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.
If you part the fragrant, fruit-heavy branches of Mixon Fruit Farms’ citrus trees, you might spy an unusual sight: Burmese pythons and African land tortoises basking in the sunlight, surrounded by cages of roosting falcons.
The farm that began in 1939 as a 20-acre roadside fruit stand has stayed true to citrus farmer Willy Mixon’s vision of showcasing the region’s natural splendor. But in addition to an extra 250 acres of fruit trees, the farm has expanded its focus to include a wildlife refuge, where rescue volunteers nurse injured animals back to health and educate visitors on native and exotic species. The farm also hosts an on-site tropical garden along with dazzling koi ponds, and has a magical maze open to kids of all ages.
Along with daily tours of the grove and sanctuary, Mixon Fruit Farms also spotlights Florida’s bounty with citrus-infused ice cream, salads, and festive hats made of fruit at Groveside Café. Homemade fudge and orange juice also populate the 14,000-square-foot gift shop
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.
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon fake alligators as you make your way around a mini-golf course. But at Smugglers Cove's locations, live American alligators snap their jaws in exhibits nestled amid the miniature fairways. With an old-fashioned bamboo pole players can dangle a treat above 20–50 of the predatory alligators, which leap from the water to snatch their treat. Between feeding frenzies, games take place on Smugglers Cove’s 18-hole outdoor courses, where balls roll past rushing waterfalls, into caves, over mountainous terrain, and into a hole in a pirate ship.
City Fitness gets bodies into superlative shape with 7,000 square feet of fully equipped facilities staffed by experienced trainers. With the one-month membership, workers-out have unlimited access to the gym, allowing busy fitness junkies to fit muscle-punishing regimens into packed corporate schedules and unpredictable hours working as gopher-whisperers. The gym itself lures deltoids, gluteals, and trapezoids with all manner of resistance and cardio machines, facilitating weight-loss and muscle gain, and ensuring minimal wait times for machines. Boasting more than 100 years of combined fitness experience, the center's personal trainers, including professional body builders, college athletes, and martial-arts experts, assist health-seekers in crafting a regimen tailored to a wide range of individual fitness goals. In addition to workout guidance, the trainers offer adroit advice on nutrition, lifestyle, and appropriate dress for a morning wedding.
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.