Want a vacation where you can have fun and learn something in the process? These “Play & Learn” vacation adventures are ideal for all ages and offer the chance to take something home that’s a lot more useful than a t-shirt.

Huntsville Space & Rocket CenterHuntsville Space & Rocket Center
Huntsville Space & Rocket Center

Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama (Hotel Prices & Photos)

While most people assume space camp is something that’s just for kids, the U.S. Rocket and Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama offers adult space camp programs. If grew up wanting to be an astronaut, or you’ve just always wanted to see what it might be like, you can spend three days here taking on various roles in a mock space mission, launching model rockets and trying out astronaut training tools, like a one-sixth gravity chair and a multi-axis trainer. By the time it’s all said and done, you’ll have a better understanding of how the space program works, and lots of photos of yourself wearing NASA-like jumpsuits that you can show off. If that’s not enough, and you have the cash, for just under $5,000 you can take a zero-gravity flight too, heading up to 24,00 feet in a plane before making a 45-degree climb to 34,000 feet and then embarking on a 30-degree dive for 10,000 feet offering about 30 seconds of weightlessness.

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Dinosaur Provincial ParkDinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park

Alberta, Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park (Hotel Prices & Photos)

Alberta is home to the richest source of dinosaur fossils in the world, and at Dinosaur Provincial Park, located a little over two hours east of Calgary in the heart of the badlands, you can go on a guided authentic archaeological dig to discover the most diverse fossil beds on Earth. This UNESCO World Heritage site is where many of the planet’s most important discoveries have been made and continue to be uncovered. The site  has yielded 44 separate dinosaur species and is still very much an active dig site. You can get your hands dirty, cast take-home fossils, hike out to bone beds, and even prospect for new finds through the variety of dig programs. Visiting the park is like stepping into another world, with a chance for discovery around nearly every corner. In addition to digs and hikes, the park offers free theatrical events, photography tours, camping and more.

 

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Blue-footed boobies, GalapagosBlue-footed boobies, Galapagos
Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos

Galapagos (Hotel Prices & Photos)

The Galapagos Islands, situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific, is a volcanic archipelago that’s often ranked at the top, or close to it, of lists ranking the best wildlife destinations in the entire world. As the islands were never linked to the mainland, to get there, species had to have floated, swam or flown in – and as larger mammals at the top of the food chain couldn’t make the journey, the lack of predators allow wildlife to thrive. The islands are home to plant and animal species not seen anywhere else in the world, including a bird called the Blue-footed Booby, that kids are sure to enjoy a giggle about. As many of the animals have never learned to fear humans, visitors can snorkel right alongside a marine iguana and take a quiet stroll among resident sea lions and  Galapagos giant tortoise, which lives to be 150 years old or more.

One of the best ways to experience the Galapagos, is to take a cruise, typically conducted on smaller boats to minimize environmental impact, and featuring educational lectures, hikes and often snorkeling or diving too.

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Great Barrier ReefGreat Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Hotel Prices & Photos)

One of the world’s greatest wonders, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is a legendary coral ecosystem that covers 133,000 square miles, about the size of Japan, featuring more than 3,000 coral reefs. Not only does it bring the chance to dive or snorkel among an astounding array of marine life that includes more than 1,600 species of tropical fish, dolphins, rays, turtles, sharks and giant clams, but it offers a lesson on the effects of climate change. Sadly, it may be gone as soon as 2030 as increasing environmental challenges have been steadily eroding it for years. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation claims, a rise in ocean temperatures of just 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, combined with more acidic water, could leave 97 percent of the Great Barrier Reef bleached and lifeless. If you visit, you’ll have a number of options, just keep in mind that it’s very fragile, so going with a knowledgeable guide not only helps to enrich the trip, but could also keep you from inadvertently harming the reef. There are tour operators that use large boats to take groups out with educators to explain the different types of coral, environments and challenges that face the reef as a whole, or you can get out on a smaller boat with a guide.

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Tulum, Mexico
Tulum, Mexico

Mayan culture at Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico (Hotel Prices & Photos)

The luxurious Fairmont Mayakoba, located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, famous for its white sand beaches, ancient ruins and Mayan communities, offers the chance for kids to hear Mayan tales and learn about medicinal plants as well as modern-day Maya while trekking through the rainforest to see a number of secluded ruins as well as to enjoy Mayan-inspired meals. Family cooking classes are featured as well, allowing participants to choose from lessons in regional, healthy or green cuisine, as well as in grilling and crafting desserts.

Toscana Mia Italian CookingToscana Mia Italian Cooking
Toscana Mia Italian Cooking

Cooking in Tuscany (Hotel Prices & Photos)

Love Italian food? Why not learn to cook like an Italian so you can enjoy it at home? And what better way to do so than by taking a trip to Tuscany. Toscana Mia offers the chance to live with an Italian family, surrounded by the hills of Chianti,  vineyard and olive groves. The experience includes two days of hands-on cooking classes, covering traditional, home-style Tuscan and Italian recipes, with dishes cooked in an evocative stone farmhouse, all prepared using fresh, organic and natural ingredients You’ll learn how to make a multi-course feast that might include gnocchi, pasta, pizza roasted meats, tiramisu, and gelato.

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Poipu Beach,KauaiPoipu Beach,Kauai
Poipu Beach,Kauai

Kauai (Hotel Prices & Photos)

What better place to learn to surf than Hawaii? The island of Kauai is home to the Ohana Camp at Kauai Surf School- ohana is the Hawaiian word for family, and it’s aptly named as an inter-generational surf camp, which means it’s ideal for the whole family, allowing beginners to get up on a board and catch some waves. While you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in the water, which also offers the chance to snorkel among tropical fish, kayak and sail, you can enjoy visiting brilliant gardens (Kauai’s nickname is Garden Isle), hiking and visiting waterfalls.

Kauai is home to a number of waterfalls that are easily accessible, including some that you can drive right up to. On the east side of the island near Kapaa, north of Lihu, you’ll find Wailua Falls, with impressible double falls that plunging into a pool over 100 feet below that you might recognize from the open credits of the TV series “Fantasy Island.” Opaekaa Falls, just north of Wailua Falls, is a 151-foot waterfall that spans 40 feet wide, cascading into a hidden pool, can easily be seen from the Opeakaa Falls overlook off Kuamoo Road.

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Sailing
Sailing

Sailing in Mystic, Connecticut (Hotel Prices & Photos)

If you’ve always wanted to be the captain of your own ship, you can learn how to do so in Mystic, Connecticut. This picturesque coastal town located halfway between New York City and Boston, is home to Mystic Seaport, originally one of the region’s most important seaports, and its history is wonderfully preserved. It includes one of the largest maritime museums in the country, with more than 500 vessels, including the last remaining whale ship in the world. Mystic Seaport also offers a full lineup of sailing programs, with something for kids, adults, and the entire family. Adults and teens can take the helm of a 62-foot 1932 schooner, while kids can sign up for a summer sailing camp, where each one will have access to his or her own nine-foot Dyer Dhow sailboat.

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Tanque Verde Ranch
Tanque Verde Ranch

Horseback riding at Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona (Hotel Prices & Photos)

Horseback riding is a fantastic way to enjoy beautiful scenery and get some exercise too. If you’ve always wanted to try it, or you want to advance the skills you already have, Tanque Verde Ranch is a ranch resort that offers the chance to learn to ride in a desert environment. It offers lessons for beginners, intermediate, and the more advanced too. Beginners get lessons on everything they need to know to get in the saddle, while the Harmony with Horses program offers the chance to take horsemanship skills up a notch, Accommodation is offered in a variety of lodging options, all with gorgeous scenic views of the desert and mountains. The resort also includes a spa with an indoor pool, ideal for soothing sore riding muscles, along with outdoor swimming pools and whirlpools, a fitness center and tennis courts.

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