Summer Camps For Kids Offer Five-Star Experiencies

Nature hikes, softball, musical theater, and the occasional chaperoned overnight excursion—these used to be the components you could pretty much expect from a summer camp program anywhere in the U.S. But how things have changed. These days, certain summer camps and summer schools are offering enrichment and entertainment value on par with an adult-geared luxury vacation.

Day Camps


For potential master chefs-to-be, intensive culinary camps get children as young as five started in the kitchen, beginning with kitchen safety and moving swiftly along to stirring, peeling, boiling and broiling. Grocery store chain Publix offers three-day culinary camps and four-day baking camps in five Florida locations as well as Alpharetta, GA. Washington, DC-based Headfirst Camps has a “Kids in the Kitchen” weekly camp with a “Gourmet Chef Challenge” component as part of its Discovery program. (Photo courtesy of Kids in the Kitchen)

The Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte offers the longest and most in-depth program of all, tellingly named Camp Cocoa. This is a five-day immersive course in all things dessert: pies, cupcakes, doughnuts and waffle cones, with only one afternoon given over to pizza and garlic knots. Four Camp Cocoa sessions run throughout July and August. The age limit is 15-18 (not restricted to hotel guests), and attendees will put in nearly full days: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte)

Athletic Performance

Sports have always been a pillar of summer camp programming, but in body-conscious Southern California, interval training fitness program Burn 60® is taking the fitness boot camp concept to tweens. The two-week Sports Performance Summer Camp incorporates strength training, speed/agility/fitness drills, balance exercises and more. Though Burn 60’s usual class duration is one hour, the summer camp sessions are 90 minutes, open to ages 11-15, and offered in July and August. (Photo courtesy of Burn60)


Some people may say that children—whose schedules, especially in summer, tend to be less rigorous than adults—can’t really appreciate the five straight afternoons of facials, yoga, nail care and primping that comprises the Spa-ahh Retreat camp at PoshTot. Those people are probably just jealous. It’s true that adults can almost never give themselves five straight days of pampering time, but spa summer camps don’t exactly encourage kids to sit back and be pampered, as in a real spa. Instead they incorporate educational and DIY activities: i.e. learning to make all-natural face masks and bath products. Or, at Spa Blvd down in Miami, how to do one’s own makeup for a photo shoot, and how to apply temporary tattoos. (Photo courtesy of PoshTot)

Summer Schools

Typically, summer school is a dreaded punishment for teenagers who didn’t get their grades up to snuff during the school year. There’s a growing trend, however, of summer schools that are basically “jump start” programs for particularly ambitious teens—or for teens whose parents want them on the fast-track to success. 

One such program, Dwight Global Leaders Academy, last year saw students from across the U.S., as well as 25 additional countries. It is a leadership program that encourages students to find their “spark of genius” with help from notable mentors and instructors. Another program, Future Millionaires and Beyond, was the subject of a recent feature for its focus on real-world professional skills such as consultative selling and product development. (Photo courtesy of Dwight Global Leaders Academy)

Sleepover Camps

Introduction to a Dream Job

Though they’re more in the realm of fantasy and fun than actual career prep, Pali Overnight Adventures fabulous themed camps give kids a taste at some of the crazier “things to be when you grow up.” Of the 16 “academies,” standouts include Hollywood Stunts, Secret Agent and Movie Makeup. The Secret Agent program incorporates a ropes challenge course, rock wall climbing, martial arts and paintball.

Professional stuntmen lead the Hollywood Stunts activities, which include fight scene choreography, swordplay and falling/landing techniques. In Movie Makeup, attendees start out learning to make face charts and apply false lashes, and progress to applying prosthesis and creating head wounds—sometimes on a partner, and other times on human guinea pigs from the Acting camp.

Parent-Kid Bonding

In a society where many children divide their time between two homes, or where even two-parent families spend long hours away from home to make ends meet, summertime isn’t a chance to get away from parents, but rather to spend more time with one or both of them. The week-long family programs at Camp Wawona at Yosemite National Park draw guests of all ages and nationalities—but they do sell out, and only two sessions are offered in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Camp Wawona)

Guest ranches have become a favorite family bonding getaway, because they tend to offer more booking flexibility, and sometimes more comfortable accommodations than a park cabin. In Bandera, Texas, the family-run Mayan Dude Ranch gets return visitors every summer, thanks to its wholesome and friendly ambience, gorgeous setting and soft-adventure offerings. On the other side of town, charming little Sugar & Spice Ranch is specifically geared toward mothers and daughters—and appropriately, run by a mother with summertime help from her teenagers. (Photo courtesy of Sugar & Spice Ranch)

Hotel Camps

Most luxury resort hotels have some sort of children’s programming, and it ranges from glorified daycare to specialized and experiential. One standout program, AcquaMarine at Acqualina Resort & Spa in Miami Beach, focuses on marine biology and takes excellent advantage of the hotel’s unobstructed beachfront location. (Photo courtesy of Acqualina Resort & Spa)

Another, the Young Picasso Workshop at the new Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, offers children under 12 the same sort of hands-on art instruction that adults have traveled to San Miguel for decades to experience. Instructors from the local Children’s Art Foundation divide class time between art history and actual painting. Four five-day sessions are scheduled for July 2012, and attendees can enroll by the week or pay drop-in rate for a single day. (Photo courtesy of Rosewood San Miguel de Allende)

Lena Katz

Lena Katz is the author of the Travel Temptations series (SIP, SUN, SNOW), published by Globe Pequot Press in 2009. Lena is also a travel expert for Celebrations/1800FLOWERS and WEtv (online and on-air). She contributes to the South China Morning Post and ABC News online. Lena is a former Orbitz Travel blogger and former columnist for the LA Times. She's been published in Brides Magazine, Robb Rep...(Read More)

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