Right in Time for Summer: 6 Excellent New Family Attractions Across the U.S.

by  Teresa Bitler | Jun 9, 2016

From a whitewater rafting and kayaking center near downtown Oklahoma City to a two-story aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona, these six recently opened and soon-to-debut attractions warrant a place on your itinerary as you plan your summer and fall vacations.

1. Riversport Rapids (Oklahoma City, OK)

Six pumps recirculate 8 million gallons of water through two channels, one for Olympic training and the other geared for anyone eight years and over who wants to ride the rapids, at this $45.2 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center near downtown Oklahoma City. Opened in the beginning of May, it is one of only three man-made whitewater venues in the country. Don’t worry if the churning waters seem too daunting. The 11-acre, state-of-the-art facility also has flat water where you can kayak, tube, and stand-up paddle board as well as adventure courses, ziplines, climbing walls, a concert stage, and a paddle-in movie venue.

2. Independence Plaza (Houston, TX)

Space Center Houston, home of the NASA’s Mission Control, just got better with the addition of Independence, a shuttle replica mounted on top of an actual NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA). Included in the cost of admission to the center, your tour of Independence Plaza begins on the shuttle’s flight deck and descends to its living quarters and payload bay before ending inside the 159-ton SCA filled with exhibits about the shuttle era. While you’re at Space Center Houston, you can also view both the historic and new Mission Controls, actual spacecraft, and the Skylab Trainer Module. Or, take the NASA Tram Tour for a behind-the-scenes look at where the astronauts train.

3. Centennial Wheel (Chicago, IL)

Navy Pier Park in Chicago debuted its new 196-foot Ferris wheel on May 27. Dubbed Centennial Wheel in honor of the Lake Michigan landmark’s 100th anniversary this July, it’s 49 feet higher than previous one, allowing for even better views of the Windy City’s skyline and Lake Michigan. Bonus: You can still ride the 15-story Ferris wheel that Centennial Wheel replaced at its new home in Branson, Missouri.

4. OUE Skyspace LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Beginning June 25, you’ll be able to step out on the tallest open-air observation deck in California for 360-degree views of Los Angeles, including the San Gabriel Mountains, Pacific Ocean, and landmarks like Dodger Stadium. The real attraction at the U.S. Bank Tower will be Skyslide, a four-foot wide glass slide between the 70th and 69th floors, roughly 1,000 feet above the ground. Book a room at the Great Wolf Lodge Southern California. The property celebrated its grand opening in March. In addition to 603 suites, the lodge has a 105,000-square-foot indoor water park with rides and a lazy river.

5. Ark Encounter (Williamstown, KY)

This life-size recreation of the Biblical ark is expected to draw roughly 1.4 million visitors per year to Northern Kentucky after its completion in early July. Although you won’t find animals inside the ark, which stretches 1.5 football fields, costumed actors portraying Noah and his family will be on hand. The on-site zoo will feature llamas, alpacas, emus, ostriches, yaks, kangaroos, and zebras. Ark Encounter promises three decks of exhibits on par what with the quality you’d expect at themed attractions like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios and will have an on-site zipline course.

6. OdySea Aquarium (Scottsdale, AZ)

Not only will OdySea Aquarium be the largest aquarium in the Southwest when it opens sometime in late August, but it will use theme park technology for a one-of-a-kind experience. Other unique features include 12 sphere-shaped aquariums filled with colorful fish suspended from the ceiling in the lobby; a floor-to-ceiling acrylic wall in each lobby bathroom giving views of the shark tank; and submerged acrylic tubes that served as walkways between the aquarium’s two levels. The aquarium is part of a 35-acre entertainment complex that includes the already existing Butterfly Wonderland and Arizona’s only mirror maze.

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