Segway Safaris

Touring Florida’s Amelia Island in Style

The perimeter of Amelia’s Wheels recreation garage is lined with bicycles of all sizes, some with baby carriers, others without. Employees in white polo shirts pass out helmets and walkie-talkies to the visitors. Others whizz into the garage on machines resembling scooters with two oversized wheels, one on either side of the standing platform. The riders stand on the machines and lean forward slightly to travel. When they stand straight the machines stop. In this manner, they zigzag around each other like a scene from a space cartoon.

All aboard! Segway riders get ready to take to the trail at Amelia Island Plantation.© Deby Walker

One of the first distributors of Segway Human Transporters (HTs), Amelia’s Wheels at Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida has offered guided tours and rentals since Memorial Weekend 2004. "I was the first tour guide [at Amelia Island] and led the majority of the tours," manager Deby Walker says. "When I first stepped on a Segway I felt like I was gliding around. It was great!"

The option to rent Segway HTs is relatively new for the resort (1,350 acres of barrier island habitat just off the northeast shore of Florida), but a tradition of environmental integrity is not. Development of the property was restricted in 1971.

Much of the natural habitat at Amelia Island Plantation has been conserved. Strict development standards include the creation of a 40-foot buffer alongside all waterways and a requirement to retain a significant portion of the tree canopy. This helps preserve marshlands, beach dunes and tree cover—much of which is decorated with elegant Spanish moss.

Segways Ease Your Way

At the beginning of the Amelia Island Segway tour, Walker gives basic instructions for the device’s use. Practicing her suggestions, the visitors teeter forward and backward, trying to find their balance. The farther forward they lean, the faster they travel. Once they master the skill of stop and go, they practice weaving through a set of orange cones, knocking a few over.

A Segway balances and travels by sensing the rider’s center of gravity 100 times per second. Its riding platform contains five gyroscopes packed into a cube measuring three inches on each side. It is electrically powered by two rechargeable 48- to 60-cell nickel metal hydride batteries. Because it is electrically powered, it is a zero emissions form of transportation.

"There are a lot of statistics that show that if people are forced to walk more than a fourth of a mile to connect to transit, then they will just get in their cars," says Carla Vallone, communications manager for Segway LLC. "The Segway HT is another option for people who may not want to ride their bikes."

The i Series Segway HTs weigh 83 pounds, reach a maximum speed of 12.5 mph and can travel eight to 12 miles when fully charged. They cost $4,495. The smaller p Series models ($3,995), designed for lighter terrain, weigh 70 pounds, reach 10 mph and have a six- to 10-mile range. "Anytime people are not using their cars, that’s good for the planet," Vallone says.

The Segway i 167 is used on Amelia’s safari tours at a cost of $80 per person. Family tours are also available for $60 per person. The price includes training and guidance before and during the tour.

After visitors master basic Segway manuevers, they begin their tour throughout Amelia Island. On a winding asphalt bike path surrounded by ferns, trees and other greenery, the pack of Segway HT riders snakes around curves, over footbridges and up steep hills. The tour takes them places often not visited on foot, including a trail to the marsh boardwalk and an inland pond—a favorite bathing ground for a multitude of birds.

"I don’t believe the Segway will replace any current form of transportation, but it offers a clean, economical, environmentally friendly alternative," says Walker. "Interest in it seems to be growing."

The Total Experience

The Segway tour is just one way the upscale Amelia Island Plantation exposes its guests to nature. The island’s nature center has been connecting visitors with the barrier island environment since 1997 through education programs, guided tours and outdoor activities, such as kayaking the marshlands.

Hotel rooms and villas at the resort range from $917 to $4,179 per week, so it’s a little steep for budget travelers.

"The Segway tours may be the only opportunity for some of our guests to experience this type of transportation," concludes Walker.

KATIE SCAIEF is a former E intern and avid traveler.