High-flying fun in Orlando

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By Sarah Sekula, published in Where Orlando magazine

Oftentimes a vacation offers a chance to climb out of your comfort zone and plunge right in to something you might not try at home—something out of the ordinary and maybe even a bit bizarre. Let’s say, for example, tumbling head over heels in a vertical wind tunnel or gliding through Central Florida’s bluebird skies at about 2,000 feet. Of course these activities come guaranteed with intense thrills and, not to mention, priceless photo ops. If you’re up for the challenge, check out these adrenaline rushes that will have you feeling like a superhero in no time.

Gatorland — The Screamin’ Gator Zipline

For those who relish something a bit out of the ordinary, try zip lining over alligator feeding areas at Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve known as the alligator capital of the world. The park’s latest attraction, the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, lets guests race at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour and at heights of up to 75 feet over American alligators and Cuban crocodiles. Climb the tower to the first “zip,” and prepare to propel along five ziplines, perch atop several aerial observation platforms and clamor across a 162-foot swinging bridge. Hurl yourself off the launch pad for a 15-mph introductory zip and catch sight of Gatorland’s star reptiles, a tropical waterfall and the surrounding lush and rugged landscape. Continue on as the zips become longer and faster. Sail past “Dundee,” the saltwater crocodile, and glance cautiously at “Pops,” one of the park’s oldest and largest alligators. At one point you’ll even fly over 100 of Gatorland’s largest alligators. 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando/407-855-5496, www.gatorland.com

Wallaby Ranch — Hang Gliding

Uh, you can hang glide without mountains? Sure, according to the flying experts at Wallaby Ranch (so named because the sport started in Australia). It’s called aerotowing – think launching upward 2,000 feet in an ultra-light tow plane, then gliding nose first out of the sky while wrapped up like a human burrito. This old farm-turned-hang-gliding paradise in Davenport, just south of Kissimmee, is equal parts thrilling and family friendly fun. It will please any adrenaline junkie, and satisfy even those who aren’t into such high-flying stunts. The less adventurous can partake in hammock swinging, pool lounging or trail hiking; natural Florida woodlands surround the secluded Wallaby Ranch area. In fact, there are 200 acres of gently rolling land filled with citrus groves and pines. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot deer, migrating birds or even the endangered Florida panther. There are tent and RV camping facilities available, a community-prepared breakfast and lunch, and a climbing wall and playground, complete with a Dr. Seuss treehouse. What more could you ask for? 1805 Deen Still Road, Davenport/800-WALLABY, www.wallaby.com

Forever Florida — Cypress FlyCycle

If you’re serious about getting away from it all, a mellow cycling ride through the treetops could do the trick. A new attraction at Forever Florida—a wildlife haven an hour southeast of Orlando—gives guests the chance to unwind via a specially designed Cypress FlyCycle (think reclining bicycle suspended from a network of high-tension cables). The hour-long excursion takes guests on a winding journey over the pine flatwoods and through Turkey Slough, a beautiful area of forested wetland. Forever Florida’s conservation area, about 4,700 acres worth of natural beauty, actually serves as home to nine different ecosystems. That means you’ll be surrounded by gurgling streams, forests, pastures, wetlands and loads of wildlife including alligators, black bears and white-tail deer. Guests also pass over a pond housing George, a popular 13-foot gator that has called Forever Florida home for the past 60-plus years. The innovative new attraction is the first of its kind in the United States and only the second in the world. 4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud/407-957-9794, ext. 1, www.foreverflorida.com

iFly – Indoor Skydiving

If you aren’t quite ready to hurl yourself out of a plane, then skydiving indoors is an excellent alternative. You’ll get a similar sensation and a certificate of completion to boot. Oh, and you get to sport a super cool wind suit, helmet and goggles, too. The best part is, nearly anyone can do it, regardless of fitness level. Many ages—from eight-year-olds to grandmothers— have found this thrill ride enjoyable. After a brief orientation, guests don the gear and step into the vertical wind tunnel, which reaches speeds of up to 130 mph. The airflow is completely controllable, so the instruc- tors can provide a customized experience. When you book, your reservation is your flight time. 6805 Visitors Circle, Orlando/ 407-903-1150, www.iflyorlando.com