Engines start to roar, propellers spin, and a large parachute expands into the sky, carrying a light aircraft and its passengers toward the clouds. Silver Lining Aviation's certified instructors create adventures like this every day as they teach visitors to soar behind the controls of sport aircrafts such as powered parachutes, weight-shift trikes, and gyroplanes. Led by licensed FAA flight instructor Craig Ewing, Silver Lining's team takes prospective pilots on introductory flights that allow them to experience aircrafts such as the Airwolf 912 and nibble on different flavors of clouds. The aviation experts also sell sport aircrafts, which patiently wait onsite as customers work through custom ground- and flight-training programs. In most cases, the flight instructors prepare their pupils for aerial navigation in as little as two weeks. They also assist new pilots with replacement parts, provide 24/7 support, and cook oil soup to feed hungry aircraft.
During guided tours, captains transport passengers between the coasts and along waterways of the barrier islands. They may embark on explorations of Cayo Costa State Park, a natural wildlife preserve, or take guests shelling and swimming off Sanibel Island beaches. Powerboats, jet skis, and sea kayaks are also available for rent, allowing customers to explore the bay and islands on their own. Many perfectly seaworthy crafts begin their departure from the company's hexagonal wooden pagoda, which huddles on a sandy shore separated from the surrounding hotels by gently waving palm trees.
Riding Star Ranch, a nonprofit organization, aims to heal people and horses with the physical and emotional benefits afforded by trail rides and riding lessons. The ranch’s team takes in unwanted, neglected, or abused animals and rehabilitates them, transforming them into confident, happy horses that students can ride.
During lessons, riders earn ribbons through the American Association of Riding Schools program, collecting them for learning how to properly groom and ride in disciplines such as hunter/jumper, English pleasure, and Western pleasure. And although taking a trail ride to the Carlton Reserve and the Myakka River will not win riders any ribbons, they are welcome to pin themselves with their own awards and medals before climbing aboard trusty steeds.
At Escape Zone, kids bound over an indoor play area filled with inflated slides, obstacle courses, and bounce houses. A paintball shooting gallery lets visitors practice their aim by firing colorful projectiles at space-themed targets, while a chorus of electronic beeps fills the arcade, where games challenge visitors to set high scores and consider what life must be like as a pinball. Lego building stations allow kids to give shape to their imaginations, and a Tiny Tots area makes sure younger siblings can get in on the fun. Escape Zone also sets the stage for special events, including birthdays and team building sessions.
Closer to the Vine's menu of café fare collects an assortment of light bites, sandwiches, coffee, and microbrews. Customers can scarf down a vegan panini filled with hummus and marinated portobello mushrooms ($7.95) or savor a smoked-salmon plate accompanied by cream cheese, cucumbers, and capers ($9.95). For patrons with reservations on Friday and Saturday evenings, beer-based cheddar fondue ($10) awaits dips from fresh vegetables, and semi-sweet chocolate fondue ($15) coats the bittersweet reminiscences of granny smith apples. As they sink into sofas or admire Floridian sunsets from an outdoor perch, diners can wash down solid grub with pours of wine from the diverse menu including selections from New Zealand, Chile, and Napa Valley, or opt for a microbrew, cup of coffee, or tea. In addition to offering complimentary WiFi, Closer to the Vine hosts local musicians every Friday and Saturday night and always welcomes visits from canine companions with water bowls, treats, and scratch 'n' sniff translations of the Wall Street Journal.
The Punta Gorda Club unleashes muscular potential with an on-site nutritionist, a well-equipped gym, six clay tennis courts, and more than 80 group fitness classes each week. During a one-on-one nutrition consultation and dietary analysis (a $99 value), the club's food guru will discuss each client's eating habits, then draft a written meal plan that outlines what flavors of Twinkies they're allowed to eat. Additionally, an unlimited one-month membership (a $90 value, including enrollment fee) lets patrons loose to toughen tendons on the gym's playground of cardio machines, free weights, and step-aerobics teeter-totters. Members can also choose from more than 11 types of group fitness classes such as yoga, spinning, and Pilates, to tone their tummies in tandem or swat serves on six clay tennis courts.