The grown-up version of a bucket list includes items like seeing pyramids and climbing mountains, all of which require serious planning (and spare frequent-flyer miles). We asked kids what they really (really, really!) want to do on their vacation. Leave it to kids to raise the bar even further. Trips to outer space? A job with the CIA? Those are pretty tall orders, so we found the next best thing.
The Dream: “I WANT TO BE A SECRET AGENT” Taemon Omololu, 10, San Francisco
The Reality: International Spy Museum, Washington, DC; spymuseum.org
While he might long for a Men in Black memory eraser come report-card time, the mini-man of mystery will be happy now becoming a member of an elite undercover espionage team. Deep within this museum, our nation’s youth undergo daily top-secret activities and competitions testing street smarts, the power of observation (why is he holding an umbrella…on a sunny day?), and other spy skills too hush-hush to mention—or we’d have to thrill you. He’ll learn how to make—and break—codes from retired spies, interact with high-tech gadgets, and devise a cover so ingenious you might go home with the wrong kid.
Don’t miss: Operation Spy, where you hit the streets to run training missions and practice evasion techniques—no grown-ups allowed (other than the trained team leaders, of course).
Where to Stay: It’s tricky to find a kid-friendly home base in the heart of DC, but luckily Hampton Inn’s DC Convention Center outpost (hamptoninn.hilton.com) is just blocks away. Find an indoor pool, video games on demand, and complimentary breakfast.
The Dream: “I WANT TO GO TO THE MOON” Milo Parris, 9, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
The Reality: Space Camp, Huntsville, AL; spacecamp.com
Space junkies will get an out-of-this-world experience in a seemingly unlikely place: Huntsville, AL, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp. The six-day stays are all-inclusive, with kids sleeping and eating on-site. Good thing, as they won’t want to leave. An unforgettable liftoff at 4 G’s (or four times your weight for a few seconds) allows your astro-nut to experience weightlessness on a Space Shot simulator. She can also take command at Mission Control or build and launch her own rocket. Specialty programs for Mars training, jet-fighter flight dynamics, wilderness survival, and designing the ultimate robot mean there’s a fantasy fulfilled at every turn.
Don’t miss: Finding out what it’s like to walk on the moon in the 1/6 Gravity Simulator. You’ll get a kick out of finding out your weight on the moon—much less than on earth. (Sign us up!)
The Dream: “I WANT TO BE INDIANA JONES” Patrick Fitzgerald, 9, Woodstock, NY
The Reality: Smuggler’s Notch Resort, VT; smuggs.com
Smuggs, as fans of this classic family ski resort call it, has just as much to thrill adventurers in the summer. The Via Ferrata experience through the Green Mountains is extreme fun at its best. Your daredevil will zip-line through the woods, climb waterfalls, and cross a gorge on a burma suspension bridge (kind of like a skinny horizontal spiderweb). Parents are grounded when kids 7 and up set off on an overnight hike (sleeping bags and plenty of supervision provided) up the mountain for outdoor games and s’mores around the campfire.
Don’t miss: Geocaching with a GPS, a video game meets treasure hunt that’ll be as addictive for you as for them.
The Dream: “I WANT TO CROSS AN OCEAN” Marley, 5, Miami
The Reality: Disney Magic Transatlantic Cruise; disneycruise.disney.go.com
Traversing the briny deep can be supremely fun, even for junior Jack Sparrows. Disney brings its gold-standard service—and a boatload of characters you’d typically have to stand in line to meet—to delight your crew during this 14-day excursion. The kids’ club becomes a true hot spot as kids try their hand at docking the ship and maneuvering a sub through coral reefs on a training simulator, or lead a round-the-ship scavenger hunt. Your kid can build vegetable (yes, potato and carrot and bell pepper) cars to race. Did we mention the servers at the Disney-fied dinner cut your kids’ food for you? If it all sounds grand—but two weeks is a bit much—get the same magic (plus a four-story waterslide) on a three- to five-night junket aboard the brand-new Disney Dream.
Don’t miss: Making chocolate-chip cookies in the Ratatouille cooking class. The chef incorporates ways to burn kids’ energy into his schtick, like making them hop on one foot while pouring in the flour.
The Dream: “I WANT TO GET SLIMED” Jai Bhide, 11, Vienna, VA
The Reality: Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Orlando, FL; nickhotel.com
Katy Perry’s done it. Pink? Yep. Even the Jonas and Olsen siblings. Now your kid can become one of the green and famous at this tween nirvana. The ooze (and aahs) start as soon as they see their Kid Suite walls covered with SpongeBob and the Fairly Oddparents. The odds of being honored at the Kids’ Choice Awards are slim, but your kid can still fulfill her dream of feeling that lime-green goo sliding down her neck at the nightly game shows here. Equally messy (and hilarious) pie-in-the-face games are also played. Dance parties, a four-story water park, and a 12-and-younger spa are a few of the drip-free diversions. Are you up for it? No?! At least try the 4-D virtual sliming.
Don’t miss: The madness of standing under the ginormous bucket at the lagoon pool with a hundred others, all screaming “We want slime!” You’ll surely get it.