Orlando, of course, is known for its multitude of theme parks, each filled with a wide range of rides and experiences that appeal to kids of all ages, including those who left childhood behind a long time ago but are still kids at heart. For those who want to up the ante and go far higher in the sky than any roller coaster could ever take them, there are a number of ways to take flight near Florida’s central oasis of fun. From hang gliding and hot air balloon rides to skydiving and bi-planes, this quartet of high-flying fun is easily accessible in the Orlando area—you just have to know where to go.
Imagine flying 2,000 feet in the air with no motor, no plane—just a frame and a sail and the rarefied air around you, taking you wherever you want to go. Hang gliding is the closest any human has ever come to taking flight in the way a bird does, and it’s something almost anyone can do either in tandem with a professional or solo with proper training and instruction. First-timers can get the hang of things on a tandem excursion, and gliders of all levels can enjoy an aerotowing experience, which allows them to soar above the theme parks and wetlands of central Florida without any nearby hills or mountains to launch from.
Who’s going to love it: People of all ages and experience levels can enjoy a flight, from children as young as four to elders in their early ’90s. It’s definitely not for those with a serious fear of heights, but for people who enjoy an adrenaline spike and a bird’s eye view of things, it’s a thrill-a-minute experience, the memories of which last a lifetime.
How to book a trip: Study up on the options at Wallaby Ranch, the world’s first and largest aerotow hang gliding flight park. Quest Air in nearby Groveland, Florida, offers tandem hang gliding rides as well as in open-air, light sport aircraft. Orlando Hang Gliding also offers a wide variety of tandem rides.
Hot Air Balloons
For a more moderate approach to flying the friendly skies over Orlando without so much as an engine, a hot air balloon ride can deliver the same majestic views. Choose an outfitter with a 100 percent safety record and certified flight instructors, and then rise above the earth from the comfort of your balloon’s basket as you watch the sunrise. It’s as peaceful and transcendent an experience as a person can have, floating through the air and taking in over an hour’s worth of mid-air magic.
Who’s going to love it: Ideal for small groups, hot air balloons can typically hold four to six guests of any age. Although it’s not ideal for someone with an extreme fear of flying, it could be an ideal first step for someone trying to overcome it. Anyone who wants an 80:20 ratio (or greater) of serenity and excitement will likely relish their time in a hot air balloon over central Florida.
Skydiving is a popular recreational activity beloved by thrill-seekers who can’t get enough of the rush that comes from a freefall. Once certification training has been completed, a tandem jump in Orlando can take place after a 20-minute introduction and safety briefing followed by a proper harnessing assembly with your instructor. For experienced skydivers, advanced skydive coaching can take the experience to the next level, and for all involved, the 120mph fall is an experience like no other.
Who’s going to love it: Adrenaline junkies swear by their love of skydiving, which is an overwhelmingly safe endeavor when jumpers abide by the rules and regulations and are properly trained. After a thrilling free fall, you'll also get to enjoy the views on your quiet ride down as you float back to earth.
How to book a trip: Do some research to find the skydiving company you’re most comfortable with. Recommendations in the Orlando area include Skydive Space Center or Orlando Skydiving Center. For a taste of what the experience feels like (minus the actual heights), try an indoor skydiving session at iFly Orlando.
If you want to make like the early aviators and take to the sky in style over central Florida, a biplane is the only way to fly. The classic fixed wings stacked atop one another are an icon of American flight, and if you’d like, any of several air tour operators can take you through the clouds in just such a traditional aircraft over Orlando. These open-cockpit models soar through the air with a good old-fashioned rumble, rising to FAA-approved heights and even doing a series of rolls, loops and other squeal-inducing aerobatics.
Who’s going to love it: Anyone with a yearning for the aerial experience of yesteryear, or just a cool, once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s no age restriction to ride in a biplane chartered by a professional air tour company, and each seat of a typical vintage aircraft of this type can hold up to 300 pounds. Helmet and headset are included, so just bring sunglasses and a jacket (if it’s cooler than 70 degrees out on the day of your flight).
\ _How to book a trip: _ Reserve a flight with Florida Air Tours.