Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 11, 2017
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Sunshine state revisited

Kids and adults can try out a new vocation during a Florida vacation

A British humourist once wrote that "it is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do." And those of us who start getting fidgety a few days into our vacation would likely agree.

Fortunately, type-A personalities visiting the Sunshine State can have fun and still feel gainfully employed, thanks to unique occupation-oriented programs which allow participants to sample an A to Z of dream jobs. Those with curious and adventurous offspring will find plenty to keep the young'uns busy right alongside them. From astronaut to zookeeper, it's all in a day's work.


Join the Circus
Ever wanted to run away to join the circus? If you're reading this magazine, chances are you chose a different career path: one that leaves little time for clowning around and requires you to concentrate on juggling responsibilities rather than balls. Nevertheless, you can still live out your fantasy (at least for an afternoon) in Venice, about 32 kilometres south of Sarasota. Set your sights high -- nine metres high, to be precise -- and enroll in a trapeze class overseen by ace aerialist Tito Gaona (tel: 941-412-9305; www.titogaona.com).

After spending 17 years with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, Gaona established a trapeze academy at the circus' original winter quarters. Now he welcomes swingers of all ages and all fitness levels, even though the trapeze's narrow ladder and wafer thin launch platform may not have been designed with the rotund in mind. And hanging by your hands can be a daunting feat for someone who hasn't managed a chin-up since middle school -- even with a safety harness attached and a massive net installed below. But go ahead: take a leap of faith. The exhilaration of flying will make the risk seem paltry. Two-hour adult lessons cost only $40. Interested in forming a family act? Classes for kids under 18 are $30.


Go Out to Launch
Now that space tourism has become a reality, wannabe rocketeers can shoot for the stars in a Soyuz spacecraft, courtesy of the Russian Space Agency. But if a virtual flight will do, you can save yourself months of intensive training and about $30 million by taking off at Kennedy Space Center (tel: 321-449-4444; www.kennedyspacecenter.com). Simulators at NASA's spaceport, 45 minutes east of Orlando, still deliver an out-of-this world ride. With a standard $38 ticket (valid for two days) you can access the new Shuttle Launch Experience: a six-storey, multi-sensory venue that recreates the sensation of entering Earth's orbit. Elsewhere are gizmos that let you feel four times the force of gravity, drive across Mars or make your own "giant leap" on a mock moonwalk.

Anyone willing to pay extra can play on even cooler equipment (think trajectory chairs, a vertigo-inducing multi-axis trainer and a zero-gravity wall) by registering for the full-day Astronaut Training Experience. It consists of rigorous exercises that mimic real flight prep and ends with a simulated "mission" aboard a replica space shuttle. Worried that you'll have to drop a few Gs for the g-force adventure? Don't be. The program -- including a private, behind-the-scenes tour and souvenir gear -- costs $250. A two-day family version for one adult and one child aged 8 to 14 is $625.


Get Your Motor Running
Daytona Beach -- the self-described "Birthplace of Speed" -- has long been a magnet for aspiring auto racers. The sport got off to a roaring start in the opening years of the 20th century when innovators like Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet and Ransom Olds tested their prototypical vehicles along the sand. Furthermore, each February, it hosts the Daytona 500: NASCAR's premiere event. That makes this boisterous east coast city the best place to slip into a driving suit, then into the seat of a Winston Cup-style stock car. All you have to do is sign on for the Richard Petty Driving Experience (tel: 800-237-3889; www.1800bepetty.com) at Daytona International Speedway.

Racy options range from a $134 Ride Along (doing three laps, shot gun, with a professional instructor) to the $2099 Daytona Experience (actually driving 24 white-knuckle laps around the 31 degree-banked track). For a middle of the road alternative, consider the Daytona High-Banks 8 package, priced at $525. It's a three-hour car encounter for speed demons 18 years and up that includes a high-octane version of Drivers Ed followed by eight laps around the legendary loop at speeds of up to 240 kilometres per hour. Petty also offers similarly structured -- but less expensive -- experiences at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando.

