20 Trips To Spark Your Kid's Imagination

Whether your kid loves castles or pirate ships, fossils or fairies, we have 20 great places to visit.

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Fantasy Fans: Dress Like A Fairy

To encourage my daughter Katie's penchant for playing make-believe, a lot of our family trips have been to, well, dramatic destinations. For instance, every June we pack her wings and drive two hours for a fairy fix at the Enchanted Summer Day festival at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, near Wilmington, Delaware. She loves the facepainting, maypole dancing, and crafts. No matter what your kid is into -- comics, cars, castles, you name it -- travel experts say there are a growing number of trips to fuel her fantasies. Ready to pack your bags? For every popular passion, we have just the place to go.

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Fantasy Fans: Make Pixie Dust

Building fairy houses is a Maine tradition. At Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, kids can create them with acorns, sticks, pinecones, and other natural materials they collect themselves. Come August 5 to 7 for the Maine Fairy House Festival with a parade, puppet shows, bubbles, dancing, crafts, and a display of designer fairy houses. ($12 for adults, $6 for kids 3 and up)

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Fantasy Fans: Tour A Castle

You don't have to take the kids to Europe to see a house that looks like it came out of a fairy tale. During a tour of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, kids get an I Spy map that takes them on a scavenger hunt. The grounds are the big draw at the chalet-like Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, New Hampshire: Kids can ride a pony and see a waterfall. ($50 to $60 for adults, free for kids at Biltmore House; $15 for adults, free for kids 9 and under at the Castle in the Clouds)

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Fantasy Fans: Set Sail

Take the family on a ride in an authentic-looking pirate boat to find sunken treasure. Kids dress up and get their face painted before boarding. At sea, they're handed a treasure map and find a message in a bottle that has clues about where the loot might be. ($21 or less per person, depending on location; six locations on the East Coast)

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Fantasy Fans: Meet The Princesses

They're getting new digs at both Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, in Orlando. Belle's new castle (with a restaurant inside) is expected to open in 2012 in Disney World while Ariel's new Undersea Adventure attraction in Disneyland debuts in 2011.

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Fantasy Fans: Spin Through Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the latest addition to Universal Orlando Resort. Our favorite parts: Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey, a walk through the magnificent recreation of Hogwarts castle, and the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster. ($82 for adults, $74 for kids)

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Dinosaur Addicts: Get Close to a Giant T-Rex

If there's one dinosaur your kid absolutely has to see, it's Sue, the largest, most complete, and best-preserved T-Rex skeleton in the world. The 42-foot-long, 67-million-year-old dino (named after the paleontologist who found her) is on display at The Field Museum in Chicago. Kids can add to their dinosaur trivia by playing with the interactive displays. We give a big roar to Sue's 3-D movie too. ($29 for adults, $20 for children's admission to all exhibits plus the movie)

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Dinosaur Addicts: Enter Jurassic Park

With locations near Orlando, Dallas, and Louisville, Kentucky, Dinosaur World has a walking trail with more than 150 life-size casts of dinosaurs plus several sculptures to play on. When your kid asks which kind of dinosaur it is, just look at the signs that explain the species and gives you fascinating tidbits about it. Take a break in the dinosaur-themed playground and shaded picnic area. ($13 for adults, $10 for kids)

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Dinosaur Addicts: Find Real Fossils

Reserve your pint-size paleontologist a spot in the Dig for a Day program at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, about three hours from Wyoming's entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Eight- to 12-year-olds can go on a daylong guided Kids' Dig in a nearby canyon to look for dinosaur fossils. Searchers might find something really good: Bones from apatosaurs, barosaurs, and six other species have been uncovered. Children of any age can take part in family digs. The center exhibits 30 full-size dinosaur mounts and has the only skeleton of an albertoceratops (a horn-faced, plant-eating dino) on display in the world. ($75 for the Kids' Dig program, $150 for adults and $80 for kids in the family program, $19 for adults and $12 for kids to visit the museum and just tour the dig site)

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Dinosaur Addicts: Spy On Paleontologists

The Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia, has a lab where kids can watch scientists prepping dinosaur fossils. Come on the third weekend in February for Paleopalooza, a weekend filled with crafts, fossil hunts, dino tours, and games. ($12 for adults, $10 for kids 3 and up)

