Tell your kids they’re going on a trip that’s ‘educational’, and you’ll probably get the stink eye. Throw in a beach, baseball and just a tiny bit of medieval torture and they won’t even notice that they’re learning something new. Here are a few destinations that might even win you parent of the year.
1. San Diego, California
When it comes to family fun, this sunny SoCal city might almost top Disney. The downtown Children’s Museum (babes to age 12) promotes ‘creativity and critical thinking’ by letting littles sing karaoke, climb ropes and jump through inflatable bouncy tunnels.
SD is also home to the biggest zoo in North America (where you can book breakfast with the pandas) and the USS Midway, America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Experiencing an Air Combat flight simulator will take the sting out if any knowledge consumed. For some beach fun, sign up for a 90-minute family surf lesson (kids 4+) at Pacific Beach then go visit the sea lions in La Jolla Cove.
2. Paradise Island, Bahamas
The impressive Atlantis resort has one of the largest marine and animal rescue-rehab facilities in the world. Marine-loving kids (age 6-10) get to work directly with dolphins, turtles and sea lions in the Junior Ultimate Trainer for a Day program, while Sea Squirts (age 3-6) can hand-feed baby sharks and stingrays. While they’re single-handedly saving sea life, the grownups can enjoy a Balinese Massage at the resort’s 30,000 square foot spa.
3. Auberge Saint-Antoine, Québec City
Immersing them in Canadian history doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth. This Auberge is like a living museum with artifacts from four centuries of Québec’s history all over the property, including the rooms – there’s even a cannon battery running through the lobby! Just a hop skip and jump away, the Musée du Fort explains the province’s military history using a sound and light show (how cool is that?).
After an afternoon of learnin’, install the kids in the hotel’s private screening room and head to the bar for a glass of wine – there are over 12,000 bottles in the cellar. Santé!
4) Gladiator School, Rome, Italy
Those frescoes at the Sistine Chapel aren’t quite cutting it? Air Canada Vacations offers fun, curated experiences for families including an opportunity to play like Spartacus at a Roman Gladiator School (age 6+) on the ancient Appian Way. An active two-hour lesson lets them master the basics of hand-to-hand combat while dressed in full gladiator garb, tunic, belt, leather gloves and rudis (training sword).
5. The Dungeons in Edinburgh, Scotland
Taking your kids to a dungeon might not seem like a sensible choice but if horror’s a thing in your house, this is a winner. Entertaining, scary, hilarious and interactive all at once, the dungeons are a tour though Scotland’s bloodiest past. Witness a 19th century autopsy and learn handy skills like how to escape a labyrinthine mirror maze and the best way to hang someone up with a butcher’s hook. We guarantee they’ll be grateful and well behaved once they get out.
Tip: This isn’t for the small kiddies or the faint of heart. Not sure if you can stomach the gore? The website has an on-line test.
6. Tulum, Mexico
A walled Mayan city might sound like a snooze fest for anyone under 50 but that’s far from the truth. Along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and 2-hours by car outside of Cancun, the Tulum ruins are perched on 12-meter cliffs overlooking sandy white beaches. If the abundance if iguanas don’t grab their attention, the little train that takes you from the parking to the main site might just do the trick. After a guided tour of the ruins (where they just might learn a thing or two that’ll stick), cool off with coconut water sipped right from the shell and head for a swim.
Tip: Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat.
7. Baseball Hall Of Fame, Cooperstown, New York
Little leaguers (and their parents) will go coo coo bananas for this stadium-sized showcase of all things baseball including Babe Ruth’s bat and Hank Aaron’s uniform. Video screens showcase famous plays, “Baseball at the Movies” documents more than 150 Hollywood films about the sport, and there are plenty of hands-on and batter’s up exhibits for kiddies.
When they start to fidget, head outside for a picnic and game of catch in Cooper Park or over to the batting cages near Doubleday Field.
8. Whale Watching in Samaná, Dominican Republic
One of the most important humpback whale sanctuaries in the world, Samaná is a stunning stretch along the DR’s northeast coast. From January until March, landlubbers can watch from Punta Balandra (a great vantage point) or explore a 40-foot whale skeleton at the small Museo de las Ballenas.
For an experience that’s more up close and personal, book yourselves on Whale Samana’s custom Whale Watch vessel. Helmed by a Canadian, an underwater hydrophone sound system lets you hear mating calls, and if you don’t see a whale, your next trip is gratis.
9. Exporail, Saint-Constant, Québec
Just a 20-minute drive outside of Montréal, this cool Canadian railway museum might be one of this country’s best kept secrets. Set up like a train station, it has the biggest collection of trains (real and miniature) in Canada. Walk along themed platforms, climb aboard freight trains, sit inside vintage passenger cars or go into an observation pit under a locomotive steam train.
In the warmer months head outside for rides in a mini-train, old Montréal streetcars or passenger train ride to nearby Barrington Station.
10. Gondolier School, Venice, Italy
After hours of walking and tireless pigeon feeding at the Piazza San Marco, try honing your skills on one of the city’s iconic canals. Venice Gondola School will teach the whole family (age 5+) how to row, steer, glide and stop like an expert gondolier. No need to worry about tipping over, the school uses stable training ‘gondoletti’ (the same ones used to train the professionals). Along the way the gondoliers will share insider knowledge about Venetian history and architecture. Follow it up with some strawberry gelato and the kids will love you forever.
With its sprawling plantations and historical garrisons, this small island is positively steeped in history. Kids might not bat an eye at Bridgetown’s colonial architecture and UNESCO World Heritage site status but they’ll probably like watching a cricket match at Kensington Oval stadium.
They’ll go giddy if you book them for an undersea voyage on the Atlantis Submarine. This mighty vessel travels 150 feet below the surface for close-up views of tropical fish and an authentic coral-encrusted shipwreck. For dinner, head down the coast for steel pan music and a traditional bejan fish fry at Oistins Bay Gardens.
12. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic In Halifax, Nova Scotia
The oldest of its kind in Canada, this waterfront Maritime Museum is small but mighty. The sprogs can learn all about the Halifax Explosion and our nautical history by seeing replicas of sailing vessels (small and life-sized) peering through telescopes and spotting shipwreck treasures.
What will really float their boat? The large Titanic exhibit where they can see mortuary bags, a model lifeboat, or sit in one of the doomed ocean liner’s wooden deckchairs. Get ready to answer some tricky questions about life and death and first class versus third class.
13. The Lodge At Glendorn In Bradford, Pennsylvania
Penn may not be an obvious choice for a family vaca but The Lodge at Glendorn makes it well worth the trip. This nature resort by the Allegheny Mountains is kind of like a swish, modern-day version of Kellerman’s in “Dirty Dancing”. While there’s no cha cha lessons, you can book family cooking classes, skeet shooting, and guided fly-fishing trips. Hikers can treck along 1500 acres of trails and there’s a spa that uses seasonally-foraged ingredients sourced right from the surrounding woods.
14. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center, Regina, Saskatchewan
Housed in an elegantly designed stone and glass building on the grounds of the RCMP Academy (where most Mounties and their horses train) the Heritage Centre has the usual memorabilia (buckskin shirts!), art exhibits and multimedia presentations, but the best part is the daily drill where staff put cadets through their paces. The parade includes a roll call and inspection of the troops with a cadet band. If this doesn’t have you all humming O Canada for the rest of the week, then we’ll eat our (campaign) hat.