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Fantasy Camps for the Young at Heart

Let out your inner Navy Seal or rock star and live your dream if only for a weekend)

By Linda Childers | January 6, 2013
Civil War fantasy camp
Campers live like 1860s soldiers at Civil War Adventure Camp in Virginia.
Courtesy of Civil War Adventure Camp

If you still dream of channeling your inner Nathan Lane, Sean Connery or Adele, you might want to spend some time at an adult fantasy camp.
 
Once associated with middle-aged men playing ball alongside professional athletes, these retreats have evolved exponentially. Today there are at least 1,000 fantasy camps throughout the United States that give people of all ages a chance to step out of their everyday lives and into once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And, unlike summer adventures for kids, these venues are open year-round and attract singles, couples and families.
 
The Neon Lights Are Bright …
 
The excitement builds as participants arrive at the Broadway Fantasy Camp in Manhattan’s theater district and start preparing to sing and dance their way to their 15 minutes of fame. “We get a lot of baby boomers who may have acted in high school or college but then went on to pursue a career in a more practical area,” says Lauren Class-Schneider, a 30-year stage and screen veteran and founder of the program, which launched last summer. “Getaways like ours give people the chance to be a kid again while immersing themselves in the world of live theater.”
 
While “camp” tends to conjure up images of rustic cabins and singing around the bonfire, fantasy campers aren’t expected to rough it. If they desire, Schneider's guests can stay at the decidedly non-rustic Intercontinental Hotel in Times Square and dine at the hotel’s Ca Va (owned by celebrity chef Todd English) or book their own accommodations at any of the city’s 300-plus hotels.
 
The day begins inside Broadway rehearsal studios, where participants practice song and dance routines from a favorite musical (options include Cats42nd Street and Phantom of the Opera) under the tutelage of Tony winners, nominees and other Broadway pros. Some days involve actual wardrobe calls and photo shoots for professional headshots.
 
Evening brings plenty of opportunities to network with Broadway professionals and take guided tours of theaters on the Great White Way. On the last night, following the big show, newly seasoned performers enjoy a celebratory dinner at the iconic Broadway restaurant Sardi’s.

“This is a level of authenticity students wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Schneider says. “They have the opportunity to make their own Broadway memories, to have their photo taken on the red carpet and to talk with stars about their lives and careers.”

Don't worry if you always sing off-key or hoof it with two left feet — the Broadway Fantasy staff provides a fun and supportive environment.
 
Where: New York
When: Year round
Cost: $995 (one day) to $4,995 (five days). Hotel accommodations not included.
 
(MORE: Summer Camps That Cater to Grown-Ups)
 
Homeland Security
 
Looking for more of an adrenaline rush? Check out Incredible Adventures in Miami. At its ongoing Covert Ops camp, participants learn real counterterrorism techniques from Garret Machine, a former soldier in the Israeli army.
 
Mark Kitrick, a 50-something trial attorney from Columbus, Ohio, was thrilled to take his extensive martial arts training to a whole new level. “Garret’s instruction was world-class, and I not only learned some true combat skills, I also became more proficient,” Kitrick says. “Now I have the confidence should I ever be faced with a situation where I have to defend others or myself.”
 
In Covert Ops, students learn Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art), self-defense, pistol-shooting, how to fire from a moving vehicle and battlefield lifesaving skills.
 
“We get lawyers, doctors and computer professionals who want to push themselves but have fun doing it,” says Jane Reifert, president of the 14-year-old organization. “Our clients want to learn how to protect themselves and have a life-changing adventure.”
 
In addition to Covert Ops, Incredible Adventures offers other extreme experiences — always in a controlled environment — like simulated air combat (with a laser weapon system); firefighter training, including rappelling down a three-story building and working alongside real firefighters; and “swimming” with tiger, reef and lemon sharks in a submersible cage in the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas.
 
Where: Miami
When: Year round
Cost: $3,995 for four days. Includes training, safety equipment, weapons use and ammunition, all transportation, four nights of lodging, breakfast, lunches and two dinners, coffee, water and snacks, plus Garret’s security manual and DVD set. Other programs are offered across the country, starting at $895.
 
(MORE: Pursuing Passions in New Places)
 
Be an American Idol
 
Live out your dreams of being a rock star at Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, which offers singers and musicians the opportunity to take the stage with legends like Roger Daltrey, Sammy Hagar, Gene Simmons, Jack Bruce and Alice Cooper. If rock isn’t your thing, check back, as plans are under way to expand into R&B, blues, rap and pop.
 
Founder David Fishof, a former manager and tour producer for Ringo Starr and The Monkees, has created an experience that brings participants together with some of the biggest names in rock, including seasoned and award-winning band members who serve as counselors to help guests to take their music to the next level.
 
Once conducted at venues around the world, this popular retreat now has a permanent home at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Aspiring musicians and singers get to spend more than 10 hours in the studio jamming and rehearsing with their coaches as well as the chance to record their own songs. But the pièce de resistance is the evening spent rocking out with the headline star and performing in front of a screaming, standing-room-only crowd at the MGM Grand.   
 
Guests return to the real world loaded with photos, autographs, a DVD and an MP3 of their final performance — plus a lifetime of bragging rights.
 
Where: Las Vegas
When: Year round
Cost: $299 for the “Rock Star for a Day" experience; five-day camp runs around $9,500 and includes hotel accommodations, meals, instrument rental, plus all costs associated with the performance.
 
Brothers in Arms
 
Not all fantasies are full of glitz and glamour. At the Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park in Dinwiddie County, Va., would-be soldiers and Civil War buffs get a firsthand experience of what it was like to serve in the Civil War.
 
Living history takes on a new dimension as campers travel back in time to the 1860s. The adventure begins with a swearing-in ceremony, followed by the chance to settle into a bunkhouse or a walled tent (all replicas of actual Civil War encampments) and socializing with fellow troopers over a hearty, period-correct meal, like beef stew and cornbread.
 
Participants suit up in their choice of a Confederate or Union uniform, learn how to load a musket (with gunpowder, not bullets), march and maneuver as a company, experience a skirmish with opposing forces and learn the basics of field medicine.
 
Where: Petersburg, Va.
When: Year round
Cost: $70 for a one-night Rally Camp; $1,400 for a group of 20 to attend the 18-hour Platoon Camp.
 
Linda Childers is a California-based freelance writer who contributes celebrity profiles, travel and health articles to a number of national magazines and websites.
 

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