Giant toy soldiers clothed in thousands of colored lights wave at passersby as glowing reindeer take off into the dusk. Towering Christmas trees topped with stars glimmer and glisten with blue and green fiber optics. At Santa's Enchanted Forest, one of the world’s largest Christmas-themed amusement parks, holiday spirit and festive music fill the air long before the end of December. Visitors laugh and shriek on a multitude of carnival rides, including whirling swings, bumper cars, tower drops, and roller coasters, whipping through the air until their cheeks are as rosy as old Saint Nick’s. Traditional carnival games are also on hand, such as dart tosses and soccer-ball kicks, to complement more unconventional carnival amusements such as giant plastic balls to roll around in and a rock-climbing wall to scale. Wee visitors, meanwhile, can make the acquaintance of small livestock in a petting zoo or draw a portrait of their favorite goat in royal costume on a wall-size coloring-book mural. Carnival food, such as barbecue, pizza, and cinnamon donuts, fuels guests as they conquer rides or take in the Cats of the World Tiger Show, the Cirque Equinox, or the Sea Lion Splash Spectacular.
For 20 years, Donna Mole woke up at 4 a.m. to get her horses ready for a full day of riding, managing up to 50 horses at once as she trained jockeys and groomed thoroughbreds for racing. After that, she switched gears, choosing instead to watch the sun rise in such places as Kenya, France, Ireland, and Australia as she taught students who desired to see the world from the saddle. Headquartered in Florida at her own ranch, At Ascot Farm, Donna—along with her right-hand equestrian, Carissa Baskett—works with both adults and children as young as two, tailoring to the needs and personal goals of each student as they learn to develop proper riding habits such as sitting upright in the saddle and using the horse's blinkers in the woods' busy intersections.
Though roller skating may be symbolic of life in the '50s, the staff at Super Wheels Skating Center has incorporated the tunes, TVs, and technology of today to bring this American pastime in to the 21st century. DJs spin a choice of more than 400,000 songs through the rink’s digital sound equipment, serenading guests as they show off their moves and finally embrace their wheel transplant. In order to offer more than just skating, the staff created a super arcade filled with interactive games and sprinkled the facility with 20 high-definition TVs and five giant screens that broadcast entertainment as well as live texts from guests and overprotective mothers.
Outside of open-skate hours, the rink puts on a range of events, including private parties, beginning and pro skating lessons, and special times for skaters 11 and younger. The facility’s concession stand offers food for all ages, including futuristic Dippin’ Dots, fried appetizers, Latin pastries, and pitchers of O’Doul's.
Splitsville explores contemporary consumption within a bowling framework, combining swankiness with three bars, and a full-service restaurant. Splitsville’s menu, developed under the guidance of one of Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs of 2008 Tim Cushman, stacks up and knocks down a cadre of ville plates ($5–$14) including spicy edamame and three-pepper calamari, stomach-stuffing signature plates ($14–$19) including the mahi mahi with voodoo shrimp and filet mignon, and big bowl drinks ($21) including the rum bowl and voodoo juice bowl. Diners sprinkle the restaurant with chatter as they dive into their choice of sauced steaks, generous pizzas, and rolls from the on-site sushi bar to the musical vibrations blowing from the speakers. After 8 p.m., all diners younger than 21 turn into pumpkin-shaped bowling balls and the fine hobby-sport decorum requests an evening-casual dress code as the crowd usurps the restaurant’s reins for nocturnal nourishment with energetic music.
Happy Playz beckons youngsters ages 0–6 to traverse its age-appropriate playplaces while parents enjoy free WiFi near the cappuccino bar. Small tots boost their hand-eye coordination in the activity center or scrutinize their outfits in various mirrors throughout the multihued recreation station. A magnetic-bug center delights fledgling scientists with refrigerator-door residents whereas a pretend doctor's office teaches tykes about health and how to correctly ask for a doctor's note to get out of their taxes. Just beyond the bounds of the play area, an on-site café slings a bevy of kid-friendly cuisine including macaroni and cheese ($3.50), mini pitas with hummus ($3), and classic cheeseburgers ($3).
When the University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum began in 1952, the school could comfortably display its entire collection in three unused classrooms. Those days are long past. Today, the museum stands as Miami's most comprehensive collection of western and non-western art. The permanent collections feature pieces drawn from across human history, with notable works including Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge and a recently acquired face mask from the Dan people of Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, forged from wood, cloth, and fur. A sizable trove of Native American artifacts includes pieces from the Southeast such as a beautifully embroidered bead shoulder bag. Other exhibits include paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and photographs from the Middle Ages through the present, including the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque art, as well as pottery, sculpture, and metalwork from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, dating from the first millennium BCE through the 4th century CE.
A few miles away, the tower of the 1939 Old Police and Fire Station rises above the street, gazing down on an unusual blend of sleek, depression-era modernism and Mediterranean revival ornateness. Founded in 2003, the Coral Gables Museum Corp. completely renovated the old municipal building. Spanish touches were added—the new Fewell wing and a 5,000-square-foot plaza—and the space was opened in 2011 as a museum dedicated to the civic arts of architecture, urban design, historic and environmental preservation, and sustainable development. Today, it holds regular art and design exhibitions, educational events, and concerts.
Founded as a sanctuary for flowers, birds, and their admirers, Pinecrest Gardens has flourished into a family-friendly retreat that entertains visitors with horticultural exhibits and artistic events in a scenic setting. Spanning 4.3 acres of forested wetland, the gardens harbor more than 1,000 rare and exotic plants, including a 100-year-old coco plum tree, orchids, and a banyan tree that spreads across three-fourths of an acre. Waterways full of fish snake through these plants, their inhabitants impatiently pursing their lips at visitors for handfuls of food.
Pinecrest Gardens offers other entertainment opportunities for youngsters, who can splash around in the water playground, spot wildlife at Swan Lake, or play with potbellied pigs at the petting zoo. In addition, the 500-seat outdoor Banyan Bowl offers concertgoers pristine acoustics and cool evening breezes along with complimentary views of the stars.