Make It Better 2016 Gift Guide: Unique Experiences

Please note that prices are average retail and are rounded to the nearest dollar. Photos courtesy of each manufacturer. National Geographic Society photo by Cindy Manning. Bonnaroo photo by Andrew Jorgensen. Family Safari photo by Young Explorers.

More than ever, we crave unique experiences. There is no better present to yourself or your loved ones than the gift of your time experiencing or creating something unique and wonderful together. These recommendations range from the inexpensive to the “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” but really, all are priceless indeed.

2016 Gift Guide: Unique Experiences

1. Stay With French Royalty: Chateau de la Barre in the Loire Valley has been the ancestral family home of Count and Countess de Vanssay for more than 610 years. With a 100-acre private park and rooms uniquely decorated with antiques and family portraits, it’s now a luxury boutique hotel unlike any other. The Vanssays personally welcome you and help you discover other Loire Valley charms too. Learn more: Royal Travel & Tours, 815-217-0608; Chateau de la Barre

2. Paint Together, Frame It Beautifully: Book time at Pinot’s Palette, visit the art studio at the Chicago Children’s Museum, or pull out paper and paints at home. Don’t sweat the details either. Once dry, give it just as important a frame as your living room art. It will become your favorite piece. Pinot’s Palette; Chicago Children’s Museum

3. South Pacific-Style Luxury With a Side of Mickey: Treat your family to a VIP Walt Disney World vacation. You’ll feel like you’re in Bora Bora but only a quick boat or monorail trip to the Magic Kingdom when you stay in one of the brand new over-the-water bungalows that sit over the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Visit the parks with your own personal Disney VIP Tour Guide. Enjoy exclusive experiences, ride your favorite rides and watch parades and fireworks from special reserved viewing areas. Walt Disney World

4. Explore Galapagos With National Geographic Society: The Galapagos Islands need to be at the top of your family travel to exotic locations list. Nowhere else in the world can you walk and swim alongside an astonishing array of animals unfazed by your presence. No other organization has the breadth and depth of expertise that the National Geographic Society has to make a 10-day trip like their Family Odyssey a most amazing experience. Learn more: Lake Shore Travel, 847-835-5090; National Geographic Expeditions

5. Music as Adventure: Enjoy live music together. If the kids in your life are under 15, treat them and yourself to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Family Matinee Series. If they’re 15 or older, take them for a few days to our country’s best music festival — Bonnaroo, outside Nashville. Yes, really. You will have just as much fun as your teen and make memories like no others. Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Bonnaroo

6. Private Tour of the Sistine Chapel and Other Vatican Treasures: Everyone should visit the Vatican at least once. Unfortunately though, a visit normally requires enduring long lines and constant crowds — unless you hire a private guide. And that is exactly what you should do in order to best experience the magnificence and history of the Sistine Chapel, where papal enclaves, surrounded by some of the greatest Renaissance artwork in the world, have met for centuries to select the next pope. It is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is historic. Learn more: Lake Shore Travel, 847-835-5090; Sistine Chapel Tours; IC Bellagio

7. Family Safari in Botswana: Visit some of the finest reserves in the world in malaria-free zones, enjoy safari experiences specially designed for families with children, and get up close and personal with elephants and a cheetah ambassador named Sylvester. Learn more: Royal Travel & Tours, 815-217-0608

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