Florida Skydiving Center Review0
Looking for an adrenaline rush and maximum intensity? If so, you’ll want to check out the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales. Even though this is a Winter Haven website, this is a great local option if you’re in Winter Haven and willing to make a small drive for some intense adventure. (Besides, you can see Winter Haven when you’re up there.)
So kick back and walk through my FIRST TIME skydiving experience with me to see if this is something you might want to do. If you’re like me, skydiving is one of those things you put off because there always seemed to be something better you could spend the money on. Now that I’ve had my first jump, I definitely would have taken the plunge much sooner had I known how incredible it was.
It’s never too late though, just ask my friend Fred who did his first jump when he was 84 yrs. young. (pictures coming soon)
When I was younger I really wanted to skydive but of course when you’re younger, you’re broke. My daughter has been begging me to go and you have to be 18, so she never had an opportunity to. She’s now nineteen and home from college, but I was doing the same thing with her. Putting it off (thinking it would be a good birthday or Christmas present) or telling her to go for it (knowing she didn’t have the cash either).
One night I get a call from my dad who purchased a ticket at a silent auction and it was about to expire. “Did I want it?” he asked. Of course I did! As I said, I’ve wanted to skydive since I was sixteen but I’ve never wanted to spend the money. Now I had an excuse to go.
However, what kind of dad would I be if I left my poor daughter at home wishing she could go too. I thought about just giving her the certificate and opting out myself (and I’m glad I didn’t). Instead, I chose to splurge and made an appointment for us both to dive at the same time.
The Florida Skydiving Center
I made an appointment over the phone and they were gracious enough to count the silent auction certificate as a first jump so I could get a discount on my daughters jump. The lady on the phone said to wear shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, as well as to plan to be at the facility for 3 hours.
I envisioned a long grueling class to learn what to do and what not to do. Maybe practice positions, body movements, etc. The entire experience, from the time we arrived until the time we left, was completely different than what I pictured in my head.
The skydiving center itself is pretty much just a warehouse or hanger. People are walking around, parachutes are spread out, it’s hot (no A/C). There are some fans but they aren’t doing a very good job. It’s got a very industrial, authentic feel to it. It’s not a bunch of tourists waiting in line. Doesn’t matter anyway because once you arrive you’re just excited and happy to be there.
There is a waiting area outside to watch people who are landing and for your family or friends to watch you arrive. Family, friends, and spectators can’t go out on the landing zone, but they can get a pretty good view of you when you touch down.
Step 1: Skydiving Paperwork
Initially this post was going to have a step before the paperwork which would have been “make an appointment” to jump. But as we arrived and while waiting for our jump to occur, I realized that most of the people in the room were regulars. I’m not sure having an appointment really mattered. I still suggest you set it up over the phone, but you may be able to just walk in and get a chance to jump.
The first thing you’ll do is fill out your paperwork. It’s about 6-7 pages of “we will not sue you” clauses. You’ll be signing and initialing on every page. You’ll need you’re driver’s licence number to fill in multiple spots. If you’ve ever been whitewater rafting, it’s the same type of paperwork. Clauses in which you ackowledge you know you could get killed or die, yada-yada-yada, etc.
No worries. If you’re shoot doesn’t open you won’t spend the fall down thinking about that paperwork anyway. But hey, you knew this going in so you just sign and initial, sign and initial…
Step 2: Meet your tandem skydiving partner and get harnessed up
This is where you get paired up with somebody. Not just anybody though, an experienced jumper. There’s no big group training or anything else. Somebody comes out and basically says, you’ll be jumping with me. My partner on this first dive was a young man named Clancy. He started skydiving when he was 18 and has jumped more than 2,300 times!
Well, that makes him qualified in my book. Both my daughters partner and mine were calm and collective but still passionate about jumping and the skydiving experience. Clancy took a minute to get me all harnessed up and then it was time to hurry up and wait. While we waited, we were trained to be serious jumpers.
Step 3: Tandem Skydiving training
This is where I realized my perception was way out there about what this experience would be like. I thought there would be a long miserable training before we could get to the good part of jumping out of a plane. I was super wrong.
The training for skydiving is shorter than every safety training for whitewater rafting I’ve ever been through. I guess it’s because in rafting they go over everything you should and shouldn’t do, especially if something goes wrong. Skydiving training didn’t cover what to do if things went wrong, I guess there really wouldn’t be a point to it (but don’t think on that too long- focus on the jump).
