Getaways - Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Glide through the latest outdoor adventure - at the Central Florida Zoo, in Sandestin and in St. Cloud
Ziplines are the fastest new attractions in Florida, and they're bringing thousands of day-trip adventurers closer to the environment, at least as close as you can safely get dangling 55 feet above wild wetlands and lagoons. At least three zipline attractions have opened in Florida in the past two years, whizzing tourists and locals — including corporate team-building groups — above natural settings, a zoo and even a resort shopping center. They are often tied in with rope courses or "games" of agility-testing rope bridges and swaying walkways and treetop observation points — always connected to a safety line.
The Central Florida Zoo in Sanford added two courses in mid-2009 operated by Zoomair, which also runs zipline courses in Costa Rica (and plans another Florida course in St. Augustine). At the zoo, the courses do not fly over lions and tigers but through natural areas and past concessions. It's particularly popular at night, especially during full moons, and attracts younger, more vigorous visitors than the usual family crowd with cameras and strollers. Zipliners are more likely to be high school and college kids, along with seniors who want to be as adventurous. Prices range from $15 to $40 on top of zoo admission.
In the Panhandle, a zipline across the lagoon at Sandestin's Baytowne Wharf Adventure Zone takes high-fliers over a more modern Florida of restaurants, shops and a Starbucks. Yet climbing to the platforms and the $18 zip over to the observation platform and back gives a sensational view of the resort, the bay and grand sunsets.
[Photo: Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida]
The first and biggest in Florida are at Eco-Safaris in the 4,500-acre preserve of Forever Florida south of St. Cloud. The attraction started out in 1996, using swamp-buggy coaches and horses to show city folk and Disney tourists the raw landscape of gators, cypress, saw palmetto and cow herders. When the owners encountered ziplines in the jungles of Costa Rica and Belize, "It was a natural fit," says park spokesman Matt Duda.
The park now has seven ziplines and two sky bridges that can be traversed in two aerial courses taking 2½ hours. They are now the most popular attractions there and reservation-only. You can zip over the uplands or the rainforest course for $85.