What three words do most kids dread hearing?
Back. To. School.
Combined, they’re virtually synonymous with the end of summer, shorter days, and colder weather. Worst of all, they mean the return of homework. But for moms and dads, it’s when we start getting back to the normal family routines – and when we start thinking about next summer.
If you’re one of the millions of parents who enrolled their kids in summer camp this year, the biggest decision you probably faced was whether to send them to a day camp close to home or an overnight camp farther afield. In the past, my wife and I always opted for the former even though our children are old enough to leave the nest, but this year we discovered an interesting option that combined the two: joining the kids at a sleep-away camp.
Last month, the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas hosted a one-week Cartoon Network Fantasy Camp for aspiring animators ages 6-14. Convincing a son who’s spent more hours watching cartoons than I’d care to admit to attend was hardly a hard sell.
Besides, we weren’t asking him to sleep in a bunk bed with strangers or eat “camp food” for days on end (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). We were offering him a chance to learn the fundamentals of animation from award-winning experts at an amazing resort. (His parents were pretty excited, too.)
The Fantasy Camp ran from Monday through Thursday, which meant we’d have to factor in some extra time on either end of the schedule if we wanted to experience all things Atlantis. After all, you can’t leave Paradise Island without exploring The Dig and Ruins Lagoon. With more than 20,000 marine animals, including a couple of massive manta rays, 500 piranhas, and about a dozen moray eels, this was without question one of the most impressive marine exhibits I’d ever seen.
Then there’s the Aquaventure water park. Needless to say, the slide (one of seven) that sends you zipping through a clear acrylic tunnel in a shark-filled lagoon quickly became a mandatory first stop on the way back to our room at The Reef Atlantis every day after camp.
And we certainly couldn’t leave without visiting Dolphin Cay, an artificial habitat home to 16 bottlenose dolphins that were orphaned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Where else can you be “foot pushed” on a boogie board by dolphins or snorkel alongside these playful animals with a handheld water scooter?
I should also point out that their kids club — Atlantis Kids Adventures — has so much cool stuff to do, I almost signed up for it myself. This facility — with its theater, arts and crafts center, LEGO room, and outdoor play area — is pretty amazing and run by real professionals. Good luck getting your child out of there!
Oh, and then there was the camp. For three solid days (Monday was all about meeting the staff and getting to know the other campers), my son and fifteen other kids from around the U.S. were immersed in hand-drawing techniques, flip book basics, creating characters and storyboards, voice acting and editing, and everything else they needed to know to create their own cartoon.
Best of all, their instructors were among the best in the business, including “Adventure Time” voice star, Jeremy Shada; Mindy Sterling, best known for her portrayal of Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers trilogy; and industry luminary, Byron Vaughns.
During our stay, they even hosted a “Dive-In Theater,” where kids (and adults) could go for a night swim while watching a series of Cartoon Network episodes. I’ve heard of other hotels getting in on this new trend as well. The Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa in Puerto Rico, Westin St. John Resort & Villas, The Westin Resort & Casino in Aruba, and Four Points by Sheraton at LAX are just three of the latest properties putting a twist on the traditional poolside experience.
So if you’re already thinking about where to send your kids to summer camp next year, you might want to consider a new type of camping experience. (Atlantis’ 2013 Summer Camp line up should be out by January.)
Follow Rainer’s story on Twitter at @JenssTravel.