Floating jungle gym in Sarasota Bay near Longboat Key
Trampolines, rope swings and a waterslide comprise the newest colorful addition to Longboat Key.
The south side of Longboat Pass Bridge is now home to a floating jungle gym. Situated between Beer Can Island (also known as Greer Island) and Jewfish Key since late June, the mobile playground has quickly become a popular attraction with local residents and tourists alike. On it, kids swing from ropes pretending they are Tarzan while their parents wade in the water along the shore, watching. Adventurous parents may even bounce off a trampoline into the ocean or rush down the waterslide right beside their children.
For Edwin Toro, owner of Fun Life Entertainment, it’s the perfect spot and the perfect business.
“It’s priceless to see the fun we are bringing to a lot of these families,” Toro said. “The kids are always very excited and want to come back — and the ones that are vacationing say they hope we are still next year.”
The cost to play on the jungle gym is a flat fee of $15 per hour regardless of age. All participants must sign a waiver before playing — if under 18, they must have a parent or legal guardian sign one for them. There is an age restriction of 6 and older and a height restriction of 42 inches or taller, but Toro says he has made exceptions in the past for kids who are close to the requirements and have parents that plan on participating in activities alongside them. Toro says he has liability insurance for the structure, but has had no safety concerns or major injuries since operation began.
The “perfect spot” didn’t come without a little experimentation. The jungle gym’s first location was off Anna Maria Island next to the piers — what Toro called a “one-day trial.” According to Toro, they don’t allow any vendors on the beach there and he was too far out in the water to have people swim to him.
This presented a major obstacle for those looking to enjoy the playground, so he moved to Longboat more than three weekends ago and has been there ever since. While he wouldn’t commit to this being the playground’s permanent home, he says it will be here for the rest of the summer and for the “foreseeable future.”
Quite a hike
The current location is not without its own obstacles. While easily accessible by boat, those looking to reach the structure via foot will have to take a 10+ minute hike through the mangroves of Beer Can Island to do so. Toro says he doesn’t mind this feature, though, as it keeps the playground from becoming too overcrowded.
Toro’s jungle gym has not gone unnoticed. Pete Cumming, Longboat Key Chief of Police, says the town has been keeping a close eye on it.
“Initially when we saw it we were a little concerned, but upon further inspection there does not appear to be any violations regarding safety,” Cumming said.
Cumming went on to explain that the research conducted by law enforcement indicates that the non-permanent, floating structure appears to be outside of city limits and therefore jurisdiction. Instead, he says it is in state waters and operates under standard maritime laws. According to both Cumming and Toro, the structure appears to be meeting U.S Coast Guard criteria. Cumming also said they were advised by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that the structure is in compliance with all state statutes.
Cumming said that Toro is working with Longboat Key’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department to ensure that all permitting and licensing requirements are met for business operations, but he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“As far as I know I haven’t been told of any red flags. I think it’s progressing smoothly, as far as I know,” Cumming said.
Toro originally got the idea for Fun Life Entertainment when his nephew showed him a YouTube video of a similar structure. He fell in love with the concept. Water-related activities are an integral part of his family and they often find themselves going to the beach or visiting the local hot springs. In this business venture, he saw a way to take his family to work with him out on the water.
He contacted Jungle Float, the company that designs the structure. Previously called Tarzan Boat, the company is based out of Chattanooga, Tenn., and specializes in designing and selling “mobile water parks” to would-be business owners. The company’s website advertises that it is not a franchise but instead a “business ready to go,” stating that “there is no (other) business that you can buy for $63,700 and instantly begin grossing $3,000 to $5,000 a day.”
While Toro wouldn’t say how much the investment has cost him, he did say that it is in the six figures and is a big commitment. Before starting Fun Life Entertainment, he worked as an automotive technician and operated several smaller business over the years, including a snow plowing and a landscaping business. Looking to get out of the cold, he moved down from Illinois and the rest is history.
The site is open and available to the public Wednesdady through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., weather permitting. Fun Life Entertainment is also available for private parties and can be reached at 855-438-6543.