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.
Just like the song, Old MacDonald's Farm nurtures over 100 friendly farm animals. Families flock to the farm to get up close and personal with cows and pigs, horses and chickens, rabbits and goats. And while they can give many of them a few loving strokes under the chin, kids can turn their newfound friendship into a learning experience. In the nursery, they can feed calves and lambs by bottle; elsewhere, they'll get a chance to snuggle with a baby rabbit or fluffy chick. Gentle ponies take guests on an easy ride around the track, while kids board a tractor-pulled train to get a tour of the farm. They can even catch the farm's famous pig races for a little extra excitement without the danger of letting coyotes into the zoo just to "see what would happen."
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.