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.
Ripley’s has enthralled audiences for more than nine decades with its dedication to revealing odd and unexplainable rarities from around the globe. But it all began with one man: Robert Ripley, a wildly successful and eccentric character who rose to fame during the first half of the 20th century. After selling his first cartoon to Life magazine at age 14, he set out on a quick-paced career of drawing sports cartoons for the New York Globe. During a slow day at the office, he sketched nine unusual sporting events and finished his work with a title: “Believe It or Not!” It became immensely popular, allowing Ripley to travel the world in search of more bizarre stories to put into his comic strips. While visiting relatively unknown areas in locales such as India, China, and the inside of his neighbor’s chimney, he picked up a slew of unbelievable souvenirs that later became fixtures in several of Ripley’s museums, or as they’re affectionately called today, Odditoriums. Ripley’s now encompasses publications, attractions, a television show, and a blog, all of which carry Ripley’s tradition of reporting on the world’s curiosities.
Most people associate flying with the sound of whirring engines, intercoms buzzing, and even propellers sputtering into a spin. Wonders of Flight at WonderWorks, however, removes all audible distractions—its helium-filled balloon rises above the trees with nary a hum or vibration. The effect, says the website, is akin to "being on a flying balcony."
A maximum of 30 people can stand on the balloon's circular gondola as it ascends up to 500 feet in the air. After takeoff, passengers are treated to a sprawling view of the Smoky Mountains, as well as a bird's-eye perspective of the upside-down WonderWorks attraction. These 5- to 10-minute flights run throughout the day, permitting riders to snap photos of the scenery as the blue-and-green balloon levitates from its grounded tether. Wonders of Flight also hosts 30-minute wedding experiences, which afford couples ample time to say "I do," and toss a bouquet into a mob of jetpack-wearing bridesmaids.
Kim Warner’s daughter, Clare, was riding whitewater by age 3, and had advanced to doing it dressage style the following season. The owner of Rafting With My Kids, Warner has safely launched families since 1988, when she and her outfitters turned their condo in Asheville into a base camp for trips down the Tuckasegee, Green, and French Broad rivers. Now in its 24th season, a group of CPR- and first-aid-certified guides lead exhilarating two-hour voyages exclusively on the Tuckasegee River. Their gear includes lifejackets designed specifically for kids, enabling adventurers as young as 4 to pile into inflatable rafts with a guardian and older kids the freedom to venture out in two-person duckies. The water is only 3–5 feet deep on average and, as Warner puts it on the business’s website, the rapids are not “too hardcore.” Each guide carries a cell phone and a first-aid kit, as well as light snacks of cookies and peanut-butter or cheese crackers to keep rafters energized.
What sets your business apart?
There is everything you could imagine in an amusement center. We have four different go-kart tracks, eight different kiddie rides, including a 70-foot Ferris wheel, and three thrill rides: the Sling Shot, SkyScraper, and the 700-foot long, 80-foot high zipline. Fun Stop also features a state of the art arcade with the latest games.
What inspired you to start or run this business?
My dad and grandfather have been in the amusement business for over 20 years. Personally, I had always dreamed of making a career in the amusement industry myself. That dream became a reality in November of 2011. I truly do love this business, and what I love most is our great customers from literally all over the world.
What is your most popular offering?
Our most popular rides are the Sling Shot and the SkyScraper. Our go-karts are also popular because they are the fastest in town.
Barely able to walk on his own and many years away from becoming a reverend, a 3-year-old Jim Chambers rode a horse for the first time and was immediately enchanted. At 7, Chambers owned his own mare and paid for her necessities by selling rides for $0.15. Now, on his own ranch overlooking the tangled green of the Cherokee Valley, Chambers is still providing trail rides, campfire cookouts, and western horseback weddings. The Douglas Lakeview Stables crew leads trail rides every day, the Smoky Mountains cutting a rolling gray swath from the distant horizon. The adventures go on regardless of weather conditions, allowing riders to watch snowstorms unfurling over Lake Douglas or rain performing its natural role of ruining papier-mâché hats.