Experience Gifts for the Holidays: Shop Local and Beyond

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One of the most popular gift trends for birthdays and the holidays appears to be experience gifts.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “experience gifts” refers to giving family and friends the gift of an experience. This includes but is not limited to attraction or museum admission fees or memberships, travel expenses, class tuition, or an afternoon with Grandma, window shopping and having hot cocoa. Given the increasing popularity of minimizing how much stuff one has in their home, many people feel confident that their experience gifts will be well received. The idea is that any memories made through these experiences far outweigh anything that might sit and collect dust on shelves after the novelty has worn off. Plus, less stuff is better for the environment. 

Lately, I’ve noticed parents in local Facebook groups asking for suggestions about what experience gifts they might give their children, or offer to family members as gift ideas for their children. I was inspired to compile this list that you may want to consider as you complete your holiday shopping and I hope you find it helpful! I also tried to shop local whenever possible. 

Types of Classes

If you have a young family member who has been taking classes or would like to try to do so, making the commitment to pay for their lessons would be a great gift! The following are just a sampling of activities you might consider gifting to a young family member or friend. All of these classes are available locally. 

  • Dance classes
  • Martial arts classes
  • Swimming lessons
  • Skiing and/or snowboarding lessons
  • Horseback riding 
  • Gymnastics
  • Ninja Warrior classes

Local Playspaces and Open Gyms

The winter in Vermont is very long and parents use the following spaces to not only make memories with their children but also to stay sane! A gift card/punch card/membership to any of these places is not just a gift for a child, it’s a gift for their parent or caregiver, too! Experience gifts that focus around an activity that parents or caregivers can do with a child are especially wonderful in the winter.

Wildflowers Studio, Essex, VT

Nestled in the Barns at Lang Farm in Essex, Wildflowers studio offers a unique play-based learning environment that will amuse your child for hours. They offer gift cards and seasonal memberships. You can also purchase a 12-week session for a child to meet with a trained facilitator to learn and play based on their age.

Monkey Do, Williston, VT

This is a relatively new business in Williston that features a large play structure best suited for children ages 3 to 11, a smaller play structure for toddlers, playhouses, and an inflatable obstacle course. A much-needed addition for an area with long winters, they offer 10-visit punch cards that would make a great gift for any Vermont family with younger children.

Wiggle Room, Williston, VT

Located in Williston, this popular play space is ideal for mobile babies all the way up to age 5. Wiggle Room offers 10 visit play passes as well as monthly passes and gift cards. This is an ideal gift for young children and their stay-at-home parent.

Climbing Gyms

The two climbing gyms in the Burlington area, Petra Cliffs (Burlington) and Metrorock (Essex), both offer gift certificates, punch passes, and memberships for any aspiring climbers on your list.

Get Air, Williston, VT

There are certainly kids on your list who need to expel some energy during the cold winter months here in Vermont, and a gift card to Get Air Trampoline Park may be just what they desire! Be aware, however, some parents wait until their child hits their mid-elementary school ages before they are comfortable bringing them there for safety reasons. Other parents are perfectly fine with their preschooler going. You may want to ask a child’s parents ahead of time how they feel before purchasing it as a gift.

Open Gym Sessions

Multiple gyms in the area offer not only gymnastics classes but also publicize open gym times for the public. For example, Green Mountain Training Center in Williston offers a punch card for their Tiny Tumblers Open Gym (ages 9 months to 5 years). Gymstar Gymnastics in Shelburne also offers punch passes for their open gym classes. In addition, Regal Gymnastics in Essex has a popular open gym time that you could offer to cover the cost of. 

Museums

While there are a couple of good museums in the area, families may also want to venture a bit farther for a good museum experience. Here are some popular suggestions:

Echo Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Burlington, VT

You do not have to have lived in or near Burlington very long to have at least heard of Echo. Not only is it a lake aquarium, but it also has an area that hosts different science exhibits throughout the year. Since my family has been going to Echo, we’ve interacted with exhibits about live butterflies, the 50 states, weather, and dinosaurs. The addition of Champ Lane, a play space for children up to age 6, in recent years has only increased Echo’s popularity for young families. They offer a membership, which I personally find to be incredibly worth it; it not only pays for itself after only a couple of family visits, but it is part of the ASTC Passport Program. This means that showing your Echo membership at any other of the 350+ science centers that participate in the program worldwide, gets you free entry into those other museums. Even better? The Boston Museum of Science and The Boston Children’s Museum are also members of the ASTC Passport Program, making a day trip or weekend in nearby Boston a lot less expensive! For those reasons, a membership to Echo makes a great holiday experience gift.

My son at Echo; boy playing a video game

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

This popular museum sits on 45 acres in Shelburne. It hosts exhibits for the whole family in its 39 buildings in the quintessential Vermont setting and even has its own vintage carousel. Learn more about the museum and memberships you can gift here.

Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, VT

A hands-on science museum for children, the Montshire never disappoints! The Montshire offers gift memberships, as well as gift certificates (at a $10 value or more), which can be used on admission, in their museum store, or for program fees, and passbooks which contain 12 admission passes. Any option would make a great gift for the young scientists in your family!

Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT

Like many other museums, the Fairbanks Museum offers several membership options you could give as a gift for your young natural science and history fans.

Zoos and Animals

I’ve heard nothing but great things about these popular destinations to spend some time learning about animals!

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT

A popular and historical family attraction in the Burlington area, Shelburne Farms is highly focused on sustainability. They offer day visits to their barnyard, camps for students, and a seasonal harvest festival, along with other activities throughout the year. The gift of a membership will be a source of delight for any Vermont family.

