Cypress trees sway in the breeze, lush tropical vegetation soaks up the sunshine, and white sandy beaches glisten nearby as Buena Vista Watersports' rental jet skis, paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and pontoons tote adventurers across the spring-fed waters of Lake Bryan alongside waterskiers and wakeboarders. The Key West–style resort, located just east of Disney World, allows families and friends to glimpse local wildlife as they skim scenic shorelines and chase picturesque settings at an aquatic reservoir as vast and secluded as Bigfoot's bathtub. The resort's alighted tiki torches and palm trees that border its tiki bar and pavilion attract groups for company picnics or private events such as weddings and parties, during which revelers can partake in watersports, dance to reggae, or watch a fire-dancing show.
Boats dance and glide over the crisscrossing wakes carved into Tampa Bay, each craft anxiously revving toward its respective dock to arrive before closing time. All the while, a handful of boats remain on the open water, swaying atop the undulating waves as its passengers continue to enjoy the fiery sunset reflecting off the bay's surface. These select aquatic vehicles carry Lotto Boat's boat club members, who have access to a slew of exclusive perks, such as extended marina hours. Stationed at Harborage Marina, Lotto Boat's 10 rental vessels include kayaks, WaveRunners, and power boats equipped with GPS navigation systems. After hopping aboard a vessel, landlubbers can go jet-skiing, drift over to nearby tiki bars for dinner and live music, or take in scenic views of downtown St. Petersburg. Once patrons make their way back to one of Lotto Boat's two docks, staffers thoroughly cleanse the boat of interior debris and exterior mermaid hitchhikers to prepare for the vessel's next excursion.
Helmed by Captain Charles Davis, Flatmasters Fishing Adventures offers guided, all-inclusive fishing trips to anglers of all levels. For any of the company's half- or full-day excursions, clients climb into a kayak already loaded with necessary equipment, including rods, reels, and live or artificial bait. Out on the water, instructors divulge tips for reeling in catches and working around irked fish who sit and tap their "No Soliciting" signs. The company's educational opportunities stretch beyond fishing, too, with basic kayaking lessons.
Sweetwater Kayak’s self-guided kayak tours give seafarers a quiet look at the ecosystems of Weedon Island without the clamor and commotion of a motorboat or Secret Service motorcade. Paddling patrons can wind along the 4-mile marked trail, across crystalline lagoons and under mangrove tunnels in hopes of seeing a resident bird, dolphin, or manatee. Each floating foray lasts up to four hours and provides a panorama of pristine environments and a glimpse into the life of Blackbeard. Sweetwater Kayaks will provide the necessary vessels, paddles, life vests, and trail maps, and Groupon holders can check here for a list of other supplies they need to bring (some of which can be purchased at Sweetwater Kayaks if forgotten).
Renters must be at least 21 years old, and a credit card and ID are required as a deposit during rental periods. You must be 23 or older to operate the jet ski alone, and people ages 18–21 can ride alone with a boater-safety card. Previous boating experience is required to drive the pontoon, and guides are available to drive-inexperienced boaters.
From the moment seasoned nature tour guide Kurt Zuelsdorf first dipped his paddle into Clam Bayou, he knew the mangrove estuary would be the right place to set his kayak tours. But there was a catch—a garbage dump’s worth of rusting shopping carts and waterlogged plastic bags was strewn about the waterway. Undeterred, Kurt hit upon a clever cleanup strategy: people could launch his fleet of kayaks for free, so long as they toted a bag of garbage out of the bayou with them.
Numerous grants, media attention, and awards later, Kurt’s waterway cleanup program has reached its final stages. Now, kayakers and paddlers can freely navigate the mangrove channels, nabbing sights of manatees, herons, and tugboat captains hopelessly lost in the mangroves. An avid nature enthusiast who has kayaked waterways from Wisconsin to Florida, Kurt prizes Clam Bayou, citing the diversity of wildlife along the one-mile stretch. “It’s not like the zoo,” he says. “Every time you hit the water, it’s a completely different experience.”
Jesse Nofi is most at home on the open water. An experienced fisherman since his teenage years, Jesse learned early that the richest bounties often lie in the less-traveled depths out past the shore. Now the Coast Guard–licensed charter captain of 360 Fishing Charters, Jesse shares his affinity for exploration with passengers, running fishing excursions in and around Tampa Bay. Aboard his fleet of kayaks or a 22-foot Crestliner powerboat, passengers might undertake inshore pursuits of redfish, grouper, and catfish or lead deep-water chases for snapper and grouper through waters up to nine miles offshore. When he’s not helping anglers haul in their latest catch, Jesse can also be found writing up recaps of his time on the water as a contributing writer for the websites The Online Fisherman and Florida Marine Times.