Best Outdoor Playground 2010 | Hudson Park | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
This three-acre neighborhood park has it all: basketball courts, sand volleyball pit, grassy open spaces, a hippie labyrinth complete with a Dalai Lama quotation set in one of many tile mosaics, an adorable skate park with its own half-pipe, and the most wholesome people-watching this side of Mill Avenue (which isn't far, in case you have a hankering for some Mojo fro-yo). The park itself is a playground for all ages, but tucked in its southeast corner is a thoughtfully appointed and newly renovated sensory playground. Old-school swings, slides, ride-ons, and climbing/hanging contraptions balance out the giant bongo and percussion section, meandering paths, shade structures, rock walls, and mini-Mt. Hudson. There's even disability-friendly equipment and a splash area. Gandhi did say that to teach peace, we must begin with the ankle-biters. Playgroup/drum circle, anyone?
Makutu's Island is like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. It has taller slides and higher tubes, plus nets for crawling. And it's more colorful — and possibly even louder — than its mousy cousin. On a busy day, packs of screaming kids run through the 20,000-square-foot facility, sliding down poles, climbing across catwalks or plunking tokens in the game room. It may sound like your version of Hell, but your kids will love it. We find it's best to try to keep up with the romp — though it's true one of our fingers may never be the same after it was tweaked on a rope bridge. Toddlers and post-toddlers who find the action intimidating can play in a slower-paced corner with small slides and fun blocks of foam.
Got a kid who's got the wiggles? Get over to Pump It Up, where even in the dead of summer, kids can get their bounce on in a multi-room setup with huge slides and a whole neighborhood of bouncy houses. Be sure to consult Pump It Up's website before you load the kids in the minivan, as this is a place mainly meant for birthday parties (and we highly recommend them — the kids love it, the staff is friendly and helpful and you won't wind up with icing all over the walls of your house) but Pump It Up does have regular discounted bounce times for kids and even some "cosmic-style" light show stuff for the tween/teen set.
Ever get the urge to jump around like a kid sucking down Pixy Stix and jamming to whatever pretty-haired teen idol of the moment is dominating the charts? Go on, admit it. There's no shame in loving a good bounce. Chandler's jumpstreet offers a unique opportunity to relive your childhood by jumping much, much higher than your feeble muscles would normally allow. It's a pretty simple concept: a warehouse full of giant and connected trampolines allowing you to bounce around laughing until you ache. You pay by the hour — but, trust us, an hour is pretty much all you'll need to feel wiped out. You're too old for this and you know it, but you're going to love it anyway.
We're not easily spooked. We usually find the sight of geeky teenage boys growling at us from behind Halloween masks more funny than scary. But Fear Farm makes it easy to suspend disbelief for a few hours. The sprawling setting — three sections of dark trail through a cornfield and one old building on the outskirts of Glendale — is certainly a big part of the attraction, and the scenery is artfully rendered, but what really separates Fear Farm from the pack is the performers. Unlike a lot of cheesy haunts looking to cut labor costs with motion censors and pneumatics, almost every scare at Fear Farm comes courtesy of a flesh and blood actor. Those actors are good, too. We're not sure how Fear Farm attracts the talent it does (perhaps being almost the only game in town on the west side because the east is saturated with similar attractions?) but each and every pretend monster at Fear Farm seems to be obsessed with the idea of scaring the hell out of us. It's all about going the extra mile. For example, the chainsaw-wielding bad guys chase their victims out halfway to the parking lot when they've got a real screamer on their hands, which is why you're likely to get startled just walking around the grounds or waiting in line.
Considering that it's crammed into the upstairs of a family fun center specializing in arcade games, miniature golf, and go-carts, it's nothing short of amazing that The Gauntlet manages to feel like a must-see Halloween attraction. Though the space is small, there appears to be no expense spared and no detail unrefined. Take the live mice, for example. Those with an acute case of musophobia are sure to squeal as they're forced to walk over a piece of Plexiglas that gives a great view of the little critters. Likewise, the overdone execution and dungeon scenes are lushly designed with blood and guts galore. The maze is cramped at points — those people lured to attractions that advertise such-and-such square feet of fright will probably want a longer ride — but each corner of The Gauntlet reveals something worth seeing, which makes it a must-see for any haunted house fan.
We're not sure how or why they appear, but you know it's the Christmas season in the Valley when saguaros atop Phoenix's two tallest points — Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak — get the Griswold treatment. We're not sure who lugs bulbs, garland, and battery-powered lights more than 1,000 vertical feet up the rugged trails, but it fills our hearts with holiday joy every time. The decorations appear and disappear mysteriously, as though they're the work of Christmas elves dispatched to the desert to bring a little Yuletide cheer, and they do more to get us in the spirit of an Arizona Christmas than even repeated viewings of It's a Wonderful Life, delicious tamales, or St. Nick in a Speedo.
Just after Christmas, the Valley's most prestigious Arabian horse farms throw open their gates and let the public see what the fuss is all about. It's an unexpected blend of equine beauty, foreign money, and sophisticated social networking. And for five days (this time around the days are December 29, 2010 through January 2, 2011), the rest of us poor schlubs are invited to join in the fun. The allure of these stunning creatures is undeniable — words like "sensual" and "seductive" are thrown around. In truth, such words are accurate, even to the most cynical observer. The hoofed performers even steal the show from the chic Buenos Aires crowd that mingles on the lawn in Armani and stilettos. And the occasional sight of a prancing foal will stop you in your tracks. In a word: "Whoa."
This place is a little hard to find, tucked in the back of a popular shopping center, but it's totally worth the search. The space offers two pole-dance studios — one large one for group classes, and a smaller space for private, all-female parties. We hear women of all sizes and ages who are "taking pole" asking each other in the hallways, "What level are you at now?" — as if it were any dojo in town. These gals are serious about developing core strength and six-pack abs by wrapping and gyrating around poles and cheering each other on. It's a classy environment (really!) where soccer moms can feel comfortable popping in for a pole class, then picking up some groceries at Trader Joe's. Even though it's an all-female gig, we suspect quite a few husbands and boyfriends out there are appreciating Express MiE about now, too.

Best Place to Drink While Your Kid Plays Hockey

Alltel Ice Den

The ideas of hockey and ice may be a strange concept for many Valley residents, so a drink or two might be in order to get you to warm up to the idea of hanging out in the freezing cold. The Alltel Ice Den understands this, which is probably why they've included a bar in their already excellent facility. The 120,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art ice rink offers youth hockey leagues for all ages and, for the parents, The 18 Degree Neighborhood Grill — a sports bar located in the arena, where the only ice you'll have to stare at while the kiddies are skating is safely floating in your gin and tonic.

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