When a family of five wanted to go on a kayak tour, they assumed their daughter with Down's syndrome couldn't come along. But Shan-T co-owner Michelle Thorpe assured them she could, and invited her along in her own tandem kayak. Once on the water, the girl immediately took charge, joyfully taking over paddling. Michelle and her husband Mark had always searched for a way to conduct fun, physical, outdoor activities that would accommodate people with special needs, including their daughter with Asperger's and their niece who is autistic. Taking advantage of the therapeutic nature of the area's calm waters, Shan-T provides a way for just about everyone to commune with nature. The couple operates their tours intimately, using no more than 15 boats per group so that wilderness smells and the sounds of lapping waves are prevalent throughout their adventures.
The pair leads their tours through secluded, often shallow waterways and wildlife-rich areas aboard ocean-style kayaks with open tops for easy boarding and egress. They sometimes allow participants to use the boats as standup paddleboards on which participants can stretch their legs or reach up to scratch head itches with overhanging branches. On each tour, guides stress the fragility of the local ecosystem, highlighting issues such as baby fish growing up inside discarded soda cans and dolphins consuming floating plastic bags. In response, participants often pick up any refuse they see, with tours in the past becoming scavenger hunts to help clean the secluded waterways and to see who can find the most Gene Simmons solo albums. On many of these trips, kayakers have encountered manatees up close, sometimes when they brush up against the boats to scratch their backs and bellies.
After founding The Golf Boot Camp in California and Washington state in the ‘90s, Cathy Schmidt has since set up two locations in Florida—one at Timber Creek Golf Club in 2009 and more recently at Terra Ceia Bay Golf Club in 2012. At all of the locations, Cathy helps students improve their swings by leveraging a two-decade career, including stints on various professional tours and a certification as a LPGA Class A instructor.
Whether an individual lesson or a three-day intensive golf boot camp, all of The Golf Boot Camp's programs begin with an on-course evaluation to assess each student’s swing habits and allergies to fairway landing zones. Lessons utilize V1 video technology to capture every movement of the swing, using the data to provide corrective feedback that fits each golfer's unique physical capabilities. The goal of lessons is to satisfy five key components: a steady head, weight forward, flat left wrist (or right wrist for lefties), correct sweet-spot path, and control over the clubface.
Florida's Gulf Coast is one of the last places one expects to see an igloo. Nevertheless, drivers on I-75 will spot a dome worthy of the Arctic rising as they approach Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, a 115,000-square-foot facility that houses two NHL-size ice rinks. Visitors coast across the well-maintained surface during public-skating hours, while classes in figure skating and hockey skating teach ice-slicing fundamentals to students unaccustomed to getting out of their dogsled and moving on their own. In addition to ice rinks, the sprawling space contains a 13,500-square-foot indoor soccer-and-football field, a fitness center, a video game room, and space for birthday parties.
Captain Tom pilots Riverside Tours' open-air pontoon boat, the River Skipper, along the Manatee River, Gamble Creek, or Terra Ceia Bay during two-hour sightseeing cruises that take place seven days a week. During the smooth ride, his business partner, Susan, regales passengers with factoids about the area as Tom helms the wheel and steers down the tranquil river, avoiding icebergs. Up to 39 passengers perched on bright yellow benches glide smoothly past picturesque waterfront homes, as well as Floridian flora and fauna, as the schooner shares aquatic real estate with dolphins and orange-sunset reflections. This licensed-and-insured, Coast Guard–certified craft is partially covered, proffering protection from sun, rain, and seagulls begging for autographs.
A PGA golf pro with more than 25 years of teaching experience, Pat Walsh helps aspiring par pursuers build their swing and straighten their shot. During the course of two lessons, Pat will cover any and all aspects of the game, tailoring each session to his student's particular needs and teaching vital skills, such as how to sharpen short play, how to increase driving accuracy, or how to evade alligators. He'll also analyze swings using video footage, which allows for a slow-motion understanding of each player's mechanics and bogey face. After each lesson, students will receive an email with a video clip of their swings.
Each of the three courses in the Pope Golf portfolio challenges golfers with a unique layout that incorporates pristine features of Florida’s natural landscape. At Misty Creek Country Club, players share a wildlife preserve with exotic birds and try to keep their golf balls out of local vegetation and bald-eagle hairpieces. River Wilderness Golf and Country Club showcases a dramatic layout that drapes across 150 acres of an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Nearing its 40th anniversary, Bent Tree Country Club surrounds players in sylvan beauty as they play their way through a 6,863-yard track that has hosted US Open qualifiers and Florida state high-school championships.
Misty Creek Country Club at a Glance: * 18-hole, par-72 course * Total length of 6,895 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 73.3 from the back tees * Course slope of 137 from the back tees * Five sets of tees per hole
Bent Tree Country Club at a Glance: * 18-hole, par-72 course * Total length of 6,880 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 73.2 from the back tees * Course slope of 133 from the back tees * Five sets of tees per hole
River Wilderness Golf and Country Club at a Glance: * 18-hole, par-72 course * Total length of 7,072 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 74.8 from the back tees * Course slope of 134 from the back tees * Five sets of tees per hole