PhotoAmericans are beginning to change the way they think about vacations and it's not all due to the economy. True, “staycations” became trendy at the start of the Great Recession but more and more families are opting for edu-vacations.

While a week at the beach is nice and amusement parks are still popular, the concept of a vacation as “an experience” rather than entertainment or stimulation is coming into vogue. Delaware North Companies, in Buffalo, NY, specializes in packaging trips to special destinations in national and state parks and its eco-friendly destinations adjacent to places such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

"We operate in some of the most magical places on Earth," said Wendy Watkins, vice president of corporate communications for Delaware North Companies. "As a mom of two tweens, I want more from my family vacations than theme park lines and crowds. I want an experience the family will remember, an experience that will teach them something and stay with them for their entire lives.”

Real rockets, not imaginary one

So instead of going to Disney World, families can take a trip to Kennedy Space Center and see, not just make-believe rocket ships, but real ones.

“Or, I can take them to Yosemite National Park and they can learn about rock formations and conservation and then hike through a field of wildflowers in one of the most beautiful places on Earth," Watkins said.

What are some other examples of edu-tourism destinations? Watkins says you'll have the best luck if you try to match them up with your family's interests.

For example, budding natural scientists might be inspired by a vacation to Yellowstone National Park, MT. Delaware North sells “young scientist” toolkits that include a thermometer, stopwatch and other gear to better understand Old Faithful Geyser.

Not just for newlyweds

Niagara Falls isn't just for newlyweds. Niagara Falls State Park allows visitors get up close to one of the wonders of the world located in western New York. And there's more to do than just look at the falls. The "Cave of the Winds" takes visitors 175 feet down into the gorge and lets them walk a wooden walkway along the edge of the falls. There's also a Discovery Center that provides interactive, hands-on displays of the natural wonder.

Edu-tourism destinations can also appeal to the arts. In Yosemite National Park, CA, families can sign up for a four-hour Ansel Adams photography class. Or take the Glacier Point Stargazing Tour that begins with lessons on the park's diverse natural and cultural history and ends with a one-hour astronomy program under the stars.

Families can learn the art of fly fishing at the Sierra Fly Fisher program at Sequoia National Park in California. Expert fly fishing guides offer half-day and full-day excursions, including an introduction to the sport for beginners. The fee includes all gear.

A number of state tourism departments have begun to promote edu-tourism destinations within their boundaries and are also good sources of information. You probably don't want to use that term, however, when you pitch the idea to the kids. Yes, they'll learn something but it is, after all, supposed to be a vacation.

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