San Diego Get a bird's-eye view of the lions and giraffes at San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park: A 15-minute ride on a helium balloon that rises 400 feet--but remains tethered to the ground--is just $15. 760/747-8702, sandiegozoo.org/wap.
Tampa Bay Busch Gardens in Florida offers a two-hour off-road safari for $100 per person--where you can get even closer to big game animals like hippos, black rhinos, and elephants. An onboard professional photographer captures the whole thing (photographs cost extra). 813/984-4043, buschgardens.com.
Washington, D.C. For a place to rest (and cool your heels in between dunks), rent one of the new four-person cabanas inside the Hurricane Harbor water park at Six Flags America, outside the nation's capital. $55 weekdays, $75 holidays and weekends; additional people $5 each per day. 301/249-1500, sixflags.com/america.
Snowboarding is totally 20th century
There's more than one way to get down a mountain, and we don't mean rolling--though that's always a risk.
California Like a skateboard without wheels, Snowskates have no bindings, and they're normally relegated to terrain parks where you have more freedom. The park at Big Bear in southern California has half-pipes, rails, and jumps (rentals from $5 an hour).
Colorado Snow Blades are essentially skis that are barely longer than your boot; perfect for tricks. They're permitted on most mountains, but liability issues stop many resorts from actually renting them. One that does is Keystone, in Colorado ($33 per day). Elsewhere, check the ski shops in town.
New Hampshire The Snowscoot is a cross between a freestyle bike and a snowboard that you ride standing up; it's popular with the BMX set. Hold on to the handlebars, stand on the board, and let gravity do the work. A handful of U.S. resorts do rentals, including Loon Mountain ($23 for three hours) and Cranmore ($12 for two hours), both in New Hampshire.
Oregon An inflatable bodyboard with side handles, the Airboard was designed for the backcountry and sledding hills. Hoodoo in Oregon allows full mountain access, including terrain parks ($28 for 30-minute lesson and daily rental). At Schweitzer in Idaho and Sugar Bowl in California, you can rent them at night on a lift-served run.
Vermont A traditional bike frame with skis in place of wheels, the Ski Bike is popular in Europe; a growing number of North American resorts are opening their slopes to riders. Control the speed by making turns or sticking your heels in the snow. Try them at Sugarbush in Vermont ($40 per day), as well as at Keystone in Colorado and Whistler in British Columbia. To find other resorts that have Ski Bikes, check out ski-bike.org.
Nothing captures the waning romance of travel quite like a train, and many lines offer worthwhile trips that allow you to sit back and soak up extraordinary scenery for a few hours. A century ago, trains were the quickest way to get somewhere--and now the best reason to take them is to slow down. These busy days, time is the biggest splurge of all.
Alaska On the Coastal Classic, a four-hour-plus voyage from Anchorage and Seward, you'll definitely see glaciers and mountains, and you'll possibly see bears, moose, sheep, and beluga whales. Alaska Railroad hires high-school kids--who've undergone a special 10-week training--as guides. It's a summer job that sure beats flipping burgers. $98 round trip, kids 2 to 11 $49; 800/544-0552, akrr.com.
California Built in 1885, Northern California's Skunk Train is now running year-round. There are many different ways to ride it, either from Fort Bragg along Highway 1 or from Willits along Highway 101. The 31D2-hour round trip costs $35 (plus $10 if it's a steam train), $20 kids. Also new this year: A Saturday-night Rail, Ale & Wine trip (two hours, $29). For a real splurgy splurge, kids can ride in the engineer's cab ($100). No matter which trip you take, you'll see mountains, tunnels, the Noyo River Canyon, bridges, and those extraordinary redwoods. 866/457-5865, skunktrain.com.
See Europe as never before, sailing a luxurious cruise on the Danube River on board the award winning Scenic Cruises. Travel through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary in comfort, and dine on gourmet meals paired with local wines and enjoy nightly entertainment. Enjoy free time to wander the most impressive Christmas markets of Europe.
What does it feel like to live in the Coolest Small Town in America? Ask the folks in Grand Marais, Minnesota, who earned the top spot in our 10th annual contest. Their town showed us the perfect blend of edgy, sweet, beautiful, and travel-worthy that adds up to “cool” in our book. Read on to stoke your wanderlust.