Since March of 1989, equestrian instructor Diana Bayer uses the pastureland at HeronCrest Stables to teach the principles of dressage horseback riding. During lessons, owner and manager Diana or her daughter Melissa addresses the needs of all levels of riders, even designing lesson plans to educate young children when they’re most eager to learn and least eager to ask the horses for insider information to use at the racetrack. Should the weather fail to cooperate, horse, rider, and instructor will retire to the large Cover-all Arena, complete with a heated viewing lounge and tack room.
At Magic Lantern Theatres, darkened auditoriums with flickering screens draw audiences into magical worlds where fish can talk, motorcycles leap canyons, and love comes even for those who eat crackers in bed. The partnering multiplex theatres and cinemas show recently released blockbuster flicks at 15 locations spread across Canada, each of which retains its own unique personality and honours any historic roots. In Edmonton, the Princess Theatre’s original 1915 auditorium, complete with balcony, golden drapes, and red walls, accommodates moviegoers with babies or pet hyenas inside a soundproof cry room. In Saskatchewan, the circa-1930 Roxy Theatre preserves the ambience of a Spanish courtyard. As guests find their auditoriums at the Ontario locations, they can admire giant murals by local artist Fred Harrison.
Glowing monkeys scamper toward a neon waterfall, and a knight bearing a radiant yellow lance rides past a bright orange octopus emerging from the ocean. What appears to be a time-traveling session gone awry is really the evolving environment within Putting Edge’s indoor black-lit mini-golf course, which whisks players to deep seas, Aztec jungles, and medieval times. Since opening its original location in Canada, Putting Edge has now expanded to 18 North American locations, all of which invite guests onto its challenging 18-hole courses to seek victory over opponents and the forces that keep their teeth from not glowing as brightly as they could. Elsewhere, the facility houses private party rooms, concessions, and an arcade filled with gamer favorites such as air hockey.
At iPlay, gamers of all ages shoot, race, and dogfight on 34 networked PC gaming systems that play a library of more than 400 games. Escape zombies in Left 4 Dead 2, or use a racing-wheel controller to drift, brake, and quickly drop off laundry in Need for Speed: Underground. Golfers tee up in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008, and strategists go online to fight futuristic battles in StarCraft II. Meanwhile, fingers furiously fly over buttons, while eyes gaze at a 65-inch HDTV attached to an Xbox 360 console and an out-of-use antenna with separation issues. Parents can entertain kids on a hot or rainy afternoon by sending them racing in a virtual 750-horsepower stock car or by strapping them into a computer chair to dogfight over the South Pacific.
Little Ray's Reptile Zoo is a grand hotel for cold-blooded critters overseen by animal enthusiasts Paul "Little Ray" Goulet and his wife Sheri Goulet. At their new location in Hamilton, they host one of the largest sanctuaries in Ontario for unwanted reptiles. Meanwhile, the renovated Ottawa location features 25 permanent exhibits, a nature centre, and a hands-on room. Born from the joy Little Ray experienced sharing his personal collection of reptiles with school children, the zoo now encompasses a variety of exhibits and daily feeding demonstrations showcasing more than 150 animals.
The expert staff—which has trained keepers at other animal facilities on proper husbandry and correct presentation—safely introduces visitors to the animals which include giant snakes, tarantulas, and more. The zoo is open daily for corporate groups, birthday parties, and everyday animal lovers to tour the reptile environs and educational displays. The reptile zoo hosts large private-party and function rooms and a jungle spa where pythons receive hydrating wraps to combat scaly skin.
Toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners attending Monkey Around Play & Learn Centre for daycare might wonder whether they're awake or dreaming. Sure, they get to participate in fun educational activities led by qualified staff, such as crafting family trees or staging an outdoor car wash with play vehicles. But … a roller rink? A multilevel play structure that looks like a jungle gym? A 50-foot inflatable obstacle course that ends with a triumphant luge down a mega-slide? Kids might think the place was designed by Santa Claus himself, or the culinary genius who invented peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
They're not far off. The family who created the centre came up with the idea while on vacation, after taking shelter from inclement weather at a recreation facility in Granby. They spent countless hours researching different types of facilities and suppliers, and finally decided upon an innovative business model that combined entertainment with learning. The results of their hard work—and insight gained from their own family experiences—are little details that make the place a favourite of both adults and kids. Bathrooms without entry doors prevent germ spreading and finger pinching, and multiple windows in each room allow for an abundance of spirit-lifting natural light. All the exits of the custom-designed play structure lead kids to one central area that allows parents to relax in the snack-bar area while still keeping an eye on their kids.
In addition to child care, the centre offers annual memberships and hosts birthday parties during which tikes can play arcade-style games and redeem tickets in the Stuff Shop.