3rd August 2017- By Katie Johns
The controversial floating attraction sits between Greer Island and Jewfish Key.
When I heard a floating playground had set up shop in the waters off Longboat Key, my mind raced with questions.
Aside from WHAT? I also wondered:
- Are Longboaters OK with it? Well …
- How do you get to it? By boat or, believe it or not, on foot.
- May I please go?
The editors, thankfully, obliged my third question, so I joined two other reporters and set off on a little adventure.
The water playground, built on an outboard-motor-powered deck, floats between Greer Island, also known as Beer Can Island, and Jewfish Key. Over the past few weeks, it has garnered mixed opinions from Longboaters.
Fears of people making noise at the north end of the island echoed, but during our time out there, the water playground wasn’t crowded. There were about 15 people out there with us.
It’s not easily accessible. It’s easiest to get to by boat, but for those who don’t have a boat, you can traverse the mangroves on Greer Island and then wade over.
When we made it to the playground, we paid owner Edwin Toro $15 each, and he briefed us on what the playground featured.
The two-level attraction features two trampolines, a rope swing, two platforms and a slide.
First, as advised by Toro, we jumped off the short trampoline. For the next hour or so, we tested out every part of the playground. My personal favourite was the rope swing … once I learned to do it correctly, that is. Our experience was made all the more exciting when three manatees swam past, which is a pretty outstanding thing to see as a Midwesterner.
The water playground seems to attract all ages. Toro said the oldest customer so far has been 78 and the youngest has been 4. He usually recommends those younger than 6 don’t go on, but if they are with a parent, he lets younger kids join in the fun.
On our walk back to our car, we didn’t hear any music coming from the attraction, though tunes had played throughout our time jumping. It’s just far enough from the island that we didn’t hear any disturbance.
Toro puts it simply.
“You can’t get to us unless you know how or ask how,” he said. “Trust me, we have had a lot of people who say it’s a long walk, but then say it’s a cool walk.”
The easiest way to access the attraction, as noted, is by boat, which is how Eric Gestemeier got there with his family. He brought his two young kids — aged 4 and 6 — with him.
“It’s just a great time, you know, trampolines, swings, jumps,” he said. “It just keeps them busy. They love it.”
Janice Farrar and Emily McLaughlin, both 17, said the playground would attract people their age, but they wished it had some other elements — like a couple more risky things.
Because jumping from a platform onto a trampoline and into the Gulf of Mexico isn’t risky enough.
Which brings us to safety. Everyone who uses the playground must sign a waiver upon arrival. The playground has plenty of life jackets, and Toro and his family are there to monitor things. There are no lifeguards.
Most of the parents watched from their boats, but a few stood on the main platform. None of it concerned Gestemeier, who kept a watchful eye on his youngest while he jumped into the sparkling water below.
“I think you just have to watch your kids and keep an eye on them,” he said.