If you've always wanted to skydive but can't get past the part where you're clinging to the threshold of the plane with your instructor shouting, "What are you waiting for?" there's a simple, safe and relatively terror-free alternative. It's indoor skydiving with iFly, a company with dozens of vertical wind tunnels in the U.S. and abroad (two of them on cruise ships). The experience involves floating on a fan-generated column of air, or rather hurricane force winds.
People who have tried both say it's a reasonable facsimile of free fall, the most important difference is that you don't have to worry about your parachute—or manhood—failing you. I first flew with iFly, because who hasn't dreamt of being Superman? I went back to see whether I could relax enough to enjoy the scenery, limited though it is in a wind tunnel.
First-timers watch a brief training video to learn hand signs—fan noise makes voice communication nearly impossible—and then don a jump suit and helmet. You're accompanied at all times by an instructor who makes sure you keep your chin up—and not just metaphorically. The breeze is so strong that even minor adjustments to arms, legs and chin can send you off course.
My first instructor took me on a high-speed ride to the top of the tunnel and back again—three times. I had no regrets when my second teacher, Nico Gonzalez, didn't interrupt my peaceful sightseeing tour.
The average flight takes a couple of minutes and is the equivalent of 1.5 skydives. An entire course of instruction helps you progress to doing back flips. However, getting as good as Gonzalez—being able to soar and scamper around the tunnel walls like Spider-Man—requires dozens of hours of training and experience.
Children as young as three have suited up. And iFly is understandably popular for kids birthday parties (as the average 10-year-old suffers from fewer pangs of mortality than a middle-aged person) and a lot more memorable than a pony ride. It's also in demand for corporate team building exercises.
At the location I visited in Westchester, New York, a two-flight package (including a personalized flight certificate) costs $89.95 (prices vary by location). But you'll probably want to spend a little more to bring home photographs and videos of yourself floating on a column of air in your flight suit, your cheeks puckered by the wind. You can post them to Facebook and prove to your friends you're not half the wimp they think you are. That souvenir alone seems worth the effort.