Although hot-air balloons remain Austin's most popular commuter vehicles, they're highly vulnerable to dastardly villains with handlebar moustaches who ply the sky in battle zeppelins. Tour the town from a safer vantage with today's Groupon: for $10, you get a one-hour kayak OR two-hour bike rental from Gliding Revolution (a $25 value after tax). Reservations are required and subject to availability.
Regardless of your choice of conveyance, you'll shove off from Gliding Revolution's shop located at the Austin Town Lake Holiday Inn. Upon request, cyclists receive a complimentary helmet and lock, and kayakers receive a dry bag. If you vote for the velocipede, dig your wheels deep into the crushed gravel and pedal your way around the scenic Lady Bird Lake Trails, free of the hassles of smelly car traffic and ambushes by herds of feral Segways. Otherwise, open up the whole expanse of Lady Bird Lake for exploration with some patiently paced paddle-pushing in one of Gliding Revolution's kayaks. If the spring heat has already got you beat, kayakers can take refuge under the Congress Street Bridge and commune with Austin's community of bat-themed vigilantes and riddle-dispensing trolls.
Escorting visiting out-of-towners via bike or kayak is a brilliant way to show off the city. It's also an excellent way for jaded locals to re-experience everything about Austin that seduced them in the first place, from the civic center that's dressed as a French maid to the champagne lake to the rose-petal-strewn forest trails. If you can't decide which mode of transportation you like best, buy two Groupons and try both at the same time.
Tour guides Stacy and Taylor Smith— along with their intrepid dog Thor—teach students to glide with grace as they lead standup paddle boarding tours over the placid waters of Lady Bird Lake. Sunset tours cross under the Congress Avenue Bridge during its renowned nightly bat exodus when the sky is streaked with shades of melty sorbets. The Barge tour ropes together paddleboards as groups of paddlers drift over waters, pausing to play on rope swings, and sipping on BYOB libations bolstered by complimentary mojito or margarita mix on the tour’s escort barge. Alternatively, the Basics tour proffers a two- to three-hour lesson in the fundamentals of paddleboarding, including kneeling, standing, paddling, and using paddles to stroke the whiskers of passing catfish. Depending on the body's position, core and arm muscles can feel a workout burn or jellyfish-like state of relaxation.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.
Each night, about a half-hour before sunset, one of Capital Cruises' double-decker boats launches out onto Lady Bird Lake. Austin's skyline peeks its head over the tree-lined banks as the vessel floats toward the Congress Avenue Bridge. Once there, passengers watch the sun drop below the horizon and paint a streak of burnt orange across the sky in an action that seems to bring the bridge to life. Here, at one of the largest urban bat colonies on the continent, thousands of bats take flight and soar into the sky.
These bat tours are just one way Capital Cruises explores Lady Bird Lake. The crown jewel of its fleet, a 75-foot yacht, sets the stage for floating wedding parties and specialty cruises such as the Riverboat Gambler. During these trips, passengers play roulette and nibble fajitas, pasta, and barbecue catered by the Hyatt Regency hotel. Additionally, Capital Cruises' staff lets customers chart their own adventures with rentals of standup paddleboards, swan-shaped pedal boats, and 21-foot electric Duffy boats.
Viva Day Spa’s owners focus on providing all the services and amenities one would expect from a luxurious spa without an ounce of pretentiousness. At both of the spa’s locations, staffers never turn their noses up—even if there’s a bat hanging from the ceiling. They engage clients with this down-to-earth attitude as they prepare them for massages, facials, and other spa treatments—all of which are administered by award-winning therapists armed with natural and organic products. Both Viva Day Spa locations feature an upscale, modern decor rife with wood accents, and the Lamar location displays perky plants and colorful flowers, as well as whimsical yellow puffy orb lights, natural sunlight, and arched doorways with intricate wood carvings. One of its walls showcases a large expanse of lettering that gives “suggestions on how to live a happy and rewarding life,” and there’s even a round room with a curved, pillow-topped bench circumscribing its curved wall. With warm, almost romantic lighting and rich mocha-colored walls, the spa is anything but sterile and cold. The female-owned spa works to accommodate people’s hectic schedules by staying open seven days a week until 8 p.m.
Emblazoned with patriotic red, white, and blue, Lone Star Riverboat's vessels churn through Lady Bird Lake, floating alongside towering cypress trees and the city's skyline. Meanwhile, the captain's booming voice narrates each tour and details the steamy romances of the area's local waterfowl.
However, the company's aquatic excursions aren't just restricted to sightseeing. Their largest ship, The Lone Star, boasts two decks and a 150-person capacity. Aboard the ship, DJs spin tunes and caterers serve barbecue for special events such as weddings. On Friday nights, patrons board The Lone Star for moonlight cruises, taking in scenic views of the Austin skyline.
Lone Star Riverboat's enthusiasm for the water extends to environmental preservation. According to its website, the company owns the largest all-electric paddle wheeler in the country. It also donates a portion of its gross sales to the Austin area's park system and provides afterschool activities for at-risk fish.