6 Unique Ideas for Learning Vacations
Learn to cook in Texas or ballroom dance at sea, and find more educational fun in cool destinations
Take a learning vacation and return home with more than just photos and memories. The options for hands-on training are as varied as the range of personal interests. Here are six engaging programs in locations around the U.S. — from painting to songwriting to ballroom dancing — that are guaranteed to give you precious new skills you can put to use long after the vacation is over.
Painting in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley
Ready to try your hand at painting, sketching or printmaking? Whether you’re a beginner who wants to learn the basics, an intermediate eager to pick up new techniques or a professional seeking fresh inspiration, the Art Vacations at the Shenandoah Art Destination provide all-inclusive retreats for artists of any ability in any medium. Near the historic town of Lexington, Virginia, in the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, you can take individualized art courses in drawing, painting (all media) and printmaking. They take place in two studios and many inspiring plein air locations on the 10-acre property surrounded by scenic rolling hills. Owners Jan-Willem and Nancy Boer provide one-on-one instruction focusing on a different skill each day. From the weekend program to the 10-day intensive, these art-focused getaways, stimulate each participant’s creative spirit.
Dates: Weekend, four-day, six-day and 10-day programs run from April through October. All classes are full for 2022, but the 2023 schedule and updated rates will be available on the website in mid-November.
Cost: Single-occupancy rate for 2022 for the weekend program is $740; for four days, $1,050; for six days, $1,670, including lodging and all meals. A non-participating spouse/partner is welcome for an additional cost.
Ballroom Dancing at Sea
Strap on your dancing shoes and head out to sea on this eight-day cruise with Ballroom Dance San Diego. Hone your dance skills during group workshops offering an array of styles, including Latin, Argentine tango, hustle, swing and waltz. Take part in six group lessons offered by an award-winning pro, nightly hosted dancing to live music and plenty of opportunities for private lessons. Departing from San Diego, the cruise travels down Mexico’s Pacific Coast, stopping in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, with three days at sea devoted to sharpening your newly acquired dance moves.
Dates: Jan. 28–Feb. 4, 2023.
Cost: Starts at $1,500, per person, double occupancy, including cruise accommodations and all meals
Space Training in Alabama
Can’t afford to journey into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin? Then try the next-best thing: an adult space camp. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, where America’s space program was born, offers two recreational programs. The three-day Adult Space Academy engages participants in hands-on, interactive space missions and shows them what it takes to be an astronaut. You’ll train like an astronaut on the multi-axis trainer, construct and launch your own model rocket, learn team building on the low-elements ropes course, test your engineering skills by designing a protective heat shield and participate in a simulated space mission.
Dates: Oct. 21–23 and Dec. 2–4, 2022
Cost: $649 per person, including lodging and all meals
The six-day Adult Advanced Space Academy is an interactive experience that features all the activities of the three-day program, plus you’ll perform an extended-duration simulated mission, fly jet aircraft simulators and experience neutral buoyancy while scuba diving in the underwater astronaut trainer.
Dates: Oct. 30.–Nov. 4, 2022
Cost: $1,699 per person, including lodging and all meals.
Cooking in Texas Hill Country
Have you ever yearned to make osso buco alla Milanese, coq au vin, Cajun barbecued shrimp, Spanish paella or Texas brisket but felt intimidated? Then consider a three-day cooking class with Book Culinary Vacations in Wimberley in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Led by an executive chef, these weekend programs with a maximum of eight participants run throughout the year with a focus on a different cuisine for each one, including French, Italian, American, Spanish, German, Mediterranean, barbecue, vegetarian and heart healthy. And because this is Texas, some focus exclusively on local holiday specialties, such as mesquite-smoked turkey, classic pecan pie, sweet potato brûlée, and pecan and sage cornbread dressing. Learn the secrets of such mouthwatering dishes, and become the envy of your friends and family when you whip them up back home.
Dates: Classes are offered from January through December
Cost: $703 for one, $1,028 for two, including lodging, two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners
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Songwriting in Nashville
Follow your musical passion during a seven-day Songwriting in Nashville program with Learning Journeys in the iconic music capital. The program takes aspiring musicians deep into the Nashville music scene via a private songwriting session with the famed James Dean Hicks, who has penned songs for the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Reba McIntire, Kenny Rogers, Conway Twitty and Vince Gill. It culminates in a personally recorded EP and an onstage performance that gives you the chance to perform your hit or hear it played at one of Nashville’s music venues. You’ll also explore Music City, including its Grand Old Opry and historic studios, with a local songwriter so you can see the city through the eyes of a working musician.
Dates: Sept. 18–24, 2022, and June 26–July 2, 2023
Cost: Starts at $3,850 per person, double occupancy, including lodging, daily breakfast and one dinner
Learn Astronomy or Meteorology in Pennsylvania
The sky’s the limit on this six-day learning adventure with Road Scholar. On A Week With the Scientists at Penn State University, choose to study astronomy or meteorology alongside some of the nation’s leading scientists at Penn State. On the meteorology program, you’ll uncover the science behind weather forecasting, including how to read radar and observational networks and how to understand numerical weather prediction, with demonstrations from expert meteorologists. Behind-the-scenes excursions and expert-led discussions provide opportunities to explore weather patterns or asteroid impacts using the university’s most cutting-edge technology. On the astronomy program, discover how the universe was created, how to search for planets and learn about Mars in 3-D and dark energy from experienced astronomers.
Dates: May and June 2023
Cost: $1,399, per person, double occupancy, including lodging and 13 meals
Award-winning travel writer Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA Today. She has written for dozens of travel publications and websites.