Whether you have family in the United States that you need to buy gifts for or you want a fun, out-of-the-box gift for loved ones here in Canada, gifting travel experiences is the way to go! The border may be closed (thank you COVID-19), but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about family fun down south once life is a bit more “normal” again. These US attraction and experiences offer gift cards that can be purchased online which will make your Christmas shopping super easy! Use these gifts to help your loved ones plan big, wonderful trips that their whole family can look forward to. Or drop a hint to someone you love that you’d appreciate one of these gift cards wrapped up under the tree.
Before moving to Canada several years ago, I lived in a variety of major cities in the US and travelled extensively throughout the country. These are all places I’ve been to and adventures I’ve gone on. I would hands-down recommend any of these to gift as travel experiences or as vacation must-sees for your own family — they have my stamp of approval!
Give the Gift of Travel Experiences
Disney Parks (Florida & California) – I’m starting our travel experiences gift list off strong with Disney Parks. After working for Walt Disney World and living in the Orlando area for many years, I’m a not-so-secret Disneyphile. And I’m on a mission to make sure my kids love Disney as much as I do! My parents gifted our family Disney Park tickets a few Christmases ago, and in February 2019, we took our twin 8-month-old girls to Magic Kingdom for the first time. I can’t wait until we can plan our return trip. The magic of Disney Parks makes a kid out of all of us! Disney Gift Cards can be used at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, but they can also be used at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai’i, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, and more!
Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, California) – I love the west coast of the United States, and San Francisco is one of the reasons why. There are so many fun things to do in the city including beautiful spots to visit, cool parks to hang out at, and delicious restaurants to eat at. But my favourite San Francisco attraction surprisingly isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge it’s Alcatraz Island. While this historic, now closed, maximum-security federal prison offers a lot of history, it also serves up its fair dose of mystery and intrigue, too. The audio tour makes you feel as though you’re in the 1950s in a working prison. You get to step inside prison cells and see just how tiny they are — yikes! Plus, you also get to enjoy the beautiful views of the city from Alcatraz Island.
Palmetto Carriage Works (Charleston, South Carolina) – A visit to the Holy City — nicknamed for its large amount of churches and synagogues — is best enjoyed with a horse and carriage ride. Visiting Charleston is like taking a step back in time when life moved just a little bit slower, just like it does on a leisurely carriage ride. I love hearing fascinating stories and facts from the tour guides about the American Revolution and the Civil War. And interestingly enough, if you go on the tour more than once, there’s a good chance you’ll take a different route each time. There are 5 different zones designated by the city where your tour may go, and your tour guide doesn’t know which zone you’re headed to until you’re ready to go and he draws a number. You may get to go by famous sites such as Rainbow Row, Battery Park, or the Charleston City Market.
Electric Boat Company (Seattle, Washington) – When you think of Seattle, you probably think of the Space Needle, and while I love a good visit to the Space Needle, I think the perfect way to spend a sunny day in Seattle is on Lake Union. Lake Union sits just north of the downtown business district of Seattle and is probably best known for its floating houseboats. Be your own captain as you tour around Lake Union with your crew and see popular sites like Gasworks Park, the “While You Were Sleeping” home, and seaplanes from Kenmore Air landing in the middle of the lake. You can bring your own food and drink and boats are even equipped with Bluetooth speakers so you can jam along to your own tunes. My pro-tip: before you go, stop by Theo Chocolate in the Fremont neighbourhood and grab some delicious chocolate bars to enjoy on your boating excursion.
The Mob Museum (Las Vegas, Nevada) – Las Vegas may be known for its countless casinos and over-the-top stage productions, but did you know the city holds a lot of history, too? In fact, while the mob didn’t build Las Vegas, it did have a heavy hand in establishing its casinos, making Vegas the perfect location for this museum. Learn how organized crime in America developed and how law enforcement has been trying to contain it ever since. Of course, you’ll explore exhibits about legendary mob bigwigs such as Al Capone, Bugsy, Carlo Gambino, Whitey Bulger, John Gotti, and more. You’ll also find out more about the government officials who have tried to take them down! And if you’re looking for a little more history while you’re in Vegas, be sure to check out The Neon Museum.
Shepler’s Ferry (Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, Michigan) – This hidden gem isn’t all that far from Canada. Sitting in Lake Huron right between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, you’ll find this beautiful island that’s just 11 square kilometres. The coolest part is that there are no bridges that connect Mackinac Island to the mainland. The only way to get there is by ferry and ferries are for foot (and bicycle) passengers only — no cars are allowed on the island! Your experience on the island will delight your senses as you hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and smell the world-famous Mackinac Island fudge being made in shops up and down the main street. Bring your own bike or rent one on the island for an easy way to explore all there is to see. I highly recommend staying in one of the many inns located on the island for the ultimate experience.
Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, Georgia) – The Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in North America and third largest in the world. If you think all you’re going to see here are a few colourful fish, you’re sorely mistaken! Enjoy a live training demonstration at Dolphin Coast with bottlenose dolphins and then head over to Pier 225 to see California sea lions interacting with their trainers who educate guests on the dangers these sociable creatures face. My favourite exhibit is the Ocean Voyager gallery where you can walk through a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel and see sharks, stingrays, and schools of fish swimming beside you and over your head! And I can’t wait to get back for another visit to see the newly opened SHARKS! Predators of the Deep exhibit featuring floor-to-ceiling acrylic viewing windows! This is just a sampling of the many exhibits at the aquarium that you can easily spend a full day at. And while you’re in the area, be sure to check out World of Coca-Cola right across the green space from the Georgia Aquarium!
Broadway (New York City, New York) – Coming off the high of watching Hamilton on Disney+ this summer (and fall, and winter…it’s on repeat at our house!), a trip to the Big Apple seems to be in our near future! I’ve been lucky enough to see two Broadway performances: The Lion King and Mary Poppins (See, I told you I was a Disneyphile!). I love going to theatre performances anywhere, but there’s just something extra special and magical about seeing a show on Broadway. I’m dying to see Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in The Music Man next year — talk about Broadway icons! And, of course, if I make it to NYC next year, I’ll be aiming to get tickets to Hamilton.
Airbnb (Everywhere) – If you’re giving someone a gift card to one of these great attractions, why not include a little something extra: a place to stay. With all the travelling they’ll be doing, they’re going to need a place to rest their head. Our family loves finding unique places to stay on Airbnb. Since we are typically travelling with two young kids, having the amenities of home is a lifesaver after a long day of sightseeing. Airbnb gift cards can even be used toward fun travel experiences like cooking classes, animal encounters, and cultural tours.
National Parks Pass (All across the US) – This is our oddball out recommendation because it’s not a gift card, but rather, a pass. A United States National Parks Pass lets you explore America the Beautiful from coast to coast. My husband and I have taken multiple cross-country US road trips and we’ve been fortunate to visit almost a dozen parks. The American topography is diverse, and the national parks highlight that with deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, and more! After living in Seattle for many years, I’m a huge fan of Mount Rainier and the North Cascades, but my favourite US National Park is, strangely enough, Death Valley in California.