My son at Shelburne Farms; Boy observing a small horse grazing in a green field.

The Miniature Farm, Milton, VT

The Miniature Farm is essentially a petting farm with a few added bonuses. They offer camps for kids and even held their first fall festival this year. They sell pumpkins at an affordable price in the fall as well. However, the big story here is that they offer gift certificates for sleigh rides, which make a great holiday gift! See their Facebook page here for more details.

The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY

The Wild Center is an attraction in the Adirondacks that focuses on animals found in that area. There is a museum portion in addition to many outdoor learning experiences. This makes a great (long) day trip or an overnight trip for a family. Offer to buy tickets for your friends or family!

Granby Zoo, Granby, Quebec, Canada

If this destination is on any of your family and friends’ bucket lists like it is on mine, a gift card would make an amazing gift! In addition to animal exhibits, they also have an aquatic park and a winter village, making a visit almost any time of year possible (they are currently closed and will be until December 26, 2019). To read about more of what they offer, look here. Also, for information about crossing the international border into Canada, click here.

Parc Safari, Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada

This zoo offers the unique opportunity to drive your car through part of their park and interact with the animals while you do so. In addition, they have several other animal exhibits, playgrounds, and an aquapark. You can buy gift cards here. (Also see information above about traveling to Canada).

New England Aquarium, Boston, MA

Obviously, this attraction is a bit farther away and makes a better weekend activity. However, if you’ve ever visited the New England Aquarium, I’m sure you’ve found it to be well worth it. I have no doubt that if you purchase a gift certificate for someone else to go visit, it will be well received. (will link to the gift certificate page)

Exploring at the New England Aquarium

Other Experience Gifts

Disney on Ice

Do you have any Disney or ice skating fans in your family? This season, Disney on Ice has performances in Albany, NY, Manchester, NH and Boston, MA, among others. Your kiddos will love the breathtaking performances and familiar music. 

Vermont Lake Monsters Tickets

Any local baseball fan would love some tickets for next season!

Gondola rides 

Stowe and Killington come to mind! Note that you’ll probably have to give your recipient a made-by-you coupon for their ticket for a Stowe ride until you can actually buy it; Stowe won’t start selling ride tickets again until the spring! Killington offers winter gondola rides in addition to summer and fall rides.

Ice Castle Tickets 

The ice castles, located in North Woodstock, NH, are built by professional ice artists. According to their website, they, “Include breathtaking LED-lit sculptures, frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, slides, fountains and much more.”

Theater and/or Concert Tickets

The possibilities here are endless. Give a gift to see a local show at the Flynn or concert at Higher Ground, or stray further and give tickets to a show in Montreal or on Broadway!

UVM sports tickets

Make sure you plan ahead, depending on which sport you want tickets for! It is competitive to reserve men’s hockey tickets, for example, and you may have to try for a few years before you’re able to purchase tickets.

Movie gift cards

Locally, Essex Cinemas (Essex), Majestic 10 (Williston), Palace 9 (South Burlington), and the Roxy (Burlington) are all fine choices! The Sunset Drive in (Colchester) also offers gift cards. If your recipient is in Central Vermont, try the Savoy Theatre or the Capitol Theatre (both in Montpelier) or the Stowe Cinema 3Plex. Don’t forget to put extra money on it for the popcorn.

Ski passes

Bolton Valley, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, Cochran’s Ski Area, Stowe Mountain Resort, Killington Ski Area, and Burke Mountain are good options depending on where your recipient is located.

jay
Photo Courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak Pump House, Jay, VT

This indoor waterpark has a lazy river, slides, and other water play areas. Get your gift card for all things Jay Peak here

Bookstore gift cards

This is a great way to shop local and support local bookstores, such as Phoenix Books (Burlington & Essex), Bear Pond Books (Montpelier), Flying Pig Bookstore (Shelburne), Crow Bookshop (Burlington) and Bridgeside Books (Waterbury).

Ausable Chasm, Keeseville, NY

A tourist attraction in the Adirondacks, Ausable Chasm offers many outdoor experiences, including simple tours, rock climbing, rappelling, and raft tours. They offer gift certificates here.

Conway Scenic Railroad, Conway, NH

About a three-hour drive from Burlington, Conway, NH offers some great activities. A train ride through the White Mountains via the Conway Scenic Railroad is one of many. They offer gift certificates (at the bottom of this webpage) so your recipient can choose where and when they’d like to go on a ride!

Conway Scenic Railroad Train

Storyland & Living Shores Aquarium

Speaking of New Hampshire, the Conway area also has Storyland, a family amusement park. You can purchase tickets for next season to gift to your amusement park lovers here. Recently, they also opened the Living Shores Aquarium on their premises. Admission to the aquarium is separate from the amusement park. You cannot go wrong if you offer to buy tickets online, in advance, for your beloved aquarium fans!

Santa’s Village, Jefferson, NH

Another beloved amusement park, Santa’s Village has themed buildings that offer many activities within, rides, and a water park. They do not offer specific gift cards but you can definitely buy tickets online to gift.

When it comes to experience gifts, the sky’s the limit. It’s pretty easy and convenient to shop local in Vermont. 

What do you think? Did I miss any local museum, zoo, attraction, or experience that you are gifting to a loved one this year? We would love to be able to include your ideas for great experience gifts on this list! 

Experience Gifts for the Holidays: Shop Local and Beyond

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