The training was very brief and here it is in it’s entirety:
1) Keep your arms in front of you when you exit the aircraft
2) Lean your head back
3) Arch your body and bend your legs back
That was it. Quick, easy training. No practice, no fluff. Just what to do. They review it a few times and tell you that you’ll be harnessed to them in four places which they check, double check, and triple check. If you go down, they go down.
Even though I have no experience and they didn’t cover much, I never felt safety was an issue. I figured Clancy wanted to live as much as me and after 2,300 jumps he was still breathing so he must know what he’s doing.
Step 4: Fly up to 14,000 feet
Once everyone is on board the plane, it’s time to climb to jumping altitude- 14,000 feet. We went to 5,000 feet and leveled out first to let an experienced jumper bail out a little early. Then we continued the ride up to 14,000 feet.
The door was left open some of the time to let in the nice cool air. This was a neat experience because I haven’t been on too many small planes and I’ve never been on a plane in flight with the door open.
Typically I can’t shut my mind off. I thought the closer we got to jumping the more nervous I would be. At what point would I worry about what could go wrong? I didn’t do any of that though. I don’t know if that’s normal or a fluke but it is what it is. Maybe the adrenaline had already kicked in and was overriding my thought process. Perhaps that’s normal, I don’t know.
Anyway, once it’s time to jump you fall fast. You can see from the image on the left that the plane was still visible and we were already at 13,000 feet and dropping.
Step 5: Get Attached to your tandem skydiving partner
A few minutes before jumping altitude, it’s time to get harnessed to your partner. Since you’re sitting together you don’t have to do anything, they just clip on to your harness. It’s at this point they check, double check, and triple check everything is set up properly. As a new skydiver, you just sit there and look out the window at the scenery.
As I was told, it’s their job to take care of safety and it’s the customers job to have fun. So that’s what I did.
Step 6: Jump
The moment of truth, it’s time to jump. One by one skydivers on board move to the open door and drop like a rock out the sky. Before coming up, you’re given instruction on how it’s going to play out. Basically, you will be sitting on the edge of the plane and your tandem skydiving partner will say “ready”, “set”, and then you’ll both go out and assume the arched position they taught you.
However, I was lucky enough to have Clancy. He said to me on the way up, “you wanna to do a backflip when we exit?”. Well, who could say no to that? Not me! Heck yeah I want to do a back-flip out of the plane on my first jump! So he gave me a brief explanation of how we would accomplish this and then we did it. No sitting, squatting, and sliding out of the plane for us.
We went out forward and then flipped backwards as we dropped out. If you were doing it off of a diving board I think it’s called a gainer.
I’m not sure how our technique looked or if we actually pulled it off, but it was fun to try and I like to think we nailed it. I will candidly admit that I wasn’t focused on technique at this point though.
Step 7: Free Fall (Fast)
Here’s another thing that was different than I imagined. First, your stomach doesn’t drop like it does on a roller coaster. Not sure why. Maybe the roller coaster brings you up and down faster than gravity but for whatever reason, that sensation wasn’t something I felt. I’ve had lots of people ask me about it though so there’s your answer.
I read somewhere that since you’re jumping from a plane that’s probably going about 100 mph and you quickly get to a falling speed of 120 mph, the small difference in speed keeps you from feeling your stomach drop. That’s a good theory too and probably more correct than mine.
The other thing I thought (I don’t know why) was that you don’t feel like your falling as fast as you are (120 mph) because your perception and perspective is different. Now… I don’t know what 120 mph is supposed to feel like, but it felt pretty freakin’ fast to me! This was my favorite part of the experience and I can’t recommend this experience enough.
At one point, we started to spin in circles which I didn’t care for because it felt like we were getting out of control. As soon as it stopped though, I realized that it was on purpose and controlled. I wouldn’t have minded as much had I known it was a controlled spin, but I thought we were just starting to spin and this 22 year old “experienced” jumper I was with was losing his cool.
The free fall is about 60 seconds and goes very quickly. Time is relative. If you work at a factory putting caps on bottles, 3 hours feels like 20 hours. If you’re jumping out of a plane, 60 seconds feels like the shortest AND longest 60 seconds of your life. But I digress…
Step 8: Canopy Gliding and Floating Through the Clouds
After the parachute is pulled you get to glide, float, and take in the scenery. I heard this (the chute being open) referred to as the canopy stage. I’m told many people like this part the best, but the Ricky Bobby in me wants to back to falling fast.
