It’s heart pounding…it’s exhilarating…and it’s adventurous fun like you can’t imagine. After a visit to Zip Orlando Canopy Tours, I can now cross another item off my Bucket List…you know the list of things you’d like to do or goals you’d like to achieve before you die.
I, along with my boyfriend Don Welch, his son Dane, and his daughter Julia Presler (visiting from Hawaii) arrived at the nondescript building of Zip Orlando Canopy Tours and signed the typical liability releases indicating we wouldn’t sue if anything went wrong.
Zip Orlando’s zip lines are strung in the tree canopy out on an actual working cattle ranch in Kissimmee, Fla. The entire zip experience includes eight different cables averaging 65’ in height and varying in lengths from 225’ to 950’ long. There is no age limit, however they do have weight limitations from a minimum of 70 pounds to a maximum of 270 pounds. All tours are completely guided and there are no motorized machines for propulsion. The individual slant of the lines and your body weight and movements zip you along.
The tour’s numerous platforms, zip lines, and suspension bridges are intimately surrounded by an assortment of native trees and Florida wetlands. Overall the course includes eight lines, totaling a mile of zipping cables suspended in the woods at the tree tops, along with three suspension bridges for a total of more than 300 feet of bridges. Zip Orlando offers daily and nightly tours with night groups receiving glow sticks for use on the glide underneath the stars and/or the moon. Due to its popularity, Zip Orlando requires advance reservations. They also require everyone to wear closed-toed shoes and pants or long shorts for safety and personal comfort in the harness straps.
For those of you wondering if it’s safe…don’t worry. Safety is paramount to Zip Orlando and its staff. According to their Web site, Zip Orlando is part of a larger network of canopy tours owned, operated, or licensed by parent company Experience Based Learning, Inc. (EBL). EBL is recognized as the largest installer and operator of tours within the United States. Zip Orlando is EBL’s only licensed tour in Florida as the requirements for training, operation, and safety are more stringent than other tours. Zip Orlando operates to meet or surpass the Professional Ropes Course Association’s safety standards for Canopy Zip Line Tours. Prior to opening, the Zip Orlando course received a third-party certified Professional Engineer inspection and also passed inspection by the Florida Bureau of Rides. In other words, it’s a safe experience.
We scheduled our zip experience for 4 p.m., however, due to nerve delays in the group ahead; we didn’t actually start out until closer to 4:30 p.m. We paired with six additional customers and our group of 10 climbed into Zip Orlando’s van and headed two miles down the road to a ranch owned and operated by the driver Erica’s family. Erica indicated her husband’s family have owned the land for many years with her son representing the ninth generation to actually live and work on the ranch. Along the way, she reviewed safety instructions and amiably chatted and answered various questions. Erica was great at calming our nerves.
Erica dropped our group off at an outbuilding on the ranch where we met additional Zip Orlando staff who helped everyone gear up in helmets, harnesses, and straps that included heavy-duty clips. Once more, a Zip Orlando staff member delivered almost verbatim the same safety instructions imparted by Erica: “Under no circumstances are you to grab the overhead zip line. If you grab it in front of yourself, you risk the possibility of having your fingers amputated. If you grab it behind yourself, you receive a free x-ray as it will slice your fingers down to the bones.” He also imparted that when we got out on the lines, that we should listen carefully to the instructions from our Zip Guides and “just have a lot of fun.” Fortunately, once we got started, we quickly discovered there was never a sensation of actually wanting to grab the zip lines overhead.
Once geared up, we walked a short distance to a set of open-grated stairs leading up to an open-grated platform high off the ground. Don stepped up to the plate and volunteered to go first and began climbing the 50 stairs to the first platform behind our Zip Guide named Dave. Dave instructed everyone to wait until the individual ahead had cleared two sets of stair landings before we each started our own ascents. Looking upwards, I thought the platform at the top looked really high up; especially from my viewpoint standing on the ground.
I won’t lie…I was a bit nervous once I completed climbing the stairs and stood on the open platform with its bird’s eye view of the ground. Aligned with the tree tops, we could look down at our feet straight to the ground below. My senses were definitely awake and heightened at this point. I don’t know if my heart was pounding from the workout walking up the six flights of stairs or from the nervous realization at exactly how high up we were and that the platform had absolutely no rails. I think most people have a natural fear of heights to varying degrees and I am no exception.
Friendly and trusty Dave greeted everyone at the top and efficiently clipped us to safety lines as we each ascended the platform. The last on to the platform was Laura, our second Zip Guide. She is small in stature, but makes up for it with a huge personality and joie de vivre. Both were young, exuberant, and promoted confidence in each of us as we individually approached zip lining with a combination of excitement and nervousness. A quick poll indicated everyone in our group were “Zip Virgins.” Dave and Laura reviewed the safety instructions once again and Dave provided a first-hand demonstration as he zipped over to the next platform to await our arrivals. He yelled out, “Clear to zip” indicating it was now was our turn to go.
Don was first in our group to take off. Laura unhooked his clip from the safety line and attached it to the zip line trailing off to the next platform. I reached over and gave him a reassuring hug as he quickly and confidently stepped off the platform, let go of the hold line, and took off. Anyone witnessing Don’s departure would have sworn he wasn’t a newbie as he made it look amazingly easy to step off a platform approximately 70’ in the air suspended on a wire by a clip and a few straps and glide off over the tree tops. At that point, it was obvious that the reassuring hug was more for me than for him.
