Entering a 15-acre grove of pine trees with cables and wood strung up in the air, we knew this wasn’t going to be like our normal hikes. Sandy and I had been invited to visit this new Central Florida attraction, which is all about taking a walk – in mid-air. The invitation said we could bring two friends, so Dan and Gail, visiting from South Carolina, joined us for the journey. Sandy wasn’t recovered from knee surgery yet, so she stayed on the ground as designated photographer.
Orlando Tree Trek is a new family-run business in the Kissimmee area, established by Pina and Albert Barbusci, with their sons actively involved in the operation. Designed by Outplay and Treego, It’s patterned after similar attractions in the Adirondacks and Bradenton, and features a variety of aerial obstacles, plus a separate 425 foot twin zip line.
After a short but comprehensive safety briefing, they harnessed us up and took us to the demo course. The harnesses are made by Clic-It, utilizing a special two click system. A built-in magnetic safety lock never allows the climber to have both safety lanyards ‘un-hooked’ at the same time. It’s the world’s safest belay system.
I never felt at risk of falling. At each station there were special cables to clip onto until you were safely secured for the next aerial walk. You took your harness with you, of course, sliding it above you during each of the traverses.
Once we finished the demo course – to prove that we could clip and unclip the harness properly, and traverse some simple obstacles a few feet above ground – we were allowed to progress to the main courses.
There are six courses at Orlando Tree Trek, with two reserved for children. The four courses for adults, start with the easiest and progress in difficulty to the final course, which requires all of the skills you’ll pick up along the way.
The first course was pretty straightforward, with balance-beam style obstacles, swinging logs, and walks across cables, with a zip line to finish off.
The second course added some challenges, including a higher elevation. It sends you over swinging ladders, a roller-coaster track, a Tarzan swing, and logs at weird angles. It, too, ended with a zip line, a longer one this time. Two courses was plenty for Gail, who is now eager to go ziplining with her grandkids.
The third course, which did me in, included a rope swing into a large net. This required a climb up and across to the platform, all while still secured by the harness. When I hit the net, backwards, I panicked, and reached overhead as if my life depended on it. Harness or no harness, when you feel yourself begin to drop from a dozen or more feet in the air, you are going to grab something to stop the fall. This course also greatly widens the gaps between where you would step, and makes them irregular, so it’s quite a challenge.
Level four looked like fun. It was not a repeat of the previous courses. Each obstacle had a unique touch, requiring a little more thought or balance. Dan continued all the way through the final course, which involved shimmying through suspended barrels, hanging on a swinging climbing wall to traverse it, and riding a giant skateboard suspended well above the forest floor.
After finishing the final course, Dan and Gail tried out the long zip line. I was too worn out from the first three courses, but I’ll be back to try that fourth one someday.
What’s great about Orlando Tree Trek is that once you have finished the safety instruction and demo course, you can climb and zip the rest of the day. One time through was enough for us, but I can see where some hardy adventures and climbers could spend the day repeating the courses.
Orlando Tree Trek is located just off the 429 one exit north of I-4 at Lake Wilson Rd, not far from the Walt Disney World Main Gate. Reserve your visit in advance, since daily capacity is limited so all visitors can enjoy the courses without crowding. Climbing/biking gloves are recommended and closed-toe shoes are a must. Tickets run from $29.95-$49.95 depending on age and ability, and non-trekking family members are welcome as spectators. Call 407-390-9999 for more details, or visit their website.