White sand beaches spread out into the distance, running into the cerulean-blue sea, where seaweed and fish can be seen drifting below the surface. Tree-studded islands and winding sandbars pass underneath, and a white suspension bridge stretches across the horizon like a length of thread. Tampa Bay Aviation's visitors take in these elevated, panoramic views of the Florida coastline from the passenger’s seat or behind the controls of an airplane or helicopter.
Its team of certified flight instructors and experienced commercial pilots operates a fleet of Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee planes, Robinson R22 helicopters, and an FAA-approved helicopter simulator. During flight experiences and pilot-training programs, they let clients take the aircraft's controls without having to first duel the ghosts of the Wright brothers. They also take clients skyward for aerial surveys and photography sessions.
As they flock to the nearby beaches of Clearwater or the nightlife of Tampa, most tourists overlook Dunedin, a pretty burg known for its sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico. But, thanks to the segway-riding guides at Sun Glide Tours, the region’s hidden gem just became much more accessible. Astride their two-wheeled steeds, visitors can explore the Pinellas Trail that cuts through downtown, steering their segways alongside runners, bikers, and the town’s famous rollerblading squirrels.
When Gerald Bennett began work as head chef at the InterContinental Hotel in Cleveland, he was accustomed to whipping up dishes for celebrity clientele. But when the royal family of Dubai came to visit and he served them in their opulent suite, he never thought they'd ask him to leave with them as their personal chef. Since returning to the states and stepping into his role as the president of the Private Chef Association, Gerald has worked to bring his gastronomic prowess to the masses through Food Fun Adventure’s classes and tours. He passes along a visible passion for culinary fusion, which shines through in dishes blending French and Thai or American and German influences.
Culinary tours take participants to local sushi houses, steak houses, and bistros, each highlighting specialty dishes. When head chefs come out to greet their visitors, they often divulge culinary secrets and answer questions about curfew hours for free-range ingredients while doling out tapas and other small plates.
In a more hands-on culinary experience, customers gather in classes and learn to refine dishes based on a chosen theme. Using mostly local and organic ingredients in two kitchen classrooms, chefs show students how to craft delicacies such as scallion waffles with orange-zest chicken and tagine-roasted rack of lamb. In one kitchen, which doubles as an art gallery, knives flick through ingredients, and pots clatter at island stations and small burners. The company’s event center, Heaven, fills with chatter as up to 40 pairs of students filter in. Beneath projectors for screening chef demonstrations and documentaries about the life of a paring knife, separate kitchens equipped with ovens and burners fill with the bustle of creation, which gives way to reverent exhalations as patrons finally sample the fruits of their labor.
Sun Line Cruise's 45-foot catamaran, the "Island Star," transports its passengers to local spots where they can enjoy views of everything from lovely sunsets to pods of dolphins. Passengers sip beer and wine and watch the sun sink below the Gulf of Mexico on evening cruises, and learn about the local marine wildlife and eco-system on Sea Fari cruises around Anclote Key. This locale, which is the northernmost barrier island in the Gulf, is also home to a historic lighthouse built in 1887.
Atlantis V Charters donates all of its proceeds to a foundation for youth sailing, which leads free sailing lessons for children. Similarly, the company's captains and crew volunteer their time and refuse payment. Instead, the expert sailors profit from fostering awareness of the ocean's beauty, wildlife, and resources. They welcome passengers aboard a 45-foot classic world-cruising sailing yacht; half- or all-day charters and short sunset tours are available. During these journeys, the captains answer questions and teach passengers about the dolphins that frequently swim alongside the boat. Using a dinghy, the crew also takes passengers around Anclote Island. If weather permits, they walk across sandy beaches, view an 1887 lighthouse, and discover underwater habitats using snorkeling gear.
To reap nature’s bounty, the company also leads fishing trips aboard a 20-foot Proline fishing boat. With all the necessary bait and tackle, a wildlife instructor teaches beginners the basics of baiting and casting, while helping more experienced fishermen reel in their catches and enjoy the water.
During scenic voyages, the adventurous staff of The Tropics Boat Tours escorts guests through the Gulf of Mexico’s rushing tides, pausing for brief glimpses of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and abandoned bikini bottoms. Aboard a tropical-themed, double-decker catamaran decorated with palm trees, guests take in views of Clearwater Beach's landmarks, including celebrity mansions peppering nearby coastlines, while imbibing beverages.
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.