A bald eagle soars above Florida's everglades, its eyes scanning the creatures below—ranging from an alligator to a soft-shell turtle to a large vessel that seems to glide along the water's surface. This is one of Wild Florida's airboats, which journeys deep into Florida's untouched everglades on daytime and evening tours. A Coast Guard–certified captain controls the machine’s massive fan, which propels sightseers across marshes and down rivers, where they search for the 67 threatened species that call the Everglades' 4,200 acres home. As the airboat rounds a bend, its passengers notice a dark-green mass in the water. An alligator peeks it head above the surface, opens its jaws, and reveals rows of powerful teeth that could make any dentist rev a dental drill in excitement.
At the end of the tour, the captain and passengers unload at Wild Florida's 500-foot dock, but their ecological encounters are far from over. At the onsite wildlife park, visitors can hold baby alligators and whisper sweet nothings into their ear openings. It also showcases exotic African creatures, such as zebras, water buffalo, and emu. After a day of exploration, aromas of smoked barbecue lure visitors to the onsite watering hole Pete & Pegs Silver Platter Bar B-Q, which serves everything from pulled pork to gator tails.
Manned by a Coast Guard-certified crew, a 65-foot speedboat safely whisks passengers along the beaches of Cape Canaveral during 90-minute dolphin-watching tours. The captain pulls off wave-skirting maneuvers, pausing to point out the playful sea mammals, who enjoy swimming, jumping, and high-fiving in the wake of the boat. Flying fish may whiz by the stern, and sea turtles have been known to lazily approach the hull of the docked watercraft. The captain also discusses Port Canaveral's history as passengers snap photos of military ships and submarines in port.
The guides from Calypso Kayaking Tours take explorers into native wildlife habitats of the Florida inter-coastal waterway, traversing the shorelines in search of bottle nosed dolphins. The kayaks come within a few feet of the marine mammals, and patrons have an opportunity to wade in shallow waters. Guides also conduct trips to the Port Orange Wildlife Sanctuary, where Brown Pelicans, egrets, and herons play poker in the mudflats.
Joining forces with Georgia Aquarium's Marineland Dolphin Adventure and the University of Florida's Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience, Ripple Effect Ecotours launches intrepid kayakers on voyages through the town of Marineland's natural coastal habitat. For four hours, solo paddlers or a group of up to three can traverse the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve's dolphin-laden waters, observing the aquatic residents and testing their alleged intelligence with science-fiction movie trivia. The estuary is located in the biologically diverse area where the Matanzas Inlet collides into the Pellicer Creek Stream. Home to the Jordan and Mellon Islands, the Princess Place Preserve, and the Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve, the estuary provides several spots to aimlessly explore the 500+ plant species and 300+ types of fish that call it home. Guests can prepare for adventures by loading sturdy kayaks with sunblock, binoculars, and water shoes.
American Pro Diving Center helps visitors and locals explore the clear, teeming waters of Florida with year-round manatee tours and diving adventures. All-equipment-included manatee snorkel tours in Crystal River or winter expeditions to Homosassa River let snorkelers rub flippers with the rivers' large population of resident sea cows. In-water guides keep the experience safe and fun for both manatees and people, and snorkelers swim in between the gentle creatures, giving them a gentle pat or a canister of whisker wax.
For deeper subterranean adventures, the center offers classes that range from Discover Scuba Diving to full PADI open-water certification, in addition to specialty courses on rescue and wreck diving. Divers can plunge into one of seven diving excursions, including night dives in Rainbow River or mermaid line dancing in the lost city of Atlantis.
The Native Vacations crew constantly views their surroundings with the eyes of explorers. They see opportunity on any terrain, and they search for adventure while aiming to preserve the landscape. On land, the crew coordinates horseback-riding tours that wind through the Withlacoochee Forest. As hooves beat a lazy drumroll in the dappled sunlight, riders watch deer and sherman fox pups as they dart between trees. In the waterways, Native Vacations leads kayaking tours, airboat rides, and snorkeling adventures. Kayak paddles leisurely stir waters populated by dolphins while bald eagles slip through the warm air, and airboats tear across the surface of the Crystal River with the metallic purring of RoboCop drinking warm milk. In the waters of King's Bay, guides teach snorkelers the basics of breathing underwater and allow them to pet any of the elephant-gray mammoths that approach.