Central Florida's newest attraction wants you to slow down up in the air. The Cypress Canopy Cycle is now open at Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida, an ecotourism site in Osceola County.
Think of the Cypress Canopy Cycle as a cross between a bicycle and a zip line. Riders are in a bright yellow contraption below the wire, seated in a comfortable mesh sling with pedals to crank a chain connected to wheels gliding along the wire. It has a Jules Verne quality to it.
It's a serene sister attraction to the nearby Zip Safari, although it requires a little more energy. On the cycle, you're pushing your own weight around the course, whereas gravity does the heavy lifting on a zip.
But the Canopy Cycle isn't as high as the zip course, topping out at about 25 feet above the ground. This is a road you've not traveled before.
"That's the very sweet spot where you're right in the heart of the treetop canopy," says Matt Duda, director of sales and marketing.
"There are parts of it where the foliage around you gets so thick that it's almost like you're traveling through tunnels of foliage," he says. "So you've got the treetop canopy above you, you've got the beautiful water flowing through the forested wetlands below you and all kinds of interesting things surrounding you."
Cyclists are encouraged to take their time and absorb nature all around. In a preview run-through, we had close encounters with pine trees, palm fronds and dangling caterpillars. At times, I could not see four companions ahead.
It's not a race, although there is the temptation to pedal as quickly as possible. You do need to build speed when approaching the metal brackets that connect the stretches of wire. Momentum helps carry you through these slightly rough bits; the accompanying sound is a bit unnerving.
Not that you could ever fall. Riders are harnessed and tethered much like zip-liners. But it's more comfortable, with the straps not riding up as much in the seated position. In one shady spot, I stopped pedaling and just dangled for a while. The cycle gently swayed, and it was very quiet without constant noise of the chain. It would have passed as a decent hammock.
The course is designed to last 45 minutes to an hour. In case of emergency, there are (human) monitors along the course, but I suspect they were camouflaged.
"We want guests when they're out there to get the experience of being out in that beautiful area and almost get the feeling of that it's all just there for you," Duda says.
I also didn't spot the times that the zip-line course passed overhead. Man, I must have been relaxed, because I also didn't spot —although I was looking — the big alligator that has a permanent home in a pond near the end of the course. That's George, who's about 60 years old. He swims from side to side, from zip podium to cycle line in hopes that someone will drop him some food.
The cycle's cycle ends at the loading station where it began. We completed a rare trip: The attraction is the first of its kind in the U.S. and only the second in the world (the first was in Mexico). Although it could be the next big thing, Florida EcoSafaris has exclusive rights to the technology for Florida and the Caribbean.
Florida EcoSafaris, after establishing the first full-scale zip line in Florida in 2009, continued to look for fresh experiences, Duda says.
"We wanted to find something that's new, that's innovative, that can show the conservation lands in a new way," he says.
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Cypress Canopy Cycle
Where: Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida, 4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud
What else: Participants must be at least 10 years old and weigh less than 275 pounds.
Cost: $45 per person
Drive time for cycling
Obviously, being totally immersed in nature probably isn't going to happen in downtown Orlando.
Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida attraction is about an hour's drive away. For me, the trip involved Interstate 4, Florida's Turnpike, a 20-mile stretch of U.S. 192, then a right turn at Holopaw for 7 miles. That's right, it's beyond Holopaw. When you see "Rattlesnake Lane," you're getting close.
That's a pretty long trip, practically an adventure … so I recommend selecting an additional activity such as horseback riding at Florida EcoSafaris and making a day out of it. There are some combo deals available, and you'll feel so outdoorsy.
For instance, the package with a zip-line tour and the canopy cycle costs $120, a savings of $10.