Someone's little brother shrieks, mournful at being too small to play laser tag with his cousins. Another youngster wants to bowl, but can’t pick up the ball. To Terrace Sports's manager, John McMillan, these are simple problems. A crew member scurries through the laser-tag arena, holding the toy gun for the little boy who would otherwise be too small to play. Another sets up a ramp at the top of a bowling lane, helping the toddler to push the ball into the pins with a satisfying clatter.
Smiling on as his staff solves such crises, McMillan strolls through Terrace Sports, which he remodeled after taking the reins from his father. Leading the way to the laser-tag arena, skating-rink, indoor-climbing wall, bowling alley, and arcade, murals stretch down the entryway, saluting the nearby Hillsborough River with more than 85 depictions of the waterway’s inhabitants, dynamic ecosystem, and naturally occurring steamboats. The entryway leads to the snack bar, where a full menu of gator tail, buffalo burgers, and sweet-potato fries glide down countertops handcrafted from teak and embellished by solid-brass elephant heads.
Entering the laser-tag arena gives one the sensation of delving into the interior of a complex machine, with mechanical parts strung with LED lights lining the walls and generating an eerie glow. Imaginations run wild as players choose to take on roles as monarchy loyalists or rebel forces, with both sides fighting for command of the heart of the machine and firing at one another's bases. The guns, powered by unlimited ammo, unleash streams of crimson and emerald light, and fiber-optic aiming ensures pinpoint accuracy. Vests beep when another player is taking aim, giving warriors a moment to find obstacles to hide behind or nearby portraits of themselves to hide in front of. On an observation deck, cheers rise from friends and chaperones as a 32-inch monitor displays scoring and live footage from six in-arena cameras.
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After rising 200 feet in the air, the roller coaster mercifully stops right on the brink of a 90-degree drop. That mercy doesn’t last long. Soon passengers plummet at a whopping 70 miles per hour before hurtling along sweeping turns, through loops, and even into an underground tunnel. The frenetic journey culminates in a splashdown that leaves the next group of riders completely soaked.
Called the SheiKra, this coaster crowns Busch Gardens Tampa's roster of rides, which bear African safari-style names such as Cheetah Hunt. Beyond these big-kid thrills, Busch Gardens Tampa caters to youngsters with three kid-friendly attractions, including Treetop Trails, a three-story play area full of climbing nets, crawl tubes, and a multi-level maze. The amusement park also includes nearly a dozen animal exhibits, which house everything from gorillas and cheetahs to hundreds of friendly tropical birds.
Besides these attractions, Busch Gardens' grounds boast multiple venues for both indoor and outdoor shows such as Iceploration, where audiences watch in awe as a skating rink transforms magically into a shallow pond. Each area of the park also offers shopping and dining to match its region's theme.
For more than 50 years, family-owned Pin Chasers alleys have been adding perks to the bowling basics. Leagues for all skill levels, six-week lesson plans, and the immersive light shows of late-night Cyber bowling entertain families with the fundamentals. It's when the scoring systems—equipped with touchscreen consoles and customizable backgrounds—boot up or the automatic bumpers raise between turns that players might first take notice of their high-tech surroundings. As for service, the inviting staff hand out complimentary bowling shoes and socks, and will assist guests in picking out the right type of ball rather than noisily sandblasting one down to size when it doesn’t fit. The full-service cafes also manage to defy expectations by serving breakfast fare around the clock.
Friendly employees and full bars span each of Pin Chasers' three locations, but other amenities differ. Visitors can aim cues at Veterans' four billiards tables, stretch their thumbs at East Pasco's arcade, or try to count all of Midtown's 50 lanes without first extracting their fingers from their bowling balls.
Grand Prix Tampa's sprawling grounds host adrenaline-spiking activities including go-karting, miniature golf, and a ropes course. The big track's tire-bordered speedway invites drivers to rev through tight corners and speed-encouraging straightaways, and the family track welcomes single- or double-seat karts during more tot-friendly races. Racers can catch their breath and calm skittish fuzzy dice on one of two 18-hole mini-golf courses, where dimpled spheres roll through miniature castles and dodge fountain-speckled waterways on their way to the hole. A towering geodesic dome houses a winding ropes course, which challenges climbers to hop across bouncing wooden steps and pegs while supported by a safety harness. The turbo bungee's elastic trampolines launch tethered guests into the ether, where they can catch the wayward baseballs soaring from nine onsite batting cages. Meals at Grand Prix Tampa's Pit Stop Cafe silence hunger pangs with sandwiches, snacks, and kids’ meals, which guests can dine on beneath the Castle Arcade's twinkling panoply of claw machines and air-hockey tables.
The nonprofit Lowry Park Zoo has more than 1,500 animals living on nearly 60 acres of land. One way the Zoo maintains its animal habitats and conservation programs is to hold the annual ZooBoo fundraiser each fall, welcoming families for a slew of Halloween-themed attractions. The event’s spooky theme is evident upon arrival, as the Zoo’s walkways are filled with costumed youngsters. Haunted houses await to elicit giggles, gasps, or shrieks, and parents can easily determine which haunts are appropriate for their brood by consulting the Zoo's skull rating, which designates the scary level of each event, ranging from "all ages" to "scary to the extreme". Admission also includes free unlimited spins on rides such as the Batty Bumper Boats or Scary-Go-Round Carousel. After visiting with some of the Zoo's creepiest residents at the Flying Fox Bat House and Creepy Crawlers Lane, kids and adults can take in the dazzling light displays at the Little Beasties Bungalow or take a break and fill up on seasonal snacks at one of several concessions areas.