Dedicated to responsible public education and the conservation of endangered and rare animals, the staffers of the Florida International Teaching Zoo tend to a diverse collection of living beings while teaching students to do the same. Amid the rustling feathers of Lady Amherst pheasants and the uncontrollable laughter of spotted hyenas reading the works of Oscar Wilde aloud, the school’s pupils spend days practicing their cage-side manner and stockpiling wildlife know-how through classes and conservation projects around the globe. To round out their tuition, students helm zoo tours for visitors four days a week, practicing their newly minted public-management skills and granting guests a chance to take in the wonders of the natural world in an intimate setting.
For more than four decades, Sunair Aviation has been training safe and technically proficient pilots as a professional flight training school stationed at Leesburg International Airport. An FAA-approved Part 61 program, the school recently acquired Part 141 certification as well, allowing it to train private pilots with its fleet of Cessna, Beechcraft, and Piper airplanes. Thanks to the collective experience of certified flight instructors and IFR-approved Garmin 430 avionic systems aboard each plane, the school boasts a safety record unblemished by so much as a wing paper cut.
In addition to offering students real flying experience, the outfit invites students to log flying hours inside its full motion Redbird FMX Simulator. Stationed safely on the ground, the apparatus surrounds pilots with wrap-around visuals and real avionic equipment. As the simulator rolls, pitches, and yaws, students encounter valuable practice with real piloting situations, but without the common flying hassles of long waits on the runway or floating toll booths.
The Villages Fishing Guide is captained by Darrell Brantley, a seasoned local fishing captain and angler. Darrell cruises his boat across lush local waters, guiding clients of all ages and experience levels on their hunt for bass, crappie, and catfish. Darrell demonstrates proper equipment handling and provides groups with fishing techniques and tips.
Tree Tops Golf curates competitive fun and practice at a sprawling facility that encompasses a driving range, a miniature golf course, and batting cages. Airborne golf shots take flight at the driving range, where grass tees appeal to those who prefer a natural feel and artificial hitting mats cater to prima donna pitching wedges that demand a perfect lie every time.
A canopy of vibrant palms forms cool shadows over the 18-hole mini-golf course as putters tap orbs across a winding circuit of artificial turf lined with brick rails and rocky outcrops. Two Iron Mike pitching machines lob high-arching, slow-pitch softballs in two batting cages, helping batters to prepare for their next opportunity to ruin a water-balloon-toss competition.
For the weekend of January 4 and 5, the polo grounds transform into the Renaissance-era Village of Hopewell for The Villages Renaissance Faire. Down the dusty roads, vendors sell jewelry and wooden crafts, sword fighters entertain in a comedy show, and King Henry VIII enjoys a rousing joust. Throughout the day, patrons can also fill their stomachs with hearty fair foods, including massive roasted-turkey legs.