As the St. Johns River winds through the Everglades of central Florida, it flows past forests of old-growth cypress trees. Bald eagles perch on branches draped in spanish moss, and below, blue herons and alligators prowl the edges of floating grass beds. Holding US Coast Guard Master Captain licenses, the guides of Airboat Rides at MIDWAY take passengers into this swampy wilderness aboard custom airboats. Launching from their own marina, the guides educate guests on the river's ecology and history via two-way headsets and stern, unwavering eye contact. These tours have earned multiple certificates of excellence from TripAdvisor, plus respectful nods from the river's turtles. In addition to airboat tours, the guides take guests out on seasonal gator hunts.
The gym looks like equal parts Olympic training facility and old warehouse—here, exercisers hoist themselves up rows of pull-up bars, grunt around a collection of kettlebells, and hop through jump-rope routines. On a power-lifting platform, a lifter explodes from a squat, hoisting a plate-loaded bar up to his shoulders and then dropping under it to catch the weight over his head. Elsewhere, athletes do dips on gymnast rings and build a sweat on rowing machines.
This low-tech setting is typical of all true CrossFit gyms. Though the equipment may be basic, the results are not: CrossFit workouts develop all measures of physical fitness—from power to cardiovascular endurance—through workouts that are broad, general, and inclusive. This approach is often described as specializing in not specializing: it develops physical fitness in ways equally beneficial to everyone, from professional mixed martial artists and police officers to weekend softball players.
CrossFit gyms typically start clients in a foundational program where trainers teach the basic movements, such as the squat, dead lift, and pull-up. Every exercise is scalable to a version that clients can complete—a pull-up, for example, can be scaled back to a negative pull-up, a static hang, or body-weight row with gymnast rings. It can also be scaled to a more challenging version, such as the kipped pull-up. After students learn CrossFit's basic movements, they move on to open group classes, which follow the ever-changing WOD, or Workout of the Day. These workouts are short and intense, and they foster camaraderie through frequent team circuits. In addition to supervising WOD class, trainers coach members on nutrition, advocating a caveman-style diet of low-glycemic carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats, and lean proteins such as raptor meat.
When French native Joel Martin was young, his family moved to Africa. While there, Joel learned to stalk many jungle creatures including crocodiles with the help of his Malgache friends. Years later, in 1995, Martin packed up his own family and moved them to Florida, where the heat and humidity reminded him of his beloved childhood in Africa. Today he owns and operates Black Hammock Adventures, located near some of Orlando's busiest attractions, and charters picturesque airboat rides on the gator-infested waters of Lake Jesup. His boat, equipped with Goliath's desk fan, skims earplugged riders past alligators and other lake fauna at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. During rides, experienced guides pilot the vessel safely through narrow creeks and shallow wetlands, and help tourists to spot sunning reptiles. After zooming by a congregation of gators, guests can stop by Black Hammock's free wildlife exhibit, enjoy a lively libation at the Lazy Gator Bar with live music every weekend, sit down at the full service restaurant featuring Executive Chef Barth that is known for its fried gator tail, or hand over their cameras as they pose for pictures with a live baby alligator or barter for an autograph with hunks of raw meat.
Listening to music from a young age does more than help someone dance well enough to get on the Jumbotron during basketball games. It can also improve a child's brain development, social skills, and emotional connections. The staff at Grow and Sing Studios make it their mission to aid in the development of children through a wide variety of age-appropriate classes. Instructors lead students through activities steeped in song and rhythm, from the parent-baby drumming in Kindermusik Village to the group sing-alongs during Music for Aardvarks. They also teach piano lessons.
Kickboxing classes deliver a knee to the face of fat, burning up to 860 calories an hour with the high-energy striking moves of martial arts and boxing. All four limbs get in on the bag-bludgeoning action at iLoveKickboxing as each class provides a full-body workout that tones arm, leg, and tentacle muscles while tightening the body’s core and improving balance. Hitting the heavy bags won't skin your knuckles once you don the included boxing gloves, which also double as excellent spring-loaded props for re-creating Three Stooges gags. Class times and dates vary based on location.
Eight potters' wheels whirl next to shelves stacked with bisque pieces, worktables spotted with glaze, and walls hung with abstract art. The eclecticism of the space is one of owner and artist Tracy Wilmes's favorite things about his pottery studio, Cup O' Pottery—that, and the opportunity to inspire his students by leaping on a chair in his typical ebullient, and sometimes downright zany, teaching style. As a former high school art teacher, he loves educating students of any age, leading both family-oriented studio classes and open pottery paint and design sessions. The studio also includes a small retail area, where Tracy sells his own pottery and hands out mock detentions to disobedient clay.: