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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.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center - Huntsville, Alabama
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 you 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, you can even participate in flight simulators!
Dinosaur Provincial Park - Alberta, Canada
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.
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.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
One of the world’s greatest coral reef wonders, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is a legendary 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 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 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 private guide.
Cooking Classes - Tuscany, Italy
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. Local cooking classes offer the chance to live with an Italian family, surrounded by the hills of Chianti, vineyard and olive groves. You can choose from hands-on cooking classes that cover traditional, home-style Tuscan and Italian recipes, all prepared using fresh, organic and natural ingredients. You’ll learn how to make dishes such as gnocchi, pasta, pizza roasted meats, tiramisu, and gelato.
What better place to learn to surf than Hawaii? The island of Kauai is home to surf classes that are 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 Island), 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 Lihue, you’ll find Wailua Falls, with impressible double falls that plunging into a pool over 100 feet below. 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.
Mayan Culture - Riviera Maya, Mexico
Riviera Maya is famous for its white-sand beaches, ancient ruins and Mayan communities. Guided tours offer the chance 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.
Sailing - Mystic, Connecticut
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 whaleship in the world. Mystic Seaport also offers a full lineup of sailing programs, with something for kids, adults, and the entire family.
Horseback Riding - Tucson, Arizona
Horseback riding is a fantastic way to enjoy the 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, Tucson offers the perfect desert environment. You’ll find guides that offer lessons for beginners, intermediate and the more advanced too.