By Jim Ferri
You’ve tired of theme parks, tanned on the beaches, taken a cruise, toured the museums and hit the South Beach nightspots.
Perhaps it’s time to try something different on a Florida getaway.
In Florida you can also dig for fossils, have your palm read or be a cowboy for a weekend — and that’s just the start of the surprising variety of activities awaiting Florida vacationers who want to get off the beach and away from the theme parks.
Although many of the activities listed below can be enjoyed all over the state, we’ve chosen only a single site known for that specific activity.
If it’s your idea of fun, you can go skydiving in many Florida locales, from Key West to Pensacola. Skydive DeLand at the municipal airport in DeLand offers tandem jumps for beginners or drops for experienced parachutists. It also stages several chute events during the year.
Among past jumpers at DeLand are Formula One racer Michael Schumacher, and actor Tom Cruise. Price for a tandem jump (attached to instructor) is $189, plus $90 for a video if you want a record of your adventure. For experienced jumpers who don’t need a tandem partner, the cost is $24.
Go Cave Diving
Because it has a lot of major springs and sinkholes, Florida is one of the best places in the United States to go cave diving. You must be certified for cave diving, as this sport can be dangerous.
Best sites are in the northern part of the state. One of the most popular is Peacock Springs State Park, 17 miles west of Live Oak, which has one of the largest cave systems in the country with 33,000 feet of underwater caverns. The waters are generally clearer in winter.
Peacock Springs State Park
Go Fossil Hunting
The fossilized remains of large mammals such as saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, and cave bears are abundant in Florida’s caves, sinkholes, and rivers. Finding them is best on an organized tour with a company such as Paleo Discoveries.
But you can also do a bit of fossil hunting on your own. Because a single shark loses as many as 20,000 teeth during its lifetime, finding prehistoric sharks’ teeth is relatively easy for anyone. One of the best places to hunt for them is at Venice on Florida’s Gulf coast. Comb the sand at Venice Beach or Caspersen Beach. Better still, search the sea bottom just offshore via snorkel or scuba, particularly after a storm.
Find an A-mazing Field
Several locales set up corn mazes in autumn — cornfields with puzzling paths winding through them. In Zellwood, near Mount Dora, the Long and Scott Farm has a six-acre corn maze that is open weekends through early December.
Admission is $11 adults, $9 children 3-16. Also available on site: A 60-foot slide, picnic area, a scavenger hunt and fresh ears of the remarkably sweet Zellwood corn.
Long and Scott Farm
Get in Touch With Your Past
The town of Cassadaga near Orlando is full of psychics. You can get a spirit reading, have your palm read, sit in a seance, seek spiritualist healing, learn about past life regressions.
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, founded in 1894, is the center of activity in the area. It offers spirit readings (15 minutes $20, most longer readings $50-$75). These and other psychic services are also provided by the many psychics elsewhere in this small town. The camp also conducts daily historic tours of Cassadaga and its spirit activities daily at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; adults $15, children 12 and under with an adult, $7.50.
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
Bobwhite quail hunts are conducted at a number of sites in Florida. In the state’s Panhandle, you’ll find the 3,000-acre Hard Labor Creek Plantation, which offers several packages to guests in the season that runs from October to April.
The Copper Package, for example, provides a half-day hunt for two people, guide and dogs included, with a limit of 12 birds per hunter. Cost is $425..
Hard Labor Creek Plantation
Taste Some Wines
Florida has about 30 wineries that offer tastings, most of them in Central and Northern Florida. At a gas station or turnpike stop, pick up the free Welcome to Florida Wineries brochure published by the Florida Wine & Grape Growers Association. Or go online for a list of wineries with location and hours of operation. While these wines aren’t in the same league as California’s or France’s, many find them quite pleasing. You may even try some wines made from fruits other than grapes. Some wineries charge for tastings, some do not.
Florida Wine & Grape Grower Association
Like fresh fruits and vegetables? You can pick your own at many locales in Florida, mostly in the winter. Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and other citrus ripens from November to March, and you’ll find a number of u-pick groves along Highway 27 in Central Florida. Many fields of tomatoes, strawberries, string beans, cucumbers, squash and other vegetables are found in the farm country west of Miami in winter. Blueberries are picked in Central Florida, watermelons mostly in North Florida in late spring and summer.
For a list of u-pick farms in Florida, as well as other states and countries, go to www.pickyourown.org
Be A Cowboy
Florida has a couple of dude ranches, both in Lake Wales, where you can get a cowboy fix for the day, a weekend or a week. At Westgate River Ranch in Lake Wales, resort amenities include horseback riding, boat rentals, trap and skeet range, hayrides and cookouts, a petting farm, pool, smokehouse grill, saloon and western store.
Activities at Circle F Dude Ranch include swimming, canoeing, fishing, volleyball, campfire programs, hayrides and family softball.
Westgate River Ranch
Circle F Dude Ranch
Rent a Houseboat
You can rent a houseboat in many Florida locales, from the Keys to the Panhandle. One nice trip is on the St. Johns River, Florida’s longest, where much of the banks are lined with foliage, letting you escape the trappings of civilization. There’s also an abundance of wildlife: alligators, turtles, otter, deer, raccoon, and the occasional Manatee.
You’ll have many of the comforts of home and tie up on shore at night.
A weekend rental (Friday-Sunday) in high season (March – November) of a 38-foot houseboat that sleeps four costs $925 plus fuel and taxes; weekday rentals are slightly less. Other size boats are also available.
Holly Bluff Marina
Real birders go to great lengths to spot certain species. If you’d just like to spot some birds not often seen, go to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary northeast of Naples on the Gulf Coast. From a 2.25-mile boardwalk there I’ve spotted Wood Storks, Limkins and Pileated Woodpeckers — not your usual backyard birds — as well as some well-preserved ecological features like the Cabbage Lake and centuries-old cypress trees. There are cutoffs for those who don’t want to walk the full 2.25 miles of the boardwalk. Best time to visit is winter.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Up, Up and Away
For a real bird’s-eye view of the landscape, nothing beats taking a hot-air balloon ride, and many are offered in Florida. A ride on Bob’s Balloons in Orlando, for example, provides high-up views of Walt Disney World, the Orlando skyline, and the area’s many lakes.
The journey lasts about three hours — one hour in the air, plus the traditional champagne brunch and getting to and from takeoff and landing sites. Flights usually start around daybreak, soar between treetop level and about 1,000 feet. Cost is $175 per person, $90 for children under 90 pounds, $475 for a private flight for two.