If Florida is known for one thing, it’s beaches. From the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico on the West Coast, Florida is nearly surrounded by water and blessed with postcard-perfect sandy expanses.
There are hundreds of beaches to choose from, all serving as great launch pads to swim, dive, fish, snorkel, kayak or any other aquatic activity one can dream of. Add to that the Everglades, with more than 30,000 lakes and estuaries teeming with fish, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife.
There’s no end to the water-born adventure activity options available for groups convening in the Sunshine State, so don’t neglect some fun in the sun time to provide an invigorating break from the sometimes stifling indoor world of meetings.
Group Water Activity Options
Attendees are not only clamoring for activities on the water; they often want to learn something while they’re immersed in the state’s signature attraction. That’s why Ripple Effect Eco Tours combines sustainability and education with a variety of water experiences.
Founded in 2007, Ripple Effect started with kayak tours in the St. Augustine and north Flagler County areas in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. The company’s mission is to provide low impact and educational eco-tour experiences, encouraging respect and sustainability for these natural areas.
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Today, it also offers jet boat tours and has formed a partnership with Marineland Dolphin Adventures so guests can observe, swim and play with dolphins.
“As a guide for eight years, one of the best parts of the job is to not only offer groups an enjoyable experience on the water, but they also learn about why our natural ecosystem is so important,” said Brandon Mellin, assistant manager of Ripple Effect.
Florida Water Tours, also in St. Augustine, offers historically minded Eco Tours aboard a pontoon boat led by a captain and crew who are certified naturalists and knowledgeable about the area’s marine life and waterways. The Dolphin Tours often feature underwater sound systems for guests to hear the dolphins swimming nearby. Their other tours include sunset cruises, full moon tours and wine tasting cruises.
Palm Beach Diving | Mike Scott Photography
Sea Serpent Tours takes groups through the rivers and creeks that run through St. Augustine aboard airboats. It also offers Hydrobikes, kayaks and paddleboard tours.
Best known for its 47 miles of pristine beaches, The Palm Beaches is also home to an abundance of marine life, which creates world-class diving and snorkeling experiences unique to Florida.
A collection of 39 cities and towns stretching from Boca Raton to Jupiter and Tequesta, The Palm Beaches is the closest place in North America to the Gulf Stream current, attracting sea turtles, tropical fish, sailfish, goliath grouper, dolphins and whale sharks.
The area is also home to 151 artificial reefs and 45 sunken ships. One of the largest is the Ana Cecilia, which was sunk off the Lake Worth Inlet in 2016. Snorkelers can also enjoy easy access to an Underwater Snorkel Trail, a free shore dive location chock full of colorful tropical fish.
“Our geographic location and unique proximity to the Gulf Stream gives divers the opportunity to see lots of warm-water and cold-water species up close and in close proximity to our shoreline,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches. “Our abundance of natural and manmade sites confirms there is no better place than The Palm Beaches to enjoy a world-class diving experience without leaving the continental United States.”
Another experience includes diving with Jim Abernethy, an award-winning conservationist, photographer, author, documentary filmmaker and public speaker. On his dives, groups have been known to spot sharks, several species of sea turtles, tropical fish, rays and goliath groupers.
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The Underwater Snorkel Trail at Phil Foster Park is great for beginner snorkelers because of its easy access. Just under the Blue Heron Bridge guests enter a wonderland of marine life—no boat required.
The 800-foot-long trail of artificial reef, incorporating more than 600 tons of Anastasia rock boulders, ranges from six to 10 feet deep, depending on the tide.
A Sunset Paddle, Pensacola
Snorkelers will encounter everything from colorful tropicals like angelfish and parrotfish to reef dwellers like snapper and grouper. Snorkelers may even glimpse one or more of the six species of seahorses in this small underwater habitat.
Tampa’s Urban Kai Stand-up Paddleboarding is a great way to paddle your way to fitness and maybe get a close encounter with a manatee in the bargain. Paddleboards are for rent along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel and Urban Kai will be opening a new permanent location near the popular Armature Works site in Tampa Heights just north of downtown. Lessons are available to keep novices afloat and help them find their sea legs.
Tampa Bay Water Bikes is located on the waterfront by the Tampa Convention Center and offers guests a chance to get out on the water for a self-propelled, pedal-powered excursion. Each bike is built on two pontoons, ensuring they’re stable enough for two.
