It only took two weeks on the picturesque shores of Tahiti and Moorea to send Craig Stewart into a tailspin. He and wife Evelyn fell in love with the South Pacific’s crystalline waters and beachy breezes, so much so that the prospect of remaining in their native Oklahoma turned gloomy. Six years after the Stewarts’ Pacific vacation, they stumbled upon Sanibel Island. With a love for the waters still coursing through their veins, they uprooted and moved there, making it home base for Adventures in Paradise. In 1986, they started out with one boat—Miss Paradise—and one tour, the sunset dolphin cruise. Today, the Stewart family maintains a much larger operation. Their tour topics range from fishing and shelling to dolphin watching to historical sightseeing on a trolley.
Stingrays, dinosaurs, and faux hurricanes can all be found at the Imaginarium Science Center, which soaks spongy young brains in knowledge via hands-on exhibits and 3-D movies about the natural world. Families can observe moray eels and other marine life in the Window to the Sea aquarium, or reach out to gentle stingrays in an open tank. Several daily shows with live animals compete for attention with a dino dig where patrons learn how archeologists excavate fossilized bones using nothing but the power of their minds. Kids can emulate their favorite sports heroes in the Sporty Science Arena simulator, then imitate their favorite TV weather-reporting heroes as they witness a simulated hurricane.
The adrenaline junkies at Estero Island Parasail send guests soaring through clear Floridian skies whether it's warm or cold. Their small fleet of powerboats cuts through Gulf waves as parachutes carry guests high into the sky and back down to the water's surface to avoid collisions with low-flying UFOs or for quick dips into the sea.
Offering flight training and tours seven days a week for avid air explorers, Alpha Helicopters serves earth-bound humans with a fleet of domesticated helicopters. While soaring 500 feet above ground at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, riders can catch glimpses of sea dwellers such as manatees, dolphins, and sharks, as well as scenic POVs of landlubbing buildings and Everglades escapees. The whirlybird experience will be remembered for years, thanks in part to a photo taken from the ride high above landlocked bodies of water and land. There is no age limit, meaning children can levitate in safety seats to the same altitude as their parental counterparts.
Yolo Board Adventures’ experienced instructors and guides acquaint aquasplorers with the sport of standup paddleboarding and the wildlife of nearby waterways. During one-hour eco-tours, boarders skim serenely across the water's surface, spying wildlife from elevated vantage points typically reserved for birds and paper-airplane pilots. Paddlers cruise down channels and explore wetlands while under the watchful eye of guides trained in CPR and first aid. To ensure a fun and safe adventure, guests are outfitted with the proper paddleboards and equipment, and tours are scheduled based on experience level—ensuring no one is left behind or tempted to bolt ahead in search of event horizons.
Pirates cheer as cannons fire smoke across the sea. Yet while the pirates are actors and the cannons are just miniaturized toys, the ship they sail upon is anything but pretend—it's a 65-foot steel-hulled vessel designed by a naval architect to look like a Spanish galleon.
Named for the prized Spanish currency of yore, Pieces of Eight Pirate Cruise evokes the golden age of buccaneering as it sets sail from Salty Sam’s Marina. The ship is helmed by a merry band of pirates—such as Pick Pocket Pete, Peg Leg Meg, and Fancy Face Phil—that bookends lessons on pirate history with sing-along chanteys and skits. The 90-minute family-friendly cruise also includes map-reading trivia, face painting, yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum. During the ride, passengers are welcome to explore the upper and lower decks or step inside the grand salon for ice cream, pretzels, and other treats.
In addition to its all-ages cruises, Pieces of Eight hosts an adults-only cruise on Friday nights, which includes cocktails and its own revue. It also charters private cruises to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions.