Summer carnivals arrive once a year to brighten up a dull parking lot and transform it into a seven-day wonderland. But when the week is over, they take away the flashing lights and excitement and leave behind nothing but vagrant scraps of litter and shattered milk jugs. To combat that feeling of emptiness, each of the four Thunder Road Family Fun Parks features family entertainment the whole year through.
At their Sioux Falls location, families and groups gathering for a work outing or birthday party eternally zip around oval go-kart tracks that are slick and polished to recreate cinematic stunt driving on a small scale. An 18-hole mini-golf course offers a glimpse of what the world would be like if the Vikings had invented golf instead of coercing the Scottish into inventing it. Euro bungee jumping, meanwhile, combines straps and trampolines to induce a weightless sensation and enable flips and jumps dripping with adrenaline. Classic family activities such as batting cages and bumper boats flank a Thunder Road original attraction: Human Foosball. Recent upgrades have included the addition of a Tilt-a-Whirl, Screaming Dragon roller coaster, and laser maze, where players are challenged to navigate their way through a field of laser beams without tripping the alarm.
Armed with state-of-the-art lasers, players dodge enemy beams in a 5,000-square-foot arena awash in neon and black lights. During open-play sessions held Friday–Sunday, up to 20 participants weave their way through the obstacle-laden space on a variety of missions. The lasers also function outside, enabling Galaxy Gaming to frequently host outdoor missions in yards with enough obstacles.
Competition continues in the gaming lounge, where more than 200 computer and console games run on more than 60 PC, PlayStation3, and Xbox 360 stations. Gamers can play friends or other patrons with all-day passes or during Friday and Saturday all-night sessions, which last from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. or whenever Mario throws out his back. Galaxy Gaming's resident techies also rid computers of viruses, build custom PCs, and create personalized gaming rigs.
At County Fair Fun Company, kids excitedly tackle action-filled games and rides, then safely ricochet off the inflated surfaces of Technicolor bounce houses. A Dora the Explorer–themed inflatable packs slides, tropical trees, and huts into a cushy, educational wonderland, and inside a bounce castle, little ones can pretend they're inside one of King Arthur’s legendary bounce castles. Setting foot on solid ground, tykes make their way to the bumper-car arena, where circular vehicles offer easy steering, each crash eliciting shouts and laughter from drivers. Between bumper demolition derbies, children wander the labyrinthine tunnels and slides of County Fair's padded play dome, navigating tricky rolling platforms and shaky rope bridges to find a safe spot to exchange stock tips. Video games exercise hand-eye coordination for both kids and grownups, who can also lounge in County Fair's beer garden and sip on potent potables for an additional cost.
For nearly a quarter century, Ultimate Golf & Academy founder Chad Westra has been instructing golfers of all abilities while developing original methods for improvement in his book and instructional DVD, The Ultimate Way. Through Chad's methods, golfers discover the components of a balanced swing, including the turn of the clubface and the point of impact. By focusing on clubface connection, the instructor asserts that golfers can develop natural swings attuned to their unique form and golf bag full of modified soup ladles. Ultimate Golf allows visitors to practice their swings on its 22-acre facility, which features a well-lit driving range, 19-hole miniature golf course, and digital golf simulator. The simulator allows golfers to play on digital replications of 100 legendary golf courses.
Nestled within Empire Mall, Xcite Family Fun Center enraptures youngsters with inflatables, video games, and tasty treats. Sock-clad kids bound across the center’s ever-changing selection of inflatables—which frequently includes Batman- and Disney princess-themed bouncers—navigate obstacle courses, and race down slides. The arcade entices players with games such as air hockey, skee-ball, and Star Wars Racer, and the enclosed toddler zone pairs wee ones with age-appropriate inflatables, slides, and coloring-book versions of the tax code.
In between rounds of bouncing and gaming, kids can reenergize with grilled-cheese sandwiches, pretzels, or pizza at the snack bar. Open-play sessions run until 9 p.m. Monday–Saturday, and parents or grandparents can accompany their children for free.
Swiss army knives are famed for the many vital tools hidden in the nooks and crannies of their surprisingly small exterior; Star Performance Complex takes a similar approach to educating kids in fitness. Their instructors offer swimming, gymnastics, tae kwon do, and dance lessons to tykes who enjoy competitive athleticism. They also provide day and night care that combines structured activity with open play in their fun gyms, which feature not only gymnastics equipment but inflatable play houses. Other teachers focus on team sports, training kids to work together in softball, soccer, and cheer. All of this – excepting the swim lessons – takes place in their single, colorful facility full of squeaky hardwood, soft mats, and all the equipment a kids needs to build a strong body.