Plummeting into a hurricane’s eye. Tunneling through San Andreas’s interior. Zipping in and out of colliding galaxies. At Mayborn Science Theater, these sorts of adventures are par for the course. Here, wonders of the natural world beam onto a 60-foot digital screen that wraps around an entire 180-seat theater, creating immersive educational experiences. Screened during weekends and weekday matinees, science-minded shows focus on diverse, family-friendly topics such as stars and tropical reefs. Its laser light shows, on the other hand, eschew education for spectacle, dazzling audiences with 3D graphics and 15,000 watts of digital sound.
Outside the dome, Mayborn continues educating visitors at its gallery, Exhibit SPACE. Amidst rotating displays on subjects such as rocks and minerals, the Vice Space station showcases Hubble photographs and shares updates from the Mars rover. The exhibit’s recent acquisitions even include tiles from actual space shuttles, as well as tiles from actual Mahjong games played by astronauts sitting in NASA waiting rooms.
Around harvest time on Rising Star Vineyards' verdant acres, vines of chardonnay, merlot, and other Old-World grapes hang heavy, ready for their transformation into the small-batch wines the vineyard is famous for. As detailed in the Abilene Reporter-News, the grapes are trellised several feet off the ground, which owner Michael Oubre says “produces superior fruit” for their distinctive blends of Old-World flavor and Texan style. Their Salado cheesery and tasting room serves salads and sandwiches on locally baked bread for lunch, while vending cheese and other sundries exclusively made by Texas producers. In addition to cheese plates featuring fresh chevre from Bonney Goat Cheeses and Watonga flavored cheddars, the shop serves frozen wine margaritas to sip as talismans against the Samarian curses of the hot sun. The winery also holds regular wine-education and tasting classes, from a basic Wine 101 session to a food-and-wine-pairing session.
Sportations connects amateur adrenaline jockeys to certified professional adventurers, drawing from a nationwide network of aeronauts and speed demons to introduce habitual pedestrians to the wonders of skydiving, ballooning, hang gliding, and stock-car racing. Thrill seekers can zipline across a forest canopy, hollering like Tarzan or taunting nearby birds until they agree to race. Helicopter tours ferry patrons skyward over landmarks and cityscapes, whereas paragliding adventures get up close and personal with blue skies and clouds. For most sports, Sportations accommodates groups of any size, from physics classes empirically proving gravity's existence to solo ballooning supervillains declaring dominion over all they see.
Weddings at The Vineyard at Florence hark back to an unhurried age, when horse-drawn carriages ferried couples to the ceremony, guests stayed in villas overlooking verdant rows of grapes, and the next morning began with a dip in the infinity pool. The sprawling venue embraces this mix of old-world Italy and modern luxury. Intricate stonework on the Tuscan inns contrasts with the sleek lines of its gym equipment, and the murmurs of a spring-fed creek accompany live musical performances in the amphitheater.
Guests needn't be getting married to explore the setting—there are single-day excursions such as the Sunday yoga class. Of course, estate wines remain a prime focus for the staff and the vineyard's visitors, with tastings held most Thursdays and weekends inside the Villa Firenze, where contemporary culture mingles with antiquated charm. Italian decor and architecture typify the rustic interior, though its main hallways give way to galleries where local artists can exhibit their work. Gigantic wooden barn beams grace the ceiling in the traditional wine shop, and the outer decks afford views of the polo field alongside the arbors and herb gardens.
Rather than preserve their slice of countryside with uninterrupted quiet or a colossal snow-globe dome, the vineyard's tenants strive to fill the hills with life. They host classes on topics from pairing wines to organic farming, and welcome diners to sample handcrafted confections at Bissinger's Chocolate Experience and Café. Bands fill the wine-tasting room with new rhythms each week, and festivals such as the Harvest Celebration Weekend—where attendees can glimpse stone carvers at work and dine on homegrown cuisine—imbue the rural expanse with a close sense of community.
Certified pilot and instructor Don Arsenault is equipped with a personal fleet of whirlybirds and nearly 10,000 hours of flight time. Each of his flight lessons commence with 45 minutes of group ground instruction, bolstering up to four students' understanding of basic helicopter operation and barrel-roll execution before they strap themselves into the cockpit. Gravity is then defied during 15 minutes of individual flight time, with Arsenault providing one-on-one feedback and revving up students by yodeling "Ride of the Valkyries" directly into their ears. Following the flight, students receive a certificate for their training, and, although not included in the value of today's Groupon, have the option to purchase a video of their skyward excursion ($30).
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.