Tropical Gardens Miniature Golf strips away the cartoonish aspects of the game found on many courses, instead situating its 18 putting greens amid a diverse landscape of ponds and blooming floras. As a waterfall trickles nearby, a flamboyance of fake flamingos perches under the shade of a tree, silently observing golfers' mannerisms to use in their upcoming novel. Aside from navigating the miniature fairways, players can swing at baseballs in the batting cages or reunite quarters with their captive brethren in the video arcade.
Across nearly three-fourths of the United States, AMF Bowling Centers reverberate year-round as families, friends, and competitors send bowling balls in search of upright pins careening down slick lanes. The company first established itself as an industry leader in 1946, the same year the sport introduced automated pinspotters, which allowed the teens who had previously been hand-setting the pins to focus on perfecting their jazz hands for upcoming street rumbles.
Today, more than 20 million bowlers annually make AMF their battleground for wars against pins. They attempt to knock them down during leagues, club play, and events such as birthday parties and fundraisers.
Between frames, AMF keeps players energized at onsite food zones stocked with wings, pizzas, burgers, and beer.
Ashville's Fun Depot brings together a multitude of giddy, rambunctious pastimes for competitors of all ages. Laser tag pits noble light-warriors in battle across two stories covering 1,200 square feet, as they weave and dodge around rubberized pillars in a ritualized war dance guaranteed to trip opponents ($7). Colorful, low-slung, single- and double-seater go-karts zip along a quarter-mile outdoor track ($8), while weather-immune karts race for the finish indoors ($7). Three indoor batting cages lob pitches at four speeds and adjustable heights ($1 for 15 throws), and an 18-hole indoor mini-golf course, festooned with verdant murals and a burbling waterfall, separates the birdies from the eagles ($4 for adults, $2.50 for children 10 and under). Knee-high ruffians can ricochet into a padded play area ($3 all day), with neon tunnels, slides, and a bounce area that allows them to perform calibrated experiments on relative gravitational rates.
Dollywood’s Splash Country lives up to its name, with more than 23 rides and attractions that draw their inspiration from the water park’s scenic Smoky Mountains setting. Fire Tower Falls—the park’s tallest and fastest slide ever—exaggerates the steepness of the nearby mountains’ slopes with a 70-foot plunge that barely gives riders time to scream. For a leisurely counterpoint to this free-fall thrill, look no further than the 1,500-foot lazy river, which charts its course through the park’s forested hills.
Though a sense of calm pervades the lazy river, a battle rages not far from its banks. Pirates of all ages fight for the title of captain at the popular Bear Mountain Fire Tower, where they commandeer water cannons and wait for an enormous wooden bucket to dump 1,000 gallons of water from above. Those weary from battle can retreat to the lagoon-style pool at The Cascades, where more than 25 interactive elements include a multitiered waterfall and an active geyser that spews water 20 feet in the air. Lifeguards split their duties between this rocky grotto and Mountain Waves, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool filled with the tears of decommissioned sailors.
With guidance from the friendly staff at Lazer Port Fun Center, spontaneous family adventures can begin with laps around the three-story go-kart track. Visiting racers and thrill-seeking spools of twine wind around corners, maneuver along helixes, and plunge down a 40-foot hill, before seeking out indoor adventures. 14,000 square feet of laser-tag landscape invite photon-fighting visitors to participate in 30-minute skirmishes, speeding across black-lit terrain and taking refuge behind alien figures while cosmic landscapes flicker in the background. After an engaging battle, visitors can settle into a 30-minute groove through the outer-space-themed mini-golf course. Cratered asteroids throw neon-yellow light on green fairways as they navigate between crashed spacecrafts, maintaining focus despite the heckling of gravity. The mesmerizing haze of LEDs and bells beckons visitors onward toward the arcade for ticket-churning rounds of prize games.
Sixty-five feet above The Track Family Recreation Center, participants bungee toward the earth below, while one to three airborne attendees sample the buzz of skydiving at once by leaping into an oversize safety cushions on the SkyFlyer ride. Down on the ground, drivers in single- and double-seated go-karts hug the turns of a three-story, spiraling wooden track. Bumper cars smash into each other on land and water cannon–equipped bumper boats soak other vessels at sea. On the miniature fairways, putters aim to sink holes in one while avoiding waterfalls, tunnels, and mock jungle animals. Finally, thumbs test their reflexes in the arcade with video games, and youngsters can mosey over to Kids Country to pilot kiddie and rookie go-karts or make pet ponies jealous by riding the carousel.
Treks through Five Oaks Riding Stables' 70-acre nature park afford riders views of the Great Smoky Mountains and its indigenous mountain wildlife, including wild turkey and white-tailed deer. On 5-mile rides, tourists get glimpses of Mount LeConte, a mountain lake, and the remnants of an old moonshiner's still, which dates back to the days when Americans were only allowed to drink alcohol out of bathtubs.