Next time you vacation in Orlando, add some adventure to your itinerary with aerotow hang gliding at Wallaby Ranch. Hang gliding – with your family? Yes! Founded by Malcolm Jones in 1992, Wallaby Ranch has provided over 30,000 incident-free tandem flights with adults of all ages, and children as young as 3. Their equipment is deigned for maximum safety; the harness is permanently affixed to the glider, and you are securely wrapped in the harness. Malclom’s careful and cautious approach, combined with years of experience, have given Wallaby Ranch a stellar safety record. According to Malcolm, “Most people think they can’t hang glide because they have a fear of heights, but they actually have a fear of falling, and with the set up at Wallaby Ranch, you aren’t falling.” This experience will definitely be the highlight of your Orlando trip.
I drove onto Wallaby Ranch and after parking my car I saw a golf cart speeding toward me from across the field. It’s Malcolm, the owner of Wallaby Ranch. “Let’s get going, the winds will be changing soon so we need to get you in the air.” In no time I was across the field, putting on a harness and getting some directions from Eric, my instructor, who will be riding tandem with me. I look up and see that a light plane is in front of us and our hang glider is being tethered to it. “Don’t hang on to the bar and keep your feet up so they don’t drag,” Eric says, and the next thing I know we’re being pulled across the field and are off the ground, ascending into the air. I guess it’s too late for any second thoughts.
We are now high above the trees, the ranch and houses below are growing smaller and I can see across the sky to lakes, highways and scenery beyond. It feels a little unnatural to not be holding on to anything, my hands folded across my chest, my body suspended by a sling attached to the glider. I am a human kite. Eric explains to me how the glider works, shows me how to turn and we talk about how long he has been hang gliding. I am comfortable, oddly not at all scared, just peacefully enjoying the incredible views.
“We’re going to be disconnecting from the plane in a few minutes, and we’ll drop a little,” Eric tells me about 8 minutes into our flight. Uh, disconnect? Wait. I knew this was going to happen, but I was pretty comfortable being connected to something. OK, here we go. He disconnects the cable from our glider and we are free. It is amazing! I feel weightless as we spend another 5 minutes gliding around, taking some turns. As we descend back, the thermals provide an adrenaline rush and my favorite part – we turn a hard bank and lower in for a landing. What an amazing ride!
I was visiting Orlando by myself this time prior to a press trip with TravelingMom.com on the new Disney Fantasy, but I can’t wait to bring my family back. I have a daughter with special needs, so many people have asked if I would take her. Wallaby Ranch enjoys working with people of all abilities, and special needs, and in all of their flights have only had one flier that they didn’t feel was safe to take up. He was a quadriplegic with no neck control. My special needs daughter would fall into this same category because she has no lower body or upper body control and muscle tone issues – although I know she’d love it. She would have a good time exploring the Ranch with me, being spoiled by Wallaby Ranch team, while the rest of my family took turns hang gliding. It’s a beautiful property with a large gathering place where the chef makes fantastic meals and the hang glider “regulars” exchange stories.
Hang gliding at the Wallaby Ranch was a topic of discussion the rest of my Orlando vacation, and the first thing everyone asked about when I returned home. The experience left me with a true sense of adventure, and I made some friends along the way. I enjoyed getting to know Malcolm and the hang gliders I met at Wallaby Ranch, everyone involved there has a real passion for the sport that is truly contagious. It was definitely an experience that I will remember for a long time and one of my favorite Orlando things to do. It’s an empowering feeling to push back fear, something that makes you feel like you can do anything. That’s something that I would love for my family to experience.
Watch me fly and see how it works:
Disclaimer: I was invited to have this adventure for review purposes. The thoughts and experiences are my own.
Karin Sheets is a techie, travel writer and mother of two teens, one of them with special needs. She encourages all families to live the adventure of life. Her personal blog is www.specialneedstravelmom.com and you can follow her @KarinSheets on Twitter.