It is a fantastic view though that you can’t get any other way. Crooked Lake and other parts of the surrounding area can be picked out. It’s kind of like a drone picture or video that’s live streaming into your consciousness.
I felt there and not there at the same time. Okay, it’s weird, but you reading this leads me to believe you’ve never jumped out of a plane for no good reason so save your conclusions until you have your turn.
If you’ve never been skydiving, when the chute opens there are handles that you can steer the canopy with. At one point my tandem partner Clancy allowed me to hang on to them and get a feel for it. He also showed me what happens if you let go (which is actually nothing- you just can’t steer).
I’m sure it doesn’t happen every time, but there was some cloud cover and we were able to actually float directly through them. The air turns white and you can smell them. I don’t know how to describe the smell, but I now know what clouds smell like, do you?
Step 9: The Landing
There are two methods to a good tandem canopy landing. The first is to pick up your feet while your tandem skydiving instructor or partner lands on his or her feet. Then you put your feet down and all is good. I saw some people doing this when we arrived but they were coming in slower than we did and once everyone’s feet were on the ground they were still jogging to a stop.
The safest way (I was told) was to do a sitting landing. It sounds painful but it isn’t. You and your partner pick up your feet and you just kind of slide across the ground and come to a stop. It wasn’t too bad and not painful at all.
1) The experience as a whole was fantastic. I wanted to try it many moons ago (as a young lad), but if I knew how exciting it was I would have done it much sooner. If you’re reading this and have gotten to this section, then you probably really want to go too. I suggest setting it up ASAP by contacting them (Florida Skydiving Center) and setting it up. Pricing, phone number, and information is all there.
2) The skydiving free-fall and (attempted) back flip was my absolute favorite part.
3) The enthusiasm and experience of the skydivers you’re jumping with.
4) The amount of time needed. We were in and out in less than two hours. That may seem like a long time but it didn’t feel like a long time while we were getting ready. I actually thought it would take longer.
5) The pictures you have to post on social media after the jump.
The Not So Good:
Any good reviewer has to be honest about the not so good parts. Keep in mind that I’ve only been to the Florida Skydiving Center one time in my entire life so I can’t say that the things below are always the way they were when I went. These are just my observations based on one experience.
The customer experience could be improved:
1) Skydiving Video- When I arrived I really wanted to get a video which wasn’t discussed on the phone. I was told that they only have 1 video camera so if we wanted video we would have to go on 2 separate jumps. It would be beneficial to the clients to have more than one video camera for those who come and want to jump together.
Had there been two video cameras, I would have gotten two videos at $95 each (it’s a one time experience caught on film so I would have had to). Since they didn’t though, I chose not to get video for either of us.
Additionally, video posted on platforms like Facebook get many more views and get shown to a broader audience by the Facebook algorithm. It seems to me it would be a wise investment for the company to have more than one camera, especially if they start drawing tourists from Legoland.
2) Picture Package
Sales Tactics Miscommunication- The picture package is $65 per person. It can’t be split between two people or a group either because the person taking the pictures is the skydiving partner you’re attached to. They have a GoPro camera attached to their arm so that makes sense.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however… it isn’t clearly communicated that this package doesn’t include all the skydiving and ground pictures taken while you are there. When you harness up, board the aircraft, and float down you are having your picture taken the entire time by a guy with a nice camera.
It’s not until everything is done and he’s showing you the pictures that you find out those pictures are an additional $40 per person. That would have been nice to know at the beginning or when we bought the other picture package (which we thought covered all pictures except video).
Luckily, we had taken some photos before we put our personal items away and my wife was able to get some as well. Had we known the camera man wasn’t taking pictures for the package we bought, we would have taken even more photos for ourselves.
It seems to me it would make more sense to have all the pictures included in one package. Even if the price goes up a little for the package. It made no sense to me whatsoever that they were split and it felt like a slimy way to nickel and dime the customer. My experience was wonderful until that moment. So keep that in mind and don’t be surprised by it when you decide to go.
Additionally, in this day and age, everybody who gets the pictures gives them free advertising by posting them on social media or writing a post like this.
At the end of the day though, it’s all worth it. The price is right. The experience is right. I can’t think of another experience I would spend $150 on and get the same result. Kids have Legoland and adults get skydiving for about the same price (if you count food and parking).