing pro baseball—sort of. The Atlanta Braves offer a five-day fantasy camp that allows the common man—or woman—to shine on the diamond by training and playing alongside former Braves like Javy Lopez and Otis Nixon. Ages 25 and older can play ball, and no experience is necessary. The next fantasy is set for Jan. 24-29 at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney (atlantabraves.com, click on “fans’’; 407-939-2040). Cost, including accommodations, is $3,999, which is less than you would have made in an inning had you gotten that fat contract.
Shoot to Thrill
Zombies are not easy to kill with bullets. Shooting them anywhere but in the head is a waste of expensive ammo. But the head shot is hard to pull off, so practice your marksmanship at a shooting range. At Shoot Straight (shoot-straight.com; 407-889-0842) in Apopka you can rent several kinds of guns for zombie target practice. Fire a Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun or the Kriss Vector .45-caliber assault rifle (below) and you’ll see just what kind of shot you are. The Vector is a blast to shoot, but may be too heavy and cumbersome for close quarters defense against flesh eaters. The Glock, now that’ll get the job done if you’re aim is true. Shoot Straight charges a $35 monthly range membership fee, with the first gun rental free ($10 thereafter). Ammo and targets are extra.
Take the Treetop Challenge
You will get quite a workout as you navigate the Upland and Rainforest obstacle courses and zip lines at ZoomAir Adventure Park (zoomair.us; 407-330-0767), located in the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. The two courses comprise a series of 58 “games,” or obstacles, such as rope-and cable-suspended bridges, with nine zip lines to ride. Keeping your balance while crossing bridges like the “dancing logs” is hard, but you won’t fall from your 25-foot perch because you’re secured to safety cables with lifelines. Riding the zip lines is your reward for completing various challenges, with the best saved for last: a 50-foot high, 500-foot zip line on the Rainforest course, the more challenging of the two layouts. Bring strong legs and water. Cost: $45.95 for both courses.
Hit the Road on a Harley
There really isn’t anything like tossing your leg over a half-ton of honest American iron and heading out on the backroads of Central Florida. But you don’t have to own a Harley to enjoy riding the famed motorcycle brand on, for instance, the winding, hilly roads around Clermont. Take a motorcycle rider course at Orlando Harley-Davidson (orlandoharley.com; 407-423-0346) and secure a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license, then rent a bike for a day—or a week. Rates vary by package and model of bike, but plan on spending at least $129 per day.
Kill or Be Killed
Getting hit by a paintball can hurt—a lot if the projectile hits exposed flesh— but that is precisely what makes playing paintball so exhilarating: You’re fighting with a team, but you’re more concerned about getting through the shootout without being hit than winning the battle. At Orlando Paintball (orlandopaintball.com; 407-294-0694) there are six battlefields, including two indoor arenas, on which to wage war against mortal enemies in scenarios like SWAT vs. convicts and aliens vs. humans. The gunbattles are intense, with paintballs coming at you from every direction. Give yourself a better fighting chance by renting an upgraded assault rifle with a self-loader. The $49.95 package also comes with an ammo belt and all-day air refills. Paintballs are sold separately. With summer coming on, consider fighting at night under the lights. Some die-hards play until 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Learn How to Wakeboard
Dude, you don’t have to drop 80 grand on a supercool wakeboard boat to get big air. You can learn some sick wakeboarding tricks for $45, the price of an all-day pass at Orlando Watersports Complex (orlandowatersports.com; 407-251-3100). Here, a motorized cable pulls you over a private lake at 18-21 mph. By creating tension in the cable, you snap the board out of the water. You can do several tricks this way. OWC also has the Slider Park for advanced wakeboarders—with kickers, sliders and rails presenting daring challenges—and a wakeboarding boat if you want the real thing.
Go Gator Spotting
You can see a natural side of Florida while enjoying an airboat ride on Lake Jesup, one of the largest lakes in Central Florida. Such wildlife as eagles, osprey, herons, spoonbills and, of course, alligators—about 10,000 of them—are part of the scenery during the airboat tour with Black Hammock Adventures in Oviedo (theblackhammock.com; 407-365-1244). Bring your camera and sunscreen, and be prepared to be blown away when the watercraft reaches speeds of 45 mph. Rides start at $24.95 adults/$20.95 10 and under.
Dive With Sharks
You don’t have to drive an hour to the East Coast to get into the water with sharks, not that you would see them in the murky surf anyway. You can stay right here in Orlando and literally immerse yourself in their environment at SeaWorld’s newest attraction, SeaVenture. It’s part of the Grand Reef at Discovery Cove, the park’s reservation-only attraction. Donning a fiberglass diving helmet that’s attached to an air hose, you submerge into a cage in the shark-infested Grand Reef. A window in the cage affords you a clear view of the man-eating predators as they swim by. It’s a 90-minute experience, with about 20 minutes of dive time. Cost is $59 per person in addition to the Discovery Cove admission ($199).
Ride Like a Cowboy
Part of the fun of taking a horseback ride deep into the wilderness of south Osceola County is discovering that remnants of Old Florida really do still exist. While going on an overnight ride with Florida EcoSafaris (floridaecosafaris.com; 407-957-9794, ext. 1), you may meet up with everything from white-tailed deer and alligators to armadillos and wild turkeys. After a long day in the saddle, you’ll rest by a campfire while your guide cooks dinner over it, then it’s off to your tent. The one-night campout is $199; two nights go for $299. Just bring a sleeping bag.
Carry Out Do-or-Die Missions
If your cubicle existence is boring you to death, spend a few hours in the extreme office environment of Hard Knocks (indoorwar.com; 407-359-9091) near UCF in Oviedo. Here, the workplace becomes a combat zone, as players armed with laser-firing weapons navigate an office full of workstations or a warehouse of crates to carry out strategic missions such as freeing hostages or defusing bombs. It’s fun for all ages because there is no pain in being shot by the realistic-looking guns, and it’s especially popular with companies looking for a dramatically different kind of team-building exercise. Plan on spending from $35 to $75 for one to three hours of combat time.
Go on Safari
We know it’s basically a theme park, but Disney World’s Animal Kingdom isn’t as tame as you might think. You can go on a private safari in the park, getting much, much closer to the wildlife than ordinary guests. Wild Africa Trek (disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/wild-africa-trek; 407-939-8687) takes you on a three-hour bushwalk that winds through dense bamboo, across a rope footbridge over a crocodile-inhabited stream, along a cliff overlooking herds of hippos and into a safari camp surrounded by giraffes and other wildlife. Africa Trek is restricted to ages 8 and up and costs $189 per person, plus admission to Animal Kingdom, which is $87.33 for
ages 10 and up.
Surf . . . in Kissimmee
Head to the beach with your surfboard and some days all you find when you get there are ankle breakers. Bummer. But that’s never the case in Kissimmee. There you can ride awesome waves at Fantasy Surf (ultimateindoorwave.com; 407-396-RIDE), an indoor surf simulator. Standing on a flowboard, which is similar in size and shape to a wakeboard, you’ll shred a continuous wave created by 34,000 gallons of water per minute rushing at you at about 30 mph. A half-hour session ticket is $25 for adults and $20 for children.