I don’t do heights. My idea of being up in the air is to perch on a bar stool, drink in hand. So when my family recently visited Amelia Island, Florida, it was suggested that we take a light-sport aircraft flight on a trike, (a powered hang glider) via Hang Glide USA. I hesitated – aka I hesitated to allow my 12-year-old “babies” to go up. But since they were both – along with my husband – overjoyed at the notion of hang gliding, I didn’t have the heart to cancel the fun. I didn’t have the slightest intention of taking a flight, but it turned out that my husband exceeded the weight limit (220 pounds) and both boys happened to be under the weather when the big day arrived.
Since my husband and boys were grounded, I headed for the car. The next thing I knew Pilot Gene had me zipping up a flight-suit and donning a helmet that sported an intercom so he could hear me screaming… I mean talking during the flight.
Pilot Gene calmly explained his background before out flight. Over the roaring of fear in my ears I heard him say “corporate pilot,” “thousands of hours under my belt,” and “the light-sport aircraft is like my office” as in he’s as comfortable in the sky as we are in our home.
Pilot Gene assured me that if I gave the word, we’d immediately return to Earth. I could see my boys sizing me up. They’re loving kids, but I risked being toast in their eyes if I failed this little test of bravery. Next thing I knew Gene and I were in the air, serenely flying over Amelia Island and the Big Blue. Below I spied horses, wild dolphins, a well preserved Civil War fort, two hotels (the Omni and Ritz-Carlton that blend elegantly into the island), along with a sprinkling of antique B&Bs and yesteryear cottages.
I took the Introductory Discovery Flight ($99 for 20 minutes). This intro flight will show you everything I saw on Amelia Island plus Egan’s Creek where you might also spy alligators.
The Deluxe Discovery Flight ($249 for 40 minutes) takes you over most of Amelia Island and the Florida/Georgia border. You’ll fly over the St. Mary’s River and see part of Cumberland Island, Georgia, home to more than 9,800 acres of federally designated wilderness.
On the Cumberland Island Nature Tour ($250 for 50 minutes), you’ll fly over Cumberland Island — an essentially untouched wild place — that boasts the historic Dungeness Mansion ruins (circa 1783), Plum Orchard Mansion (circa 1898) and the tiny chapel where John F. Kennedy Jr. married in 1996. You’ll see wild horses, wild turkey, alligators, exotic birds, deer and dolphins.
Hang Glide USA departs from the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport and flyers must be at least 4 feet tall to enjoy the sky ride.
I’ll admit: my landing brought me utter relief. The experience though? Fabulous. I exited the light-sport trike with a new swagger to my step. But best of all? Seeing a different — you might say heightened — glint of appreciation in my boys’ eyes. I’ll take a light-sport flight for that prize any day.
For more information and to book your flight experience, visit the Hang Glide USA website. Bonus: Book a Deluxe Discovery Flight before May 11, 2015, and receive one additional Deluxe Discovery Flight for free!
– Wendy Irvine
Wendy Irvine is a family travel writer who (usually) tosses her boys into a travel experience and watches the copy write itself. Wendy loves to tweet posts for overloaded parents who’d love a tip or three on crafting sane kid-travel. Follow her @WendyIrvine.