The licensed skydive veterans of Skydive Tampa Bay have accompanied customers soaring from the bellies of airplanes since 1978. These plummetologists have earned national and international championship titles and multiple world records, and now start beginners on a path to their own air-bound accolades with introductory tandem jumps. Lessons begin with on-ground instruction before instructors securely attach students to their torsos like thrill-seeking mother kangaroos and freefall for two miles. After students learn the basics through tandem dives, instructors put them through the Accelerated Freefall Program, which includes classroom time, ground training, solo jumps, and post-dive critiques of freefall techniques and maneuvers.
The only way to get into Gatorland is to walk straight into an alligator's toothy maw. The giant mouth provides entrance to 110 acres of marshy wildlife preserve––home to a vast ecosystem populated by thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and birds, including rare wading birds and four rare white alligators. Among these, more than 130 gators splash and lounge in the park’s breeding marsh, which visitors can view safely from a three-story observation tower or while sitting on the shoulders of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Yet one of the biggest thrills of Gatorland is the reptile's raw power. Visitors can see this on full display during the Gator Jumparoo show, where alligators leap four to five feet out of the water to snag food directly from a trainer’s hands, or during the Gator Wrestlin' Show, where a handler demonstrates survival skills. True thrill-seekers can even dangle over the breeding marsh while riding the 65-foot-tall Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. And to experience the unsettling sensation of stumbling upon a swamp filled with alligators at night, the Night Shine takes participants deep into gator territory armed with only a flashlight and a few hot dogs.
From the outside, Professor Wonder’s WonderWorks laboratory appears to have flipped completely on its head. When visitors enter the upside-down edifice, they must first pass through the psychedelic, spinning lights of the Inversion Tunnel, which turns the building right-side up for families to embark on a full day of entertaining, educational activities. More than 100 interactive exhibits spark excitement around natural phenomenon, including replica space capsules that visitors can climb into, a gallery of mind-bending illusions, and the lab where Cabbage Patch Kids are grown in petri dishes.
Some of WonderWorks Orlando’s hands-on displays allow guests to experience the aftershocks of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, throw a strike against Derek Jeter, and lie down on a bed of 3,500 sharp nails without so much as a scratch. Additional activities include the Indoor Ropes Challenge Course, which exercises bodies and minds as challengers navigate three stories of swinging beams and suspension bridges, and the XD Theater 4D, which transports viewers to swift canyon roller coasters, haunted mines, and Mars with full-motion seats and 3-D visuals.
The first thrill at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum begins in the parking lot. As visitors walk toward the front door, they are greeted with the seemingly precarious sight of a building that slopes into the ground. The illusion is all for show, but the wide-eyed stares continue once guests enter the museum and begin to peruse the 16 galleries of artifacts and oddities from around the globe.
Inspired by the eclectic collection of cartoonist, world traveler, and renowned eccentric Robert Ripley, the museum's galleries are an ode to the unusual. The exhibits feature jaw-dropping displays, including a real shrunken head, a 25-foot mural of Jimi Hendrix made from more than 8,500 playing cards, and wax replicas of famous figures and candles throughout history. Seeing is believing, and the museum remains open 365 days a year, encouraging patrons to experience a small sampling of the world's most bizarre relics and stories.
Magical Midway’s neon-lit towers jut into the night sky as visitors scream with excitement from the amusement park’s go-kart tracks, thrill rides, and fully stocked arcade. The Space Blast Tower shoots passengers 180 feet in the air at a g-force greater than 3. Drivers cruise go-karts along two elevated tracks or whip around corkscrew turns on the Audubon-inspired fast track, as nearby bumper cars collide as harmlessly as two marshmallows doing a chest bump. Pucks float across the air-hockey table in the arcade, which also houses racing simulations and dancing games. Hungry thrill seekers refuel with sundry meals and snacks, such as hand-tossed New York–style pizza and ice cream.
Fun Spot America's family-friendly amusement park has the charm of a small-town carnival, but the colorful adventure never packs up and leaves. Although there are activities for kids, such as miniature tea cups, a fun slide, and an arcade, where Fun Spot really makes its name is with its thrilling ride for adults. White Lightning, Orlando's only wooden roller coaster, offers 10 moments of air time over it's 2,000-foot track, sending riders down 75-foot drops, around a track filled with twists and turns, and around 90-degree banking turn before pulling back into the loading station.
Speedsters can also head over to a series of Go-Kart tracks that keep riders pushing pedals through banked bowls and hairpin curves on a multilevel track. The park rounds out its attractions list with bumper cars, Enterprise, a Tilt-a-Whirl, and Rip Curl.
After rising 200 feet in the air, the roller coaster mercifully stops right on the brink of a 90-degree drop. That mercy doesn’t last long. Soon passengers plummet at a whopping 70 miles per hour before hurtling along sweeping turns, through loops, and even into an underground tunnel. The frenetic journey culminates in a splashdown that leaves the next group of riders completely soaked.
Called the SheiKra, this coaster crowns Busch Gardens Tampa's roster of rides, which bear African safari-style names such as Cheetah Hunt. Beyond these big-kid thrills, Busch Gardens Tampa caters to youngsters with three kid-friendly attractions, including Treetop Trails, a three-story play area full of climbing nets, crawl tubes, and a multi-level maze. The amusement park also includes nearly a dozen animal exhibits, which house everything from gorillas and cheetahs to hundreds of friendly tropical birds.
Besides these attractions, Busch Gardens' grounds boast multiple venues for both indoor and outdoor shows such as Iceploration, where audiences watch in awe as a skating rink transforms magically into a shallow pond. Each area of the park also offers shopping and dining to match its region's theme.