It's a thrill to experience something in Central Florida that cannot be done anywhere else in the country. Folks now can board the Rattlesnake, the nation's only zip-line roller coaster at Florida EcoSafaris in Osceola County.
The Rattlesnake, which opened to guests last week, is one of four new attractions there. When combined with the pre-existing Zipline Safari and Cypress Canopy Cycle, they form the EcoPark Ticket Admission.
The first newbie I previewed was the Swooping Crane, a sort of X Games-style swing set. It's the only EcoPark attraction that starts with feet firmly on the ground. Riders are hoisted gently up and forward to a height of 55 feet. They are told to yank the rip cord when they're ready to start swinging.
I found comfort in being in control of that situation. In theory, you could dangle there all day, unlike zip lines where you're in constant motion.
But once you pull that cord, there's no going back up. The effect is immediate. Gulp. Riders fall backward in a dramatic, swooping motion. At the apex of the other side of the curve, you feel that buckled-chain weightlessness experienced on playgrounds.
The back-and-forth swooping continues awhile, and you're far above those lined up to swing. I used this alone time for a decision: "I am so not doing the Panther Pounce."
Oh, that sure sounds playful, like a kitty scampering after a wayward ping-pong ball. But it's more like throwing kitty out a fifth-story window.
Panther Pouncers stand on a 68-foot tower, are harnessed to an overhead spool of wire, then step off into thin air. It's not truly a free fall because they're connected to the cable, but that's the idea.
I watched from the ground, near mulch where a landing pad might be, and I watched from up top. And even though I'm a firm believer in the EcoSafaris safety measures, I couldn't walk the plank. A friend later told me the Pounce freaked him out and that he screamed all the way down.
I may be chicken, but at least my eggs aren't scrambled.
More my speed was the Peregrine Plunge, a zip line separate from the Zipline Safaris offering. It's 1,300 feet long, more than four football fields. If you've done other zips, you can do this one without fear.
The Plunge, two side-by-side lines for racing, emerges from a tower, out of the treetops and over the brush. You get a good sense of the environment and how far out in the country you are.
Taking off from the same tower is the Rattlesnake, a really twisted zip line. Instead of a cable, you are attached to a "rigid rail system" that frees the ride from the straight-line restrictions of traditional zips. There's no motor.
The first stretch of Rattlesnake is a straightaway. Don't be fooled. Look to the right and see the approaching path, which includes hairpin curves and dips.
You swing wide on the turns, which is disorienting, but those dips are what got to me. They will, as my dad says, jerk a knot in your tail. There are extreme herky-jerky moments over the 1,000 feet of Rattlesnake, but it last only 60 seconds or so.
You might grouse about the EcoPark price of $135. But if you do the regular Zipline Safaris and Cypress Canopy Cycle, the total is $135 as well. In a way, the four new attractions are gravy.
It's a shrewd move by Florida EcoSafaris. You've driven all the way there — it's past Holopaw, for heaven's sake — you deserve a full day of activity and a ride found nowhere else in the U.S.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5477
Where: 4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud
Cost: The EcoPark Admission Ticket is $135 and provides access to six adventures. Florida EcoSafaris donates 30 percent of its revenue to the nonprofit Allen Broussard Conservancy.
Restrictions: Participants must be at least 10 years old.
Suggestions: Reservations recommended