E-boats Tampa has electric boats that allow groups to see downtown from a new angle. A quick how-to lesson gets even the biggest landlubber feeling like the captain of his or her own destiny in no time.
Boating and Diving Options
For those who want a yachting experience, the Marco Island Princess is available for group charters or dinner cruises. This large, elegant yacht offers inside seating in spacious air-conditioned cabins as well as decks for enjoying the Gulf breezes.
The Dolphin Explorer cruise boat, with daily departures, allows groups to act as dolphin researchers. Teams work with a naturalist, take photos and log the activity of the bottlenose dolphins that live in the estuaries surrounding Naples and Marco Island. The experience provides educational excursions as well as teambuilding opportunities.
St. Augustine’s premier tall ship, the Schooner Freedom, sails from the city marina in Matanzas Bay. This authentic replica of a 19th century blockade-runner offers afternoon, sunset and educational programs where participants can hoist the sails, learn about the area’s maritime history or just sit back and enjoy the ocean breezes. They offer scheduled and chartered sailings.
The Naples Princess yacht is available for private group charters or dinner cruises and has served the Naples community for over 26 years. Following a million-dollar renovation last September, the 105-foot yacht was restored to its original glory with new furniture, new carpet and upgraded sound system.
For groups staying at the Naples Grande hotel, a Salt Island Sea Plane excursion offers coastal and Everglades options for those who want to see some fantastic views from an amphibious seaplane.
Pure Florida, based at Tin City in downtown Naples, offers group experiences on the water, including sightseeing tours for large or small groups, thrill rides on the jet boat ODIN, group fishing charters and boat and jet ski rentals.
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys has more than 200 miles of underwater coral reefs that have been protected since 1960, from shallow reefs for snorkeling to deep dives and shipwrecks for experienced divers.
[More group ideas: Florida CSR Programs Allow Groups to Give Back]
Also in Key West, night boarding at Ibis Bay provides the opportunity to see a plethora of sealife that is much more active at night. Tours feature stand-up paddleboards adorned with bright waterproof LED lights.
Most people don’t associate Central Florida with large bodies of water (like the ocean), but more than 100 lakes that dot the Orlando landscape allow for everything from waterskiing and jet skiing to eco-tours to view alligators and osprey in their natural habitat.
At Buena Vista Watersports at Paradise Cove, there’s jet ski rentals on Lake Bryan, a 450-acre natural, spring-fed lake surrounded by cypress trees and tropical foliage. The company offers a free lesson with a professional instructor before your ride.
Orlando Watersports Complex offers wakeboarding, waterskiing, wakeskating and kneeboarding for groups. For those staying at Grande Lakes Orlando, the hotel offers guided canoe or kayak tours for guests to learn about the history of Shingle Creek and observe alligators, bald eagles, osprey and barred owls in their natural habitat.
Near Ocala, Silver River Kayak Tours offers guides with extensive knowledge of the area and its abundant wildlife. The kayaks meander through protected land where visitors may spot otters, turtles, black-crowned night herons and manatees.
Peace of Mind Kayak Tours operates throughout Central Florida, including in Winter Park (Orlando) Chain of Lakes to view old cypress trees nestled among million-dollar homes, with one in particular once owned by Mister Rogers’ family!
What’s New In Wellness?
Jessica Kendall // Director of Catering & Conference Services at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach talks about trends in wellness and meetings.
“With so many fad diets out there, planners are trying to take into consideration all of the new dietary restrictions for groups: gluten-free, keto and paleo diets. So many groups are requesting more fruit and veggie options rather than the baked goods,” Kendall said. “We added a new menu item called Dip It, which consists of hummus, guacamole, olives, grilled naan and crudite to capture some of these dietary needs.”
Groups are still very interested in locally generated food; farm to table is still an interest to most groups. We have the ability to serve fresh seafood that we try to capitalize on that and use the seasonal catches with our specialty menus that we sell to our group guests.
Teambuilding at the site is a growing trend. We have a lot of groups participate in boat making and then racing competitions, an old fashioned game of volleyball and then ladder golf and corn hole are also very popular with groups. Groups also enjoy the traditional scavenger hunt, which is fun for the area since we are so close to the marina.
Kendall has been part of the Wyndham family since 2013 and the Clearwater Beach property since 2016. She graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management from Iowa State University and spent time studying in Switzerland. She specializes is event and culinary menu planning. She resides in Largo, Fla., and in her spare time enjoys golfing and anything beach related!
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