Interested in other kinds of motorized pursuits? Airplane enthusiasts can practise their piloting skills on vintage World War II bombers in Kissimmee with Warbird Adventures (tel: 800-386-1593; www.warbirdadventures.com; from $190). More down-to-earth types can blow off some steam by becoming a crew member for a day at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum (tel: 305-253-0063; www.goldcoast-railroad.org; from $85) in Miami.


Feel at Home on the Range
If your dream job involves one horse rather than 600 horsepower, grab a pair of riding boots and mosey over to Crescent J (tel: 888-957-9794; www.floridaeco-safaris.com): a 1900-hectare ranch in St. Cloud, about an hour southeast of Orlando. Having purchased the pristine property as a conservation effort, Dr William Broussard -- a practising ophthalmologist who just happens to be a 10th-generation rancher -- opened it to the public in 2000. Today he organizes Cattle Drive Weekends there that are intended to turn everyday urbanites into intrepid "cow hunters." Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of calling them cowboys in this neck of the woods!

Since this working ranch boasts the world's largest herd of registered Cracker horses and cattle, keeping busy won't be a problem. After all, you can expect to try your hand at roping and cow cutting before bedding down by the campfire in a cozy tent. Three day/two-night programs, costing $299 per person, include all activities and meals. Less strenuous one-night versions, which focus more on trail riding than on tricks of the trade, are priced at $199. But when saddle sores are an issue, it might be wisest to stick with the $89 half-day Rawhide Roundup.


Do Like Doctor Dolittle
Another alternative for animal lovers ready to try out a new line of work is nine hours as a Zookeeper for a Day at the Miami Metrozoo (tel: 305-251-0400; www.miamimetrozoo.com). If you think some of your patients are wild, just wait till you see what specialists have to contend with at this 300-hectare facility. Lions and tigers and bears are only the beginning: Metrozoo's naturalistic open-air "habitats" house a varied collection of critters - among them zebras, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, kangaroos and komodo dragons. And participants get to work right alongside the professionals who care for them.

Doing daily rounds with the senior zookeeper, preparing special meals, feeding animals, evaluating animals and maintaining exhibits are all on the agenda. The program, which runs weekends only, will set you back $155. (A junior one for ages 10 to 18 is also available for $200).

Of course, those who have a special affection for manatees, whales or walruses may prefer the day-long Marine Mammal Keeper program offered by SeaWorld (tel: 800-327-2424; www.seaworld.com) in Orlando. This variation on the theme lets you shadow members of the veterinary staff, plus other animal-care experts. Aimed at guests 13 years or older, it costs $399 and includes a seven-day pass to SeaWorld.


Cook Up a Storm
Maybe you're addicted to episodes of Iron Chef and Hell's Kitchen. Or maybe you just think white jackets and pouffy hats are the height of fashion. Whatever your reason for wanting to be a high-calibre cook, you can hone your skills in Florida. Chef Allen Susser's (tel: 305-935-2900; www.chefallens.com) eponymous restaurant in Aventura, just north of Miami Beach is a fine place to start. Clearly Susser knows his foodstuff. He virtually invented New World Cuisine back in the 1980s (in fact, he quite literally wrote the book on it!). His creations -- marrying Floridian, Caribbean, and Latin influences -- still rank as "Floribbean" favourites. As an adjunct professor at a pair of culinary schools, Susser also has the teaching thing down pat.

While the merely curious may watch and learn as the master makes dinner behind a seven-metre-wide picture window, committed foodies can get in on the action through his on-site cooking school. Anything from a $50 Passion for Food session (complete with demos and tastings) to a $138 Lunch-and-Learn can be organized for groups. Truly ambitious amateurs, however, should plan to enroll in the $195 Serious Cook Class: an intensive one-on-one experience lasting four to five hours. Aside from receiving hands-on instruction in Susser's kitchen, you also get to assist with preparations for the restaurant's dinner service.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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