Florida is surrounded by water, with the churning waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast and the calm Gulf of Mexico on the west coast—plus more than 30,000 lakes in between.
Whether by airboat, schooner or paddlewheeler, get groups out of the meeting room and onto the water with these creative outings.
Aboard St. Augustine’s schooner The Freedom, a replica of a 19th-century blockade runner, groups can chart the same course as Juan Ponce de Leon did in the 1500s.
This ship can carry up to 41 passengers, offering several different experiences on the water, like the Day Sail, the Sunset Sail and Moonlight Sail.
Photo: The Freedom schooner in St. Augustine
The Day Sail takes guests on a two-hour jaunt where they can relax, help the crew raise the sails or even take the helm. One of the specialty sails, Fins and Freedom, is a collaboration with Marineland—one of Florida’s first marine mammal parks—where experts educate and entertain guests with interesting facts about dolphins that swim in the area’s waters, as well as the park’s conservation work.
Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventures of Vero Beach is located on the Blue Cypress Conservation Marshland. A long-time Indian River County resident and guide, Capt. Bob takes guests on adventures on his two airboats, each accommodating 11 passengers.
These smaller boats can navigate the manmade marshes while Capt. Bob shares information and local gossip about the area and its habitat through headsets provided to guests. He also shares information about the birds, plants, fish and alligators participants may see during the ride, and details the history of the marshlands and its transformation from a horse farm.
Photo: Capt. Bob of Capt. Bob's Airboat Adventures of Vero Beach; Credit: Capt. Bob's Airboat Adventures of Vero Beach
After a meeting in the Tiffany Room at Capt. Hiram’s Resort in Sebastian, groups can journey on the River King to Sebastian Inlet. This 45-foot pontoon boat can accommodate up to 40 guests on daily ecology tours from Capt. Hiram’s Marina to sail along the shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon to see manatees, bottlenose dolphins, pelicans and a wide array of intriguing waterfowl. The River King also offers a sunset cruise to Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve, which is the nation’s first national wildlife refuge. Back on land, Capt. Hiram’s can host luaus on its Bimini Beach for up to 150.
“With over 26 miles of uncrowded shorelines, groups are able to fully enjoy the authentic pleasures and simple treasures of our destination by boat,” said Amber Batchelor, president and CEO of Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce. “We take pride in the sustainable maintenance and care of our canals and waterways to ensure our visitors can look forward to more than just meetings.”
Batchelor also added that her destination marketing office can help build custom adventure activities and teambuilding itineraries for meeting planners.
Greater Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America” for its 300 miles of inland waterways. One of the best ways for groups to experience this is on the 112-foot Carrie B, a large, air-conditioned paddlewheeler with big picture windows for viewing the mansions and yachts on Millionaire’s Row. Background narration details the area while winding through the many canals of the New River and Intracoastal Waterway, home to of the world’s busiest cruise ship ports.
Photo: Carrie B Cruises, Fort Lauderdale
Also in Fort Lauderdale, The Jungle Queen riverboat can take up to 395 passengers from the Bahia Mar Marinas & Resort on a three-hour sightseeing tour. The company, in business since 1935, is known for trips to its private island for daytime alligator shows and sightings of lemurs, monkeys and exotic birds. The evening tour makes a stop on the isle for dinner of its famous baby back ribs, barbeque chicken with all the fixins, plus live shows during and after dinner.
Leaving from Salty Sam’s Marina in Fort Myers is the 128-passenger Sea Racer. This high-speed boat offers a thrilling ride along the Main Street shrimp boat docks and under the Matanzas Bridge that connects Fort Myers Beach to the mainland. Guests will pass the Fort Myers Beach Coast Guard Station and hopefully get a glimpse of dolphins and other wildlife playing in the waters between Estero and Bird Islands.
Tour options include a Dolphin Tour, Sunset Tour and Sightseeing Tour.
Photo: The Sea Racer in Fort Myers
“Many of our guests come back a number of times, as Sea Racer is the only tour of its kind offering both speed and dolphins in its wake,” said owner Andy Syska. “It is a delight for us to hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of both young and old when they see the dolphins!”
For corporate groups and businesses, charters and group rates are available.
Pirates are a running theme when visiting the Tampa Bay area, known for its yearly Gasparilla Pirate Festival in January, when the downtown harbor is filled with decorated sailing vessels and people dressed in authentic pirate attire a la Jack Sparrow, replete with eye patches and puffy shirts.
The yellow Pirate Water Taxi is a tamer option for groups, with fleets traveling along the downtown waterfront from Sparkman Wharf near The Florida Aquarium on Garrison Channel to Tampa Convention Center, then up the Hillsborough River to the Armature Works complex in the booming Tampa Heights neighborhood.
Photo: The Pirate Water Taxi in Downtown Tampa
Day passes allow riders to hop on and off as they wish. Recent additions to the fleet include a 100-passenger vessel with air-conditioned seating and a bar. The fleet’s headquarters is conveniently located outside the Tampa Convention Center and charters are available.
Additionally, The Riverwalk Boating Company has two-person boats that travel along Garrison Channel and up the Hillsborough River following the Tampa Riverwalk.
“With our own fully functioning pirate ship front and center downtown, Tampa Bay lives every day on the water,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “Whether you’ve got your own boat, you’re renting a boat or cruising along the waterfront on the Pirate Water Taxi, this community has ample opportunities to relax while bobbing in a boat on the bay or gliding along the sparkling Hillsborough River.”
For some teambuilding fun, Kraken CycleBoats in Jacksonville allows 10 cyclers (and six spectators) on each boat that floats up and down the St. Johns River in the middle of downtown Jacksonville. Guests climb aboard the boats from the docks at Metropolitan Park near the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium (TIAA Bank Field), and pedal on the water, often stopping halfway at the River City Brewing Company for a brew or specialty “Kraken” cocktail.
At The Diplomat Landing Marina at The Diplomat Resort Beach Resort, groups can host a luxury yacht reception and then set sail from the private marina on a Charter One yacht through the Intracoastal Waterway. A catered affair on a yacht will make attendees feel like celebrities, says Steve Silverman, director of sales at The Diplomat.
“If possible, plan a morning, midday or evening escape on one of these spectacular yachts and attendees will be talking about the experience for years to come,” he said.
(Photo: A Charter One cruise that leaves from The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood)
For something completely unique, The BOATHOUSE restaurant in Disney Springs is the only place in the world that offers the unforgettable and thrilling experience of a tour in an Amphicar, a car that can drive on land and also take to the water.
A captain will take three people per car on a 25-minute ride to see all the landmarks at Disney Springs. These cars from the 1960s are rare—fewer than 400 exist, making this a fun bucket list item in ever-expanding Orlando.
Read more about Florida in the 2020 edition of Meetings Today Florida!