8 extraordinary experiences

Who doesn’t love seeing the sights? It’s hard not to be awed by the natural beauty and man-made wonders of the destinations we visit. However, these days vacations offer more than just a chance to “see” — it’s all about what you can do and experience.

Looking for some ideas for your next trip? Let these getaway ideas inspire you.

Go heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies (Alberta)

Picture this: a getaway to a remote mountain lodge with all the amenities, charm and luxury you look for in a hotel (including delectable cuisine made with local bounty). Each day, a helicopter journey takes you to see breathtaking mountain vistas of lush forests, alpine meadows and snowy glaciers before landing so you can explore these remote locations. Enjoy a guided hike or get an adrenaline rush with zip lining, or enjoy a photography and art class among some truly inspiring scenery.

Sound ideal? Canadian Mountain Holidays offers a variety of “Summer Adventures” with all ages and abilities in mind — from solo travellers to family getaways and leisurely-paced hikes to mountaineering. Packages are available throughout July and August and include two, three and four night stays starting at $1780/person to $3360/person.

For more information, visit the Canadian Mountain Holidays website and read about a trip from a baby boomer’s perspective.

Learn the art of theatre in New York

Do you think “Broadway” when you think of theatre? The “Behind the Velvet Curtain” getaway from Road Scholar will indulge your passion with three shows: the glamour of a Broadway musical, a dramatic play and an off-Broadway show.

However, the trip is about more than what you’ll see on stage. In addition to taking in the local sites and restaurants, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about theatre from some of the people who make it all possible — like producers, directors and theatre managers.

These five-day, four-night getaways run $1087 to $1255 USD per person and include accommodations and most meals. For more getaway ideas, visit the Road Scholar website.

Of course, New York isn’t the only place to head for theatre. Go further afield with the West End and Beyond tour to London, England, for instance. Canada’s theatre festivals often have “behind the scenes” activities and events too.

Take the gallery on the road with the Tate

If you’re a fan of the Tate Gallery in London, why not take that artistic expertise on vacation? In partnership with the Ultimate Travel Company, Tate Travels plans to tour 14 artsy destinations in 2012-2013. Take in the major cities and scenic areas that inspired artists. Tour the local art scene with Tate experts, and take in architectural gems, historic sites and artist’s studios too. (Of course, art isn’t the only thing on the itinerary — think decadent meals, wine tours and shopping.)

Naturally, the selection of trips cover a variety of periods and styles, including Turner’s Venice, Aix-en-Provence, Moscow’s art scene and Barcelona’s food fiestas. Modern fare is part of the mix too, with Australia’s indigenous and contemporary art and modern Berlin (to name a few!) 

Prices vary according to the location and length of the trip and run about 1000-3000 EURO — but remember, the trips depart from London, England. For a full list, visit the Tate Travels website.

Explore your creativity in the landscapes of France

We know it’s enjoyable to learn about the works of great masters, but how about putting your own creativity to work? Join in the tradition of working en plein air with a tour like Orient-Express’ Artistic Impressions. It’s more than just an intimate river cruise aboard a luxury barge meandering down the country’s scenic canals. Each day, you’ll have a chance to put your artistic talents to good use at some of the places that have inspired generations of artists — including riverside landscapes and historic sites like the Château de Pommard and Clos de Vougeot.

Of course, lessons from an expert are part of the package, as are decadent meals in nearby towns and gourmet dinners aboard the barge. The seven-day, six-night tour starts at $6450/person (based on double occupancy.)

Missed this trip? Afloat in France has other Art and Wine journeys available too, including trips that focus on golf and cooking.

If you’re interested in recreating other parts of the world, other companies have tours throughout some of the world’s scenic cities and areas, like painting in Venice.

Wine and dine in the Mediterranean

Learning doesn’t have to be the focus of your entire vacation — perhaps a shore excursion is more your style? Silversea Luxury Cruises recently expanded its repertoire of options to provide guests a hands-on learning experience in the destinations they visit. For instance, chocoholics won’t want to miss a tour of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s old town — home to medieval cobblestone streets and tempting local sweets. Wine aficionados can visit the area’s wineries for a sumptuous dinner.

If you prefer to do-it-yourself, many of the excursions let you learn the local cuisine from a master — like a Ukrainian cooking class in restaurant at a historic residence, or mastering Mediterranean cuisine in Bodrum, Turkey.

For more information about trips, see the Silverseas Luxury Cruise website.

Learn about Vietnamese history and culture on the river

It’s not your average river cruise. Classical Pursuits’ Vietnam Voices: A Balanced Opposition takes you from Hanoi to Saigon and then down the mighty Mekong River to Angkor Wat, Cambodia — but scenery isn’t the only thing you’ll enjoy. Expert-led discussion groups and readings offer insight into the history, diversity and culture of this once conflicted country.

For 14 days and nights, you’ll experience everything from villages to major cities and lush jungles to monumental temples. Remember, river cruise vessels can venture where larger ships can’t manage, so you’re guaranteed some spectacular scenery.

Tickets for this journey run $5195 – $5695 USD and include accommodations, excursions, two meals a day, admission, discussions and materials.  For more information on other learning vacations, visit the Classical Pursuits website.

Capture wildlife — in the wilds of Tanzania

Tired of shooting the same old postcard shots of landscapes and monuments? Put your photography skills to the test this winter in more challenging terrain — like the plains of the Serengeti. Africa Photo Adventures takes you deep into Tanzania to learn more about outdoor and wildlife photography, and you’ll have no shortage of subjects from rugged scenery to captivating creatures.

The trip isn’t your typical tourist safari. Experts are on hand to help you perfect your technique, and each day is planned with image-making opportunities in mind — like taking advantage of the right light and how to present images of another culture. Of course, a lot of the learning will come from fellow travellers too, and time for sharing and discussion is part of the program.

This unique, 13-day opportunity won’t come cheap with a price tag of $9850 USD per person, double occupancy. For more information, visit the African Photo Adventures website.

Of course, many other companies offer photo safaris too. Watch for expert leadership and plenty of time to critique and share photographs.

Sail New Zealand’s history

Follow in the footsteps of great explorers like Captain Cook — on the water, of course! R. Tucker Thompson’s History Voyages take you from the Bay of Islands by way of the Cavalli Islands to Whangaroa and back aboard a tall ship. In partnership with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, your tour will have its own on-board historian to highlight the historic spots and share the intriguing stories behind the development of this nation.

Naturally, you’ll be sleeping on board — in traditional bunk-style accommodations, no less — and enjoying meals and snacks with your shipmates. The five-day trip costs $1,750.00 NZ — but you’ll have to get to New Zealand first. If you prefer a shorter jaunt, try a day sail instead. For more information, visit Tourism New Zealand and the R. Tucker Thompson website.

Any of these trips sound appealing? They’re just a small selection of the many experiences you can find around the world or a little closer to home. Whether you travel near or far, think about what you would like to do on your next trip — not just want you want to see.

Photos ©iStockphoto.com/ Pasticcio

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