Resorts Take a Lesson From Schools

The subject today is fish. Tropical fish.

The kids enrolled at Cheeca Lodge's Camp Cheeca are busy learning all about parrotfish, angelfish and barracudas so that when they are snorkeling this afternoon off the Florida Keys, they'll know what they're seeing.

They're playing a name-that-fish game, doing a craft involving fish and watching a video about fish.

"When you look at the fish, you'll be able to recognize them by their color and their fins and how they move," camp director Karen Van DeVoorde tells the children, who must be at least 6 to enroll in the class. She even slips in an introductory lesson on symbiotic relationships. "All of you live in a family and depend on each other and help each other. Every fish has its own little chore, too," she says.

When they're done with the fish talk, they take a walk along the beach, picking up trash. "So the fish won't eat it and get sick," my daughter Melanie explains. The morning ends with a snorkeling lesson in the pool.

"We're not baby-sitters," Van DeVoorde says.

Resorts and cruise lines gearing up for the big summer family vacation push are finding that it's no longer enough to offer some children's fun-in-the-sun activities so that parents can get a break from their kids.

Of course, parents with preschoolers and toddlers may find that baby-sitting is their only option because few places offer programs for them. But if parents are going to use a resort's children's program for their grade-school children--and many don't, both parents and resort officials say--they're looking for more action and more substantive and educational activities for the $25 to $50 a day per kid they typically shell out for the programs.

The good news is the travel industry seems to be listening--at least when it comes to school-age kids and teens.

The Travel Industry Assn., a Washington-based nonprofit industry trade and lobbying organization, forecasts that a record 75 million adults will be traveling with a child this summer, and there have never been so many options for junior vacationers--learning to scuba dive in the Caribbean or rock climb at Yosemite, paint watercolors under an artist's direction beside a bucolic lake, hone their wilderness survival skills in Maine or Colorado, or learn some Gold Rush history firsthand in Alaska on a kids-only excursion from a mega-cruise ship.

The Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, for one, has set out to redefine kids' programming, teaming with the Discovery Channel to develop Discovery Channel Camp.

"This is a first for us," says the Discovery Channel's Robin Sayetta, explaining that viewers were asking for hands-on programs for their children. At Atlantis, kids will navigate glass-bottomed kayaks to better see the fish, study the specimens they've collected under the microscope and make their own movies and Web pages.

L.L. Bean, meanwhile, has created a summer-long series of programs to teach kids everything from wilderness survival and kayaking to canoeing and mountain biking and how to maintain their bikes.

Ski resorts from Vermont and Colorado to Utah and California are jumping on the kids' adventure bandwagon too. The American Skiing Co.'s New England resorts, for example, encourage teens to test their mettle in orienteering-skills courses. Beaver Creek in Colorado takes rock climbing and rafting to kids as young as 5.

Even the venerable Chautauqua Institution, which has been offering summer educational programs for families for 125 years in the southwest corner of New York state, has added more kids classes.

"Adults and children are looking for more diverse programming," says Jack Voelker, who directs Chautauqua's youth programs. He says he has seen a dramatic change in the last decade. "Of course," he warns, "parents should know that what they're looking for and what the kids are looking for might not be the same thing."

Cheeca Lodge, telephone (800) 327-2888, Internet

Atlantis, tel. (800) ATLANTIS, Internet

L.L. Bean, tel. (800) 221-4221, Internet

American Skiing Co., tel. (877) OUTSIDE, Internet

Beaver Creek Summer Camps, tel. (970) 845-5464, Internet

Chautauqua Institution, tel. (800) 836-ARTS, Internet

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