Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary, a USDA–approved big-cat rescue facility, plays motherly host to a roaring family composed of five tigers and a lone lioness with a sultry swagger. Adopting philanthropists can align with their striped or unstriped spirit animal, choosing from noble felines such as the elder Mohan—a white male tiger with blue eyes, a pink nose, and a natural screen presence—or Raja—the relentlessly caring mother of sisters Gracie and Thor.
Nestled in the majestic rolling hills of Ste. Genevieve County, Cave Vineyard spans 14 fertile acres of prime grape-growing property and an on-property natural cave. This serene subterranean den—outfitted with electric lights, cozy tables, and wine casks—envelops famished blanket brandishers in a unique saltpeter picnic area. Each basket is loaded with an elegant spread of bread or crackers ($3), cheese ($5), olives ($5), and two decadent chocolate truffles ($5). Starting in May, stalagmites drip with quarter notes from cave-dwelling live music every Saturday. Guests are welcome to enjoy their picnics indoor in the event of a rainstorm or grape-juice tidal wave.
Originally built as a one-room house in 1816, the Morse Mill Hotel grew to 5,300 square feet under the watchful eye of engineer John Morse, a former Confederate officer and suspected warlock. In its present state, the hotel may house ghostly figures who once took up residence in one of its 33 rooms. Jesse James and company signed their marks in the guest register, and a famous female serial killer, Bertha Gifford, was kept in the hotel's employ; a nearby gravesite marks her resting place. A burial ground for Confederate soldiers, relics of Al Capone's old brothel, and a dungeon also add to the sinister air. An expert paranormal guide leads amateur ghost gumshoes through the 33-room, four-story Morse manse, providing advice on where to find the friendliest demons. If they dare, guests are encouraged to snap photos to document their occult encounters with phantoms, specters, or eerily expensive minibars.
While unloading their ammo upon enemies, paint-splattered warriors hunt for cover in the outdoor wilderness of Xtreme’s 10 playing fields. They duck behind multistory wooden barricades on the Castle field, navigate a maze of padded pillars and logs on the Arena field, dive into leafy ditches on the Bunker field, and command one of four two-tiered fortresses on the Four Forts field. Much like siblings competing to see who celebrates their birthday first, Xtreme Paintball Park gathers players to engage in competitive scenarios such as capture the flag and elimination. Park staffers expand these play opportunities by constantly building new playing fields and restaging area structures. During private parties, ranks of covered pavilions offer spaces where groups can take a break from excessive sun, rain, and snow as they prepare for the next round.
World Balloon's skilled pilots have been cruising gentle air currents in their colorful balloons for 38 years. From the safety of a basket, they unveil panoramic views of the arcing earth, the sun rising above the Sandia Mountains, and the lush greenery of the Rio Grande Valley. After the balloon alights upon the ground, the staffers keep the experience going. They treat guests to a champagne toast and a light snack, and give them a commemorative certificate. The crew also sets the tone for each celebration with a short lesson on the origins of hot-air ballooning and how to identify which clouds would yield the fluffiest pillow stuffing.
In 1910, fourth-generation German immigrant Alvin O. Eckert set up a small produce stand on a roadside in Belleville, Illinois. More than 100 years later, that roadside stand has flourished into the expansive Belleville plot of Eckert's Farm: a pastoral acreage where orchards surround a country-style restaurant, bakery, and handmade-custard shop. The Eckert family's sixth and seventh generations ensure this farm remains a true family affair. Sixth-generation member Jim Eckert is the chief horticulturist, and his cousin-once-removed, Chris, oversees retail operations and the sale of the farm's homegrown produce and spare scarecrow parts. Chris's sister Jill helms the food program, and his wife Angie oversees the Country Store and colorful Garden Center.
Throughout the year, visitors arrive on the Belleville farm's grounds for a range of seasonal activities, including peach-, apple-, and pumpkin-picking. During the summer, a concert series features live outdoor music on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the fall, staff lead bonfires and evening hayrides through the orchards. Inside the farm building, instructors teach cooking classes for adults and children, as well as a wine-pairing class.
Family-friendly activities also abound at the Eckert family's other two farms. The Grafton farm, where public apple-picking began in 1964, offers daily animal feeding and miniature golf. The seasonal Millstadt farm is home to a workshop, haunted hayrides, and an array of warm-weather children's attractions—including a 70-foot underground slide.