Though glimpsed by many people for the first time on an episode of The Amazing Race, the desert acres traversed by Fort McDowell Adventures are steeped in millennia of Yavapai Indian history. Guides lead visitors across the Arizonan foothills on a range of outdoorsy and sometimes anachronistic adventures, such as cattle drives and Segway tours through the Sonoran desert, kayaking adventures on the Verde River, and nature walks with Yavapai Indians. These excursions often end in nighttime wiener roasts, s'mores, and cocktails, a break from the frontier tradition of telling campfire sci-fi stories.
Activities at Fort McDowell Adventures’s four venues further immerse guests in the American Western experience. They gather for Dutch oven–style cowboy cookouts and depart for wilderness excursions from The Stables. At La Puesta del Sol, guests pass through a Spanish mission entrance into a dining hall, saloon, stage, and dance floor, and at Rosa's Ranch, they gather under the stars and around cookout fire pits nestled between rustic wooden ranch buildings. Groups dine at The Boulder House, named on the National Registry of Historic Places, whose rock walls bear evidence of petroglyphs, Native American occupation, and ancient spelunking expeditions.
In 1966, Big Surf Waterpark founder Phil Dexter built his first model of a wave machine. With some help, and several models later—including one assembled inside an abandoned billiards hall—he perfected the contraption, making it the centerpiece of his newly opened waterpark in 1969. Dexter's invention instantly snagged press from Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life, and today, it remains Big Surf Waterpark's 2.5-million-gallon keynote attraction. Over the years, despite Arizona's lack of rain or gigantic sprinkler, the park has managed to grow around the wave pool, and its current 20-acre campus features dozens of slides, rides, and areas for all ages. Big Surf's real estate has also played host to entertainment events, including concerts from Pink Floyd, Elton John, and the Beach Boys.
Go-karts hugging the turns of a winding indoor track. Bowling balls tumbling down glow-in-the-dark lanes. Lasers zipping past black lights and glowing murals. Within Amazing Jake’s more than 90,000-square-foot indoor amusement park, these attractions are just the tip of the iceberg. Elsewhere, cars collide in a bumper arena, intrepid adventurers scale a towering climbing wall, and riders of the mini-coaster scream their teeniest, tiniest screams.
Those are tough to hear inside the arcade, which resounds with the bleeps and blips of more than 150 redemption and video games. While the older kids enjoy all these spoils, younger guests can savor four attractions of their own, including a train ride and carousel. To help visitors reenergize, Amazing Jake’s houses a 100-foot all-you-can-eat buffet stocked with pizza slices, pastas, and salad fixings.
Though the medieval era was undoubtedly exciting, with its jousting matches and knightly errands, King Arthur's castle could have done with a few upgrades?namely, a laser-tag arena. King Ben's Castle at Golfland Sunsplash has modernized its interior to include just that. During games of Lazer Knights, players dart between glowing columns to target enemies on the opposing team, blending science-fiction and fantasy genres into one intense competition.
The castle is also host to a sprawling arcade with more than 200 games. And, instead of a protective moat, its grounds are home to a water park and several family-friendly attractions. Three separate mini-golf courses challenge putters to sink their shots between colorful obstacles, while go-karts vie for first place on the Fastcar Raceway and bumper boats jostle their riders.
During May through September, guests careen down slides in Sunsplash water park, including The Revolution?a nearly seven-story slide that culminates in an open bowl, sending raft riders into dizzying circles. Entire families can board a raft for the three thrilling drops of Thunder Falls, whereas the Lazy River carries swimmers on a lackadaisical journey inside their inner tubes. There's also an enormous wave pool, which recreates the feeling of riding swells on a choppy ocean more authentically than asking someone to shake your bathtub.
At Jambo! Park's two locations, children uncork bottled up energy as they spring across an indoor playground sprawling with jungle-themed rides, family-friendly games, and towering play structures. The fun factory's Phoenix locale manufactures raucous laughter and endless enjoyment with myriad attractions, including the Safari Train, a circle of spinning swings, and high-flying rides atop gravity-defying elephants. Families can settle disputes over who's the favorite child in a pirate-themed laser-tag arena or club their way through the greens of a mini-golf course. The Mesa location supports the same brand of excitement with a lineup of attractions illuminated by a brightly lit carousel. Miniature pilots control their altitude as they circle around the Jets Abouts ride, and responsible drivers exchange car-insurance information after collisions on the bumper-car track. A three-level play structure festooned with tubes and slides welcomes climbers and sliders, and more than 90 nonviolent video games jangle merrily in the arcade. Adults can wile away the time in the Lion's Den, which is furnished with plasma televisions, pool tables, and foosball tables.
This 3,500-square-foot kid ranch includes a child-scaled town with playful renditions of a school, grocery store, fire station, hospital, jail, sewage treatment plant, and more. There's also a standard jungle gym, and, for creative little critters, a puppet theater and puzzle/coloring room. Imagination Avenue's owners believe the stimulating environment helps kids build social skills and creative thought processes. Meanwhile, the in-house café helps them build valuable eating skills with items such as quesadillas with organic salsa ($2) and whole-wheat pita pizza ($2).