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Dinosaur Addicts: See Real Dinosaur Tracks

Five hundred of them are enclosed in the exhibit center at Dinosaur State Park, in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, about 20 minutes from Hartford. The 200-million-year-old tracks were discovered in 1966 when the area was excavated. Now it's part of a preserved state park. ($6 for adults, $4 for kids 6 and up)

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Superhero Wannabes: Leap Tall Buildings

The American Comic Book Heroes exhibit at the National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, teaches heroes-in-training ages 2 and up how to maneuver through the sky, lift heavy objects, and balance on a steel beam high above a fake cityscape. Your graduate can e-mail pictures of his adventures from the exhibit's computer kiosks. ($12 for adults, $10 for kids)

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Superhero Wannabes: Check Out a Comic Convention

Your caped crusader can take a drawing workshop, meet superheroes, and hear comic creators read their stories on March 20, Kids' Day at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. Costumes encouraged! ($25 advance tickets for adults, free for kids under 12)

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Superhero Wannabes: Fly to Metropolis

Yes, Superman's stomping ground exists -- and it's in Metropolis, Illinois, near the Kentucky border. Families can tour the memorabilia-packed Super Museum and snap a pic by the town's giant statue of the comic icon. Visit on June 9 to 12 for the annual Superman Celebration, with a kids' costume contest and autographs from comic-book artists. ($5 museum admission for visitors 6 and up)

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Animal Lovers: Journey Into the Wild

With 4,500 animals (including three super-adorable pandas), the San Diego Zoo itself is amazing. It's only outdone by its sister park, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, about 45 minutes north in San Pasqual Valley, California. There, your family can hop an unforgettable 30-minute Tram Safari that gives kids an up-close look at rhinos, zebras, and other African animals (baby giraffes too!) in vast fields. The park also has fabulous elephant and lion exhibits, plus a shaded rest stop where kids can play and color. ($37 for adults, $27 for kids 3 and up)

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Animal Lovers: Pet the Fishes

Almost every aquarium has a "touch pool," where kids can put their hands right in. Here's what the coolest ones keep swimming around: stingrays, sharks, grass shrimp, and moon jellies (shown: Adventure Aquarium, in Camden, New Jersey); starfish, sea cucumbers, and bat rays (Monterey Bay Aquarium, in California); bonnethead sharks, horseshoe crabs, and sea sponges (Georgia Aquarium, in Atlanta)

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Animal Lovers: Take Flight

If your kid chases after that one butterfly in the backyard, imagine how excited she'd be in a room with 2,000 of the creatures fluttering around the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri. It usually has 80 species in flight, but for March only, big, bright blue morph butterflies stand out because an extra 3,000 of them are brought in from Costa Rica. Also don't miss climbing on the caterpillar sculpture or learning how to create a butterfly-friendly garden at home. ($6 for adults, $4 for kids 3 and up)

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Animal Lovers: Visit A National Park

Your animal lover can take part in the Junior Ranger program held at many national parks. Typically for kids 5 to 12, the program involves completing activities in the park, interaction with a ranger, and receiving a badge or patch.

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Car & Train Buffs: Race to Indy

Indianapolis, Indiana, is paradise for car lovers of all ages. If you want to be there for Indy 500, go a few days early so kids can get driver autographs, check out the pit lane, and even lap the track in the family car on American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day, on May 25. Year-round must-sees include the speedway's Hall of Fame museum and The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, where kids can hop inside a real race car. (Hall of Fame admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids 6 and up; admission for Community Day is $7 for visitors 6 and up, free for younger kids)

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Car & Train Buffs: Put A Kid Behind The Wheel

Even preschoolers can take a spin by themselves in an electric car that appears to be built from Lego pieces at Legoland in Carlsbad, California. The park's Volvo Driving School, in the Fun Town section, has two tracks decked out with stop signs and traffic lights -- one for kids 3 to 5, the other for older kids. Every rider receives a paper driver's license. (Park admission is $57 for kids 3 and up, $67 for adults)

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Car & Train Buffs: Catch Thomas the Tank Engine

See if HIT Entertainment's Day Out With Thomas tour is stopping by your local railroad. Board a train that looks exactly like Thomas for a 20-minute trip, plus make train-themed crafts. (Tickets start at $14)

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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