Held aloft by 35 years of family tradition, Stillwater Balloon sends intrepid explorers skyward from a port just off the scenic St. Croix River. Friendly FAA-certified pilots operate each craft and readily answer any questions that passengers may have as they float through gorgeous views of the surrounding valley. The billowy, multicolored behemoths cruise at treetop level, allowing travelers to shake hands with monkeys. Private and semiprivate flights are the business's forte, but Stillwater Balloon also accommodates custom flights for backyard surprises or ultimate school pickups.
Each member of St. Croix Scuba's staff of dorsal-fin-less divers has at least eight years of diving experience and are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified. During a Discover Scuba Diving lesson, this fleet of skilled aquapeople will teach budding divers the ins and outs of scuba equipment and the basic concepts of breathing underwater during a 30-minute class. Then, novice divers will spend an hour exploring the depths of an indoor pool and experiencing the weightless sensation of breathing underwater, which is similar to falling off a mechanical bull after a full body wax. You must be 12 years old and older to scuba dive, and be sure to bring a swimsuit and towel.
Hosted by an eclectically elegant collection of inns and museums peppered throughout the St. Croix River Valley, the 2011 Chocolate March launches guests on self-guided, cocoa-centric excursions. Guests munch on chocolate delicacies and take in architectural desserts with chocolate-dipped innkeepers at five separate stops, one of which will feature a wine pairing, on the Sunday jaunts (different destinations are featured each weekend). Depending on their chosen date, chocolate hunters can relax under the mannered, leaf-shaded porticos of Rosewood's Queen Anne mansion, take in the brick-draped Gilded Age grandeur of the Water Street Inn, or plot a sweet rustic retreat or candy-coated coup d'état by Wissahickon Farms' general store façade and peppermint-stick split-rail fence.
To put it plainly, Splat Tag is massive. Twenty-two paintball fields sprawl across its 600 acres. Woods, brush, and felled trees make for strategic cover, and through every patch of forest could be something unexpected. A helicopter, a bunker, or perhaps an enemy base, right there for the taking?provided players have enough paint.
The high number of play areas encourages players to linger, as does Splat Tag's policies. Open admission grants unlimited access for the day, with referees setting up 15- to 20-minute games. The fields admit up to 200 players per day, ensuring everyone can find those of similar skill levels. Splat Tag also hosts private and special events, including an annual gathering with enough paintballs to blot out murals of of the sun.
In the open autumn air at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Twin Cities Oktoberfest celebrates all that is German during its two days of festivities. Throughout the weekend, live bands such as The Squires Band, a four-piece band with 30 years of experience, entertain guests with traditional German harmonies and live renditions of the ER theme song. Between shows, audience members peruse vendors' booths, noshing on brats and German snacks. Beer from Summit and wine from Pedroncelli flow into glasses, keeping guests lingering into the evening hours as they discuss the latest in lederhosen fashion.
Hudson Optical adorns oculars with a range of budget and high-end eyewear for men, women, and children. Visitors can choose from an extensive selection of brands, such as Kashiyama Japanese eyewear, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ice Cream French Eyewear, as they seek to pair elegant frames with eligible lenses like a Victorian matchmaker. Frames designed by Kennith Cole ($159), BCBG ($189), and Cole Haan ($199) comfortably perch on bridges of noses, while eye-opening bifocals range from the Crizal Avancé bifocals ($290) to the Varilux Progressive Transition lenses ($375). Hudson Optical can perform eye exams on-site but welcomes outside prescriptions as well. Groupon customers will also receive a complimentary deluxe case, cleaner kit, and portable fire hydrant to keep the spectacles spick-and-span.