From the moment seasoned nature tour guide Kurt Zuelsdorf first dipped his paddle into Clam Bayou, he knew the mangrove estuary would be the right place to set his kayak tours. But there was a catch—a garbage dump’s worth of rusting shopping carts and waterlogged plastic bags was strewn about the waterway. Undeterred, Kurt hit upon a clever cleanup strategy: people could launch his fleet of kayaks for free, so long as they toted a bag of garbage out of the bayou with them.
Numerous grants, media attention, and awards later, Kurt’s waterway cleanup program has reached its final stages. Now, kayakers and paddlers can freely navigate the mangrove channels, nabbing sights of manatees, herons, and tugboat captains hopelessly lost in the mangroves. An avid nature enthusiast who has kayaked waterways from Wisconsin to Florida, Kurt prizes Clam Bayou, citing the diversity of wildlife along the one-mile stretch. “It’s not like the zoo,” he says. “Every time you hit the water, it’s a completely different experience.”
Though most vintners have made their wines from grapes, the Shook family turned their focus to other fruits. Starting in 1991, they began fermenting batches of juice from mangoes, red raspberries, limes, and oranges. In 1997, they opened their farm winery—a small barn-shaped building shaded by trees—where licensed winemakers and distributors ferment and bottle dozens of varieties of exotic wines stamped with the Sunshine Tree, the Florida Department of Citrus's mark of quality. Their eclectic selection encompasses citrus, tropical-fruit, berry, stone-fruit, and vegetable wines, each made entirely from the juice indicated on the label. The winery also makes and distributes wine-smoothie mixes and wine pouches, sherries, ports, and champagnes.
The thrum of the speedboat's engine carries through the water like an ice-cream truck's jingle. A 4-foot-high wake trails behind, fanning out into a fork as the speed increases and the passengers ready their cameras. Soon, a glistening fin breaks the surface. The first bottlenose dolphin seems to levitate on top of the wave while it bodysurfs for the sheer fun of it, then disappears back into the sea. Its pod follows suit, leaping, splashing, and riding the swells, soaking up the attention of the human spectators.
Sights like this are typical on the Dolphin Racer Speed Boat. The sunny yellow craft skirts across the Gulf of Mexico on 60- to 75-minute trips while up to 125 people lounge on the open deck and the captain narrates the sights of the passing beaches. Ample viewing space ensures that cameras can capture split-second jumps and spins when the dolphins heed the call to play. Whether it's because of the thrill of breaching, the pride in their celebrity status, or an underwater bet to see who can communicate with humans first, the dolphins' presence is virtually guaranteed—the boat offers a complimentary future cruise in the case of no-shows.
By day, guests are busy watching sunsets or bottlenose dolphins during Incognito Adventures’ three excursions. The spacious boat, Incognito, includes the furnishings of a dream house: a curved lounge equipped with a fully stocked bar; an entertainment center set up with a television, stereo, and DVD player; and a master bedroom outfitted with a queen-size bed, dual nightstands, and lockers lined with cedar wood.
The veteran captains at Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center promise tour-takers a 99% chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins during excursions in Boca Ciega Bay. That’s because the bay is home to more than 700 resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, along with manatees, and tropical sea birds.
During voyages, guests cruise in comfort on a US Coast Guard–inspected vessel. The boats serve complimentary soft drinks and water, and beer and wine are available for purchase.
Tampa Bay Crawls escorts trekkers through downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay’s culinary and alcoholic offerings with tasting and imbibing events at area restaurants and bars. Progressive dinner and restaurant crawls supply guests with new gastronomic sensations, and wine-tasting crawls dispense samples of finely crafted reds and whites. Bypassing straightforward tours through local bars, Tampa Bay Crawls spices up its pub crawls with various themed and costumed sessions, such as ’80s night, snuggie night, and census taker appreciation night, all open to groups and solo crawlers alike.