When a family of five wanted to go on a kayak tour, they assumed their daughter with Down's syndrome couldn't come along. But Shan-T co-owner Michelle Thorpe assured them she could, and invited her along in her own tandem kayak. Once on the water, the girl immediately took charge, joyfully taking over paddling. Michelle and her husband Mark had always searched for a way to conduct fun, physical, outdoor activities that would accommodate people with special needs, including their daughter with Asperger's and their niece who is autistic. Taking advantage of the therapeutic nature of the area's calm waters, Shan-T provides a way for just about everyone to commune with nature. The couple operates their tours intimately, using no more than 15 boats per group so that wilderness smells and the sounds of lapping waves are prevalent throughout their adventures.
The pair leads their tours through secluded, often shallow waterways and wildlife-rich areas aboard ocean-style kayaks with open tops for easy boarding and egress. They sometimes allow participants to use the boats as standup paddleboards on which participants can stretch their legs or reach up to scratch head itches with overhanging branches. On each tour, guides stress the fragility of the local ecosystem, highlighting issues such as baby fish growing up inside discarded soda cans and dolphins consuming floating plastic bags. In response, participants often pick up any refuse they see, with tours in the past becoming scavenger hunts to help clean the secluded waterways and to see who can find the most Gene Simmons solo albums. On many of these trips, kayakers have encountered manatees up close, sometimes when they brush up against the boats to scratch their backs and bellies.
After founding The Golf Boot Camp in California and Washington state in the ‘90s, Cathy Schmidt has since set up two locations in Florida—one at Timber Creek Golf Club in 2009 and more recently at Terra Ceia Bay Golf Club in 2012. At all of the locations, Cathy helps students improve their swings by leveraging a two-decade career, including stints on various professional tours and a certification as a LPGA Class A instructor.
Whether an individual lesson or a three-day intensive golf boot camp, all of The Golf Boot Camp's programs begin with an on-course evaluation to assess each student’s swing habits and allergies to fairway landing zones. Lessons utilize V1 video technology to capture every movement of the swing, using the data to provide corrective feedback that fits each golfer's unique physical capabilities. The goal of lessons is to satisfy five key components: a steady head, weight forward, flat left wrist (or right wrist for lefties), correct sweet-spot path, and control over the clubface.
Owner and operator Shawn can trace his family's roots in the local waterways back seven generations. His deep love of the water led him to launch Native Rentals, which conducts eco-friendly paddle tours, and create the Surfer Bus, a renovated school bus that brims with kayaks, surfboards, and any equipment needed for tours on the go. His eco-tours explore the Robinson Preserve, Neal Preserve, and the Anna Maria Sound aboard single or tandem kayaks, standup paddleboards, and bikes, all of which let guests test their muscles without the exorbitant fees of going through Poseidon's booking agent.
Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics’ husband-and-wife instructors unlock physical flexibility and springboard children into gymnastics education with sessions designed to stimulate curiosity and promote fitness. Each 45-minute class echoes with the pounding feet and tiny laughs of students ages 5 and younger as they twist and twirl upon equipment designed to accommodate their short stature and limited grasp of quantum physics. Parents and tots under 3 toddle together during 45-minute sessions that introduce the gamut of gymnastics equipment. Acrobatic acolytes ages 6 and up incinerate calories during 60-minute sessions, performing tumbles that end in sit-ups, backwards somersaults that end in push-ups, and triple-twist front handsprings that end in hiccups.
• For $25, you get a 90-minute sunset cruise for two (a $50 value). • For $30, you get a two-hour sightseeing cruise for two (a $60 value). Captain Mark’s Water Taxi glides along the glittering coasts of Cortez, Anna Maria Island, and Longboat Key, slipping past notable sights ranging from the arcs of leaping dolphins to the City Pier’s commerce-laden shores. Both tours shove off from Cortez Kitchen, where explorers can snag a bite before boarding the 26-foot Red Skyy, which ferries small groups of wayfarers through a backdrop etched with fishing boats, pelicans, and aquamarine waters. Ninety-minute sunset cruises slip past pods of feeding dolphins, staging ideal opportunities for photos and pitch-tuning vintage porpoise whistles. Cut a watery path toward Longboat Key during two-hour sightseeing tours, stopping intermittently for optional snacks at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, shopping excursions at Bradenton Beach City Pier, and searches for sand dollars with which to bribe crabby bartenders. All trips return explorers to the docks at Cortez Kitchen with their eyes full of seaworthy sights and their brains full of plans for flipper implants.
Captain Tom pilots Riverside Tours' open-air pontoon boat, the River Skipper, along the Manatee River, Gamble Creek, or Terra Ceia Bay during two-hour sightseeing cruises that take place seven days a week. During the smooth ride, his business partner, Susan, regales passengers with factoids about the area as Tom helms the wheel and steers down the tranquil river, avoiding icebergs. Up to 39 passengers perched on bright yellow benches glide smoothly past picturesque waterfront homes, as well as Floridian flora and fauna, as the schooner shares aquatic real estate with dolphins and orange-sunset reflections. This licensed-and-insured, Coast Guard–certified craft is partially covered, proffering protection from sun, rain, and seagulls begging for autographs.