10 Awesomely Fun (and Educational) Trips for the Whole Family

Family Travel on 06.06.12
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Photo: Mike Baird/Creative Commons

Why look for learning opportunities on vacation? Because making learning fun outside of school helps your kids realize that education isn't just about test and report cards, but a lifelong adventure. These destinations, hotels and attractions really embrace the idea of the whole world being a classroom, and with everything from five-star resorts to free shops, we've got your budget covered.

1. Galápagos Islands Cruise

learning family vacation galapagos
Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Follow in Darwin's footsteps with a visit to the Galapagos, where Charles himself discovered that animals adapt to their environment. Enjoy some of the most diverse wildlife on earth, including the famous Galapagos tortoise, as well as stunning geological wonders, like cloud forests and volcanoes. Sail the islands on a cruise this August with Abercrombie & Kent's Galapagos Family Adventure package.

2. Nature's Wonders at Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, Florida

ritz-carlton naples
Photo: Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples

Not quite ready to send the kids away for camp? Pack your bags, too, and play golf while they explore their love of nature! The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples offers daily activities and summer camps for nature lovers. A certified Florida naturalist leads Nature's Wonders, and environmentally focused program that takes guests through the local ecosystems and 11 aquariums that are home to sharks, crabs, turtles, alligators and eels.

3. Costa Rica's Tierra Magnifica

costa rica
Photo: Tierra Magnifica

Travel expert Teri Hurley recommends Costa Rica to travelers eager to learn because of the incredible biodiversity. "Costa Rica is home to an astonishing 3 percent of the planet's biodiversity and 3.5 percent of the world's marine life." For a luxurious learning vacation, book a stay at Tierra Magnifica in Nosara. Enjoy private nature walks and a waterfall with soaking pools, and enroll the family in surf camp or Spanish language camp.

4. Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego, California

Photo: Loews Coronado

The fine dining restaurant at this iconic beachside resort doesn't just send home leftovers; kids get a lesson in agriculture during their meal and tomato seeds afterwards to plant at home. The learning extends outside on the nearby Silver Strand State Beach, which Loews has partnered with in an effort to help preserve the rare coastal habitat. An Environmental Educator from the park will take guests on a guided tour, after which guests will participate in a beach clean-up project. Sounds like work? Sure, but it's work you and your kids will love, and it teaches responsibility along side the science.

5. Mexico's Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa Hotel

Photo: Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa Hotel

This five-star hotel offers white, sandy beaches, a water park and kids club, but the decadent Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa is also a great place to learn about the ancient Mayan culture. Located on Mexico's Riviera Maya, the resort entertains and educates with authentic reenactments of sacred Mayan customs, classes with a Mayan herbalist, and visits to a nearby Mayan archaelogical site.

6. Feather Down Farms

Photo: Feather Down Farms

You don't have to rest in the lap of luxury to enjoy learning. Feather Down Farms invites families to camp out on one of three American farms in California, New York, or Illinois. Spend the night in a tent (don't worry, there's a toilet) and spend your days checking out life on a real working farm. You can even help with the daily chores! Your kids will get a lesson in hard work, history, rural living, and real food production.

7. Botanical Garden in Belmont, North Carolina

botanical garden
Photo: Daniel Stowe Belmont Botanical Garden

Another low-key vacation option, Belmont, North Carolina is a charming example of a town that's reinvented itself with the changing economy. Once a bustling hub of the textile industry, the town is now a picturesque vacation destination. It's also home to the Daniel Stowe Belmont Botanical Garden, a sprawling complex that attracts visitors to not only look at the pretty flowers, but to learn through kid-friendly classes, hands-on activities and art exhibits. (When you're done talking about birds, bees, and botanicals, head over to the nearby U.S. National Whitewater Center for some learning that will make you scream!)

8. Open Books in Chicago, Illinois

open books
Photo: Open Books

A trip to the Windy City is sure to be packed with learning opportunities. You can spend time touring the world famous museums and checking out commerce in action on the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, but make sure you make space in your itinerary for a visit to Open Books. Described as the Wonka Wonderland of Books, this bookstore will help your kids fall in love with reading. There are over 10,000 children's books to flip through and over 50,000 books in all. Bonus: average price for books is less than $5.

9. Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts

Photo: Six Flags New England

Don't consider roller coasters to be tools of higher learning? Six Flags New England intends to change that. When you go online to buy your tickets, you can order a free online physics book that explains fun facts about the velocity and g-force that coaster riders face so the kids will be up to speed when you arrive. Load up on corn dogs before you hit Goliath, the park's newest coaster, and you might also be able to offer up a lesson in biology.

10. The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana

war games
Photo: National WWII Museum

War museums and memorials tend to be more somber than fun, but the National WWII Museum does a heck of a job getting visitors involved. Weekend Wargames simulate World War II battles on land, sea and air. While you're at the museum, you can also see the 4-D film Beyond All Boundaries, starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Tobey Maguire.

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