Dive With Sharks
You don't want to encounter them in the wild, but you can safely interact with sharks at two Florida attractions. Certified divers 15 years of age and older can make reservations to enter the shark tank at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. The dive lasts 30 minutes and costs $150; (813) 273-4000 or www.flaquarium.net.
At SeaWorld Orlando's "Sharks Deep Dive," you can either snorkel or scuba dive (certification required) and enter the water in a shark cage. If you just want to dine surrounded by sharks, head to Sharks Underwater Grill, the park's new restaurant. It features floor-to-ceiling windows into the shark encounter attraction; (407) 351-3600 or www.seaworld.com.
Catch a Wave
Surfing is big on Florida's Atlantic coast, especially at Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area in Sebastian; (321) 984-4852. For all your surfing needs, visit the giant Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach; (321) 799-8888. For lessons, check into Lou Maresca's Central Florida Surf School in Vero Beach. Equipment is included, and you'll be catching waves before you know it; (772) 231-1044 or www.surfschoolcamp.com.
Learn To Sail
Even if you don't know jib from jibe, you can learn to sail. Offshore Sailing School in Fort Myers and the Florida Keys, as well as the Annapolis Sailing School in St. Petersburg, will be happy to teach the entire family.
Offshore Sailing School offers a variety of programs that last from three to six days. There's even a special program for youngsters ages 7-11. The school has three Florida locations, one at South Seas Resort on Captiva Island, one in St. Petersburg, and another at Hawk's Cay Resort in the Florida Keys; 1-800-221-4326 or www.offshore-sailing.com.
The St. Petersburg branch of the Annapolis Sailing School takes advantage of the superb sailing conditions on Tampa Bay; 1-800-638-9192 or www.usboat.com/annapway.
Hang With The Cowboys
It may be known for sun and sand, but Florida is also one of the top beef-producing states in the country. Vast ranches spread across its interior.
One of the best ways to learn about the history of cow hunters is to visit the re-created 1870s cow camp in Lake Kissimmee State Park. The best place to find a little more action is at a rodeo. Catch one most Wednesdays at the Davie Arena in Davie; (954) 797-1166. On Friday nights, head to the Kissimmee Sports Arena; (407) 933-0020. In July, the All-Florida Championship Rodeo comes to Arcadia; (863) 494-4033.
State parks are scattered across Florida like freckles on a redhead's nose. Many have campgrounds, and some have cabins. A new central reservation system makes it easy to schedule your nights under the stars; 1-800-326-3521 or www.reserveamerica.com.
Catch a Great Sunset & Show
The best sunset show in Florida happens on Mallory Square in Key West. Mimes, jugglers, and acrobats entertain on the square until the sun dips low. Then all eyes turn to the horizon; (305) 294-2587 or www.fla-keys.com.
Pick a Special Pool
There are pools, and then there are pools. The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables falls into the latter category. Carved into the quarry from which coral-rock was taken to build many of the homes in Coral Gables, the pool is an oasis of waterfalls, caves, and lush foliage. Children must be at least 38 inches tall or 3 years old to swim; (305) 460-5356.
Another stunning pool with waterfalls amid lush vegetation refreshes guests at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando; 1-800-554-9288 or www.hyattgrandcypress.com.
Plan Your Stay in Orlando
Face it--you can't see and do everything in Orlando in just one visit. You'll have to come back. But to get the most out of what time you have, plan, plan, plan.
A three-day scenario could include SeaWorld, Universal's Islands of Adventure, and Disney-MGM Studios. If you're spending five days, add Discovery Cove, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot to the itinerary. For information: Disney Parks, (407) 824-4321; Discovery Cove, toll free 1-877-434-7268; SeaWorld, (407) 351-3600 or www.seaworld.com; Universal's Islands of Adventure, (407) 363-8000. For information about area discounts, call 1-800-551-0181, or visit www.orlandoinfo.com.
Go On Safari
Rhino Rally, an off-road safari at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, takes you into areas where wild animals roam free. From your customized Land Rover, you'll see rhinos the size of trucks, elephants, warthogs, and a host of other exotic critters. The ride really gets wild when you ease onto a rickety pontoon bridge, which breaks free and sweeps you downriver to the end of your journey; 1-888-800-5447 or www.buschgardens.com.
Watch for Turtles
Between mid-May and mid-August, at night on many Florida beaches, you can watch for sea turtles lumbering ashore to lay their eggs. Roughly two months after the eggs are deposited in their sandy nests, hatchlings emerge and head for the water. The area around New Smyrna Beach, including Canaveral National Seashore, is a prime nesting ground. One of the most intense programs to protect the eggs and hatchlings takes place at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, between Melbourne and Sebastian Inlet. In 1989 it was designated America's first sea turtle refuge; (321) 861-0667.
To find more ways to have fun in Florida, call 1-888-735-2872 and request a copy of "The Official Florida Vacation Guide," or visit www.flausa.com.
This article is from the April 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.