Next off was Dane. Even at 19, he isn’t embarrassed or shy to admit he has a genuine and major fear of heights. Earlier standing next to Dane on the first platform while waiting for the others to climb up, I noted his nervousness and white face. Neither had faded as he tentatively stepped forward to get hooked to the zip line. I even thought to myself, “Oh God, this is not helping to calm me down.” I noticed he briefly hesitated to collect himself and took off without any problems. Next up, was his beautiful and fearless sister Julia. Excited and animated, she was ready to get the show on the road. Julia took off with a big smile on her face with absolutely no hesitation.
I was next in line to go. For some reason, watching Don’s, Dane’s, and Julia’s departures provided me with an inner confidence as I witnessed no one died..no one had any sort of incident or accident…and no one had even let out a fearful scream. They actually looked like they all really enjoyed the experience. Laura expertly hooked me to the zip line and called out “Ready to zip!” and Dave responded with “Clear to zip!” That was my cue. I took a deep breath to calm myself, leaned back into my harness, let go of the hold line, and sailed off.
I immediately became calm as I truly felt safe and secure. I let the exhilaration of being up high, zipping fast, and the feel of the wind whipping on my body and face take over. I did it! I conquered a fear and I had won. I had a huge smile on my face, my body pumped with adrenaline, and I remember thinking, “Damn, this is fun…REALLY, REALLY FUN!” I also remember mentally singing, “ZIP-a-dee-doo-dah, ZIP-a-dee-ay, my, oh my what a wonderful day!” with quite a bit of emphasis on the “Zip.” The experience truly makes you feel kid-like and leaves you wanting to giggle and spontaneously scream “Whoo-hoo!”
As we each came to the end of the zip line, Dave expertly steered and guided us safely on to the next platform. He unhooked us from the zip line and connected our clips to safety lines. As we waited for the rest of our group to zip on over, Don, Dane, Julia, and I animatedly shared our excitement and celebrated that we had all faced our fears and seized the moment. We couldn’t wait to get on the next line and to experience it once again.
We watched from afar as each person in our group gathered the confidence to step off the initial platform and let go on to the zip line. An Indian couple in our group seemed the most hesitant and I believe the woman truly never got over her nerves at initially stepping off each platform. But, she never quit and always had a big smile at the end of the line as she arrived to the next platform.
The slant of the individual zip lines and the weight of each rider creates varying speeds as you glide along. After getting over initial fears, everyone gained confidence and learned various tricks of tucking, twisting, turning, and bouncing to zip across the lines even faster. We learned individual speeds on the zip lines can reach 30 mph and we were all determined to hit that mark. We soon began cheering and encouraging everyone in our group and even yelling “Go Uncle Kenny!” along with his niece. There are several platforms with dual lines that allowed us to race against each other which added to the overall excitement and fun.
About halfway through the experience, we zipped down to the ground for a water break. After the short break, we all climbed another set of stairs with 70 steps and continued our zip tour. To add to the fun, Laura and Dave encouraged everyone to tell jokes on one platform and to loudly sing a song or make animal noises as we zipped off on another line. We also coordinated screaming out to the another group several lines behind us.
Sprinkled amidst the zip lines are two suspension bridges that require running or walking across. The first bridge sort of undulated up and down and the second sways back and forth. At the first bridge, Dane, determined to race as fast as possible to the next platform, departed before Julia. Julia quickly foiled his plan by encouraging Laura to join her in jumping up and down when he reached the halfway mark. The undulating bridge made it next to impossible for him to race off to the safety of the platform.
On the second bridge, Julia and Dane were behind me on the bridge swinging back and forth, determined to make sure we all had a highly swaying and wild ride. And did we ever! I was thankful we were all clipped to safety lines and really had nothing to worry about. I also have to confess that the bridges were my least favorite part of the overall experience; however, they challenged each of us to step out of our comfort zones and experience something new and confidence building.
The views on the zip lines and its platforms were spectacular and you truly feel as if you are one with nature. You can see for miles up in the tree tops and out to the distant horizon as you take in the natural beauty and splendor of the Florida landscape. At one point, we encountered an owl that flew in and sat on a tree limb right underneath the zip line. A group member riding the line actually lifted his feet to clear the bird by what appeared as a mere four feet. The bird spread its wings and majestically took off for its nest with two babies in the tree top about 20’ away from our landing platform. It was an amazing sight…especially for a bird-lover such as myself.
By now the sun had gloriously set and the daylight was fading fast. The zip experience is a bit different in the dusk as the trees and their shadows take on muted colors and differing shapes. At this point, we were more focused on the sensation of zipping as opposed to the views. As we reached the last platform, complete darkness arrived as we raced on our last line, a dual line, down to the ground with two guides wearing red helmet lights and carrying flashlights to safely guide our way.
We were now all confident in our abilities, unaware of, or ignoring, the heights and totally dreading the end of such an amazing and fun experience. It truly was an experience of a lifetime and a memory that will last with me forever.
I can’t honestly say that I have taken the time to actually write out a formal Bucket List, but I do know zip lining has been on my mental list for some time. I’d definitely encourage everyone to add it to your Bucket List and to visit Orlando Zip Canopy Tours or a local zip line tour in your area. I’d also recommend that you check out their Web site prior to making reservations as they seem to regularly offer various specials and discounts. I’d also like to advise you to learn the words to “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” as you just might want to sing those during your zip adventure too!