On many mornings in 1930, surrounded by the chirping of birds, Pulitzer Prize-winning Dutch author Edward Bok could be found in his studio at the base of a 205-foot art-deco, neo-Gothic tower. Today, visitors to Bok Tower Gardens, a National Historic Landmark, can take in the sights and wander the more than 50 acres of meandering gardens sculpted by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Visitors roam through shaded clearings and child-friendly gardens filled with vine-covered arbors and butterfly- and bird-watching areas, such as the Window By The Pond observatory. Paths wind past cold-resistant and semi-tropical ferns, palms, and pines, and vibrant explosions of azaleas, camellias, and magnolias that caretakers lovingly re-paint each morning. Among the trees stands Pinewood Estate, a Mediterranean-style mansion that welcomes seasonal tour groups into its rooms. In the gift shop, visitors peruse mementos such as historical books and decorative, nature-themed jewelry. The gardens sprawl through the Pine Ridge Nature Preserve, where a 3/4-mile path lets visitors glimpse rare plants and endangered animals such as the indigo snake and gopher tortoise. Gardens staff protect these grounds from fire damage, preserve plantings by collecting seeds, and reintroduce native species by organizing singles’ mixers.
Though skydiving is often billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for the staff at Jump Florida Skydiving, it's a job. As they climb above the scenic landscape of Lake Country in a Cessna 205 aircraft, they stay calm as excitement radiates off customers—as young as 18 and as old as 79—about to make their first leap. At the ideal altitude, the plane levels off, and jumpers get into position. The sky is amazingly clear around the plane, which takes off from a private airport, so there are no commercial jets or flocks of migrating geese obstructing the airspace. Tandem or solo divers step to the edge, take a deep breath, and experience the thrill of accelerating at 9.81 meters per second per second.
While participants revel in their adrenaline-fueled thrills, the staff keeps them safe by adhering to the strict standards of the United States Parachute Association. These protocols enforce rigorous regulations, safety guidelines, and eminently cool member handshakes. On the ground, the team prioritizes hospitality, offering guest rooms, a restaurant, spectator fields, and a nerve-diffusing bar.
For first-time tandem jumpers, the experience of free falling from 11,000 feet is an unforgettable experience. But just in case, Skydive Orlanpa, in partnership with Jump Florida Skydiving, can document tandem jumps with professionally produced videos set to music. A preflight interview on the ground gives way to footage shots inside the plane as jumpers and their tandem instructors make their ascension. From there, videographers capture the entire free fall as participants take in the scenery and attempt to block out the chortles of condescending geese. The parachute then deploys, and jumpers and their instructors return to terra firma. Meanwhile, friends can watch dives from the ground in a large spectator area or tag along on the plane ride and watch the leap firsthand.
At Skydive Lake Wales, the team will do visitors an unusual favor—they'll jump out of a plane with them at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Strapped to their certified instructor, newbies reach speeds of up to 120 mph during a 60-second free fall; next, the instructor opens a parachute, and the pair floats lazily to the ground. More experienced jumpers can enjoy the skydiving center, too, enrolling in a class sequence that culminates in certification.
In more than 100 locations around the country, ThrillZown's staff facilitates adrenaline-filled excursions full of extreme water, air, and land adventures. Under the supervision of experts, brave souls defy gravity as they skydive, hang-glide, bungee jump, or play films of apples falling off trees in reverse. On land, crews harness the power of horses, stock cars, and snowmobiles; in the water, groups navigate whitewater rapids or explore aquatic depths as they scuba dive or surf.
Blues, Brews & BBQ supports the Jules Burt Foundation with a three-day weekend festival filled with ear enticing music, delicious grub, and a plethora of crafted beers. The VIP admission pass (a $48.46 value, including fees) gets all hops hopefuls early VIP entrance to the Session I in the Brewtopia beer tent scattered with more than 60 craft brewskis, each infused with a diverse flavor, unique aroma, and parent-instilled sense of self, many of which are available for small tastings. Like a liquid goody-bag that won't evaporate when you try to take it home, VIPers will also receive a refillable Blues, Brews & BBQ mug ($10 value) with one complimentary beer.