In a 2011 interview with the Rocky Mount Telegram, George Millar reveals he has been a facilitating fun for a long time. "Soccer wasn't in existence when we started," he points out, and neither were home video games. Noticing a dearth of places in his hometown where kids and families could safely enjoy themselves, he put his skills as a professional contractor to work. In 10 outdoor batting cages, he installed pitching machines that sling baseballs and softballs from T-ball speeds up to 80 miles per hour. Next, he and his crew of five guys—all of whom are still operating the business today—built an 18-hole mini-golf course modeled after those in Myrtle Beach, designing a path that winds past waterfalls, natural plantings, and tricky bunkers filled with saltwater taffy. An arcade blares with games and the crack of pool balls ricocheting inside, and an elephant-shaped inflatable bounce house bobs with jumpers inside until they come zipping out down its slide.
Spurred on by winter's chill, Captain Richard Andrews leads small groups to the lower Roanoke River in search of the region's abundant striped bass. Whether armed with light tackle or fly gear, anglers reap the benefits of colder water temperatures, which send their prey swimming from Albemarle Sound into the lower Roanoke's deeper river channels. While no fishing trip is ever guaranteed, fishermen in the area have reported hauls in excess of triple digits on the luckiest of expeditions during this time of year. The four-to-five-hour half-day charters shove off at 8:30 a.m. from the Shipyard Landing boat ramp just off the Cashie River.
Within 93,000 square feet, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores manages to fit all of the state's and most of the world's main aquatic environments into five galleries. A 30-foot waterfall throws a cool mist over guests as they begin a journey that brings them to the Piedmont gallery, where the aquarium's three spunky river otters—Neuse, Pungo, and Eno—frolic and play poker underwater. Further exhibits promise other memorable encounters, such as the Tidal Touch Pool where handlers let visitors touch skates, rays, and select invertebrates. At the epicenter lies the ocean gallery, anchored by a 306,000-gallon tank with a 65-foot viewing window. Sand tiger sharks and moray eels swim about the Living Shipwreck exhibit, a replica of a German U-boat that sank off the United States' East Coast in 1942. Behind the glass of another tank, a young loggerhead sea turtle named Nimbus flashes its gold-toothed smile and rare white coloration.
Divers host live shows twice a day in the ocean tank, answering visitors' questions via special equipment. They've also been known to assist with proposals, unveiling engagement rings as an unsuspecting fiancé peers through the glass. Beyond overseeing the standing exhibits, the staff also ventures outside for numerous educational programs and activities. Participants can catch crabs, fish in the surf, explore the marsh, or even explore the water on canoeing and kayaking outings.
Spring Bank Equestrian Center is an equine playland equipped with pristine facilities including a 17-stall barn, a jumping ring, and a lighted, covered arena. Throughout the year, head trainer Cynthia Cooke uses her well-appointed stomping grounds for instructing students on proper riding technique, a life calling that won her the East Coast Trainer of the Year award in 2010.
Amid the hardwood-and-pine forest adjacent to Wiggins Mill Reservoir lie the 18 holes of Willow Springs Country Club, where golfers have tested their will and skill for nearly 100 years. A relatively flat and walkable stretch of 6,641 yards, the course challenges players with narrow, tree-bordered fairways rather than extreme swings in elevation or herds of ball-devouring mountain goats. When success on the par 71 layout proves elusive, players can enlist the constructive criticism of Class A PGA member Jimmy Gurkin, the club professional and owner since 1989.
Course at a Glance:
The chefs at HuHot Mongolian Grill stand around a giant, round grill, preparing sizzling heaps of stir-fry. Unlike at other restaurants, every serving is different because, instead of the kitchen staff, the customer preps each bowl. The bowls may be brimming with chopped vegetables, seafood, and noodles, or they may be composed entirely of water chestnuts. The spice level of each dish varies based on the eater's preferences; MSG-free sauces range from barbecue to sweet teriyaki to five-alarm Kung Pao … Yow! Since HuHot Mongolian Grill is an all-you-can-eat affair, diners get the chance to mix and match different ingredients with each trip to the grill.