The Experiential Gift

Krista Connor

This holiday season, give the present of Go. See. Do. Learn.

It’s gift-giving season.

Yes, loved ones enjoy opening a wrapped box to reveal that new sweater, electronic device or piece of jewelry.

But how about considering a present that takes them somewhere, challenges them, inspires them, gives them something to talk about until next Christmas?

From the sky to the stage and lots of places in between, here are a few area experiences that make great holiday gifts. They’ll love you for it. Plus, there’s a good chance they’ll want you to tag along.

You’re welcome.

The Tea Room

An afternoon trip to a tea room to play Lady Mary, Lady Edith or Tom Branson for a day? Downton Abbey fans would be delighted. Even if they’re not fans, who wouldn’t love this refreshingly off-the-grid dining experience? Sophisticated service, a vast array of tea

A cranberry scone at British Tea Room is just one of many delectable options.

A cranberry scone at British Bell Tea Room is just one of many delectable options.

options, Victorian décor and scones with lemon curd and fresh clotted cream. Try these three options:

British Bell Tea Room offers soups, salads, tea sandwiches, scones and pastries, all served on china with silver, crystal and loose-leaf tea in a relaxing, candlelit environment. Reservations required. 890 Peoples Plaza, Newark; 836-1802;, 836-1802.

The Estate Tea Service at the Hotel du Pont is available every day, featuring specially-created blends of tea from nearby estates in the Brandywine Valley, including Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, and Nemours. Afternoon Tea seatings are at 3 and 3:30 in the Green Room. This month only, enjoy a special Victorian Holiday Tea—upscale tea offerings along with classic tea sandwiches, scones and pastries for $30. Victorian period dress is encouraged but not required. Reservations required. 42 W. 11th St., Wilmington; 594-3154,

Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop is open every day but Monday. Choose from more than 100 varieties of tea to take home. On select days throughout the year, English Cottage-Style High Tea is offered. An award-winning pastry chef and tea expert provide this cozy, three-course English High Tea for $29.95. Reservations required. 108 N. Union St., Kennett Square, Pa.; 484-732-8140;

Go Ape!

Give your giftee the opportunity to embrace his or her inner primate. Lums Pond State Park’s new addition, Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course, is Delaware’s first and only zip line and treetop adventure course, offering five zip lines, rope ladders, 42 crossings, two Tarzan swings and more, sending your recipient all across the 200-acre park. This two-to-three hour treetop adventure is $35 for kids and $55 for adults. 1042 Howell School Rd., Bear; 368-6989,

The Annual or Season Pass

You can’t ever go wrong with an annual or season pass. So here are a few suggestions to match all sorts of personalities:

Mt. Cuba Center is a botanical garden whose curators value native plants with a commitment to protect natural habitats. Season passes include: unlimited admission on Fridays and Saturdays (April 18 – Nov. 1); guest passes; one Mt. Cuba Center Selections plant; an e-newsletter, 10 percent off Ecological Gardening Certificate courses, and 10 percent off regularly-price plants at Gateway Garden Center. Pass prices start at $35. Mt. Cuba also provides an extensive education program, including classes in ecological gardening, native plants, conservation, art and wellness. For more options, see our Brandywine Treasure Trail suggestion below. 3120 Barley Mill Rd., Hockessin; 239-4244;

A season pass to Longwood Gardens (left) or Delaware State Parks (pictured: Cape Henlopen) are perfect for nature lovers.

A season pass to Longwood Gardens (left) or Delaware State Parks (pictured below, right: Cape Henlopen) are perfect for nature lovers.


Longwood Gardens offers access to dozens of acres of flowers and gardens, along with special events, outdoor performances and horticulture education opportunities. Need we say more? Passes range from $30-$500. See our Brandywine Treasure Trail suggestion below for more options. 1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, Pa.; 610-388-1000;

The University of Delaware’s award-winning Resident Ensemble Players, the university’s official theater group (better known as the REP), offers performance gift certificates. “They’re easy to purchase and add a dramatic flair to your gift-giving,” says the website, and we agree. You choose the number of gift vouchers and the photo (1)gift recipient chooses the show. Roselle Center for the Arts, Newark; 831-2204;

The annual State Park Pass sticker allows your gift recipient’s vehicle and its occupants free, unlimited, year-round entry to 14 state parks. The pass is $27 for Delaware vehicles– see website for others. Division of Parks and Recreation Dover Central Office: 739-9220;

A Weekend on the Trail

Send (or take!) your recipient on a weekend food or drink adventure throughout the scenic Pennsylvania-Brandywine area, or go gallivanting around the state of Delaware.

The Brandywine Valley Wine Trail is a series of six wineries within a 50-mile radius, conveniently located near sprawling historical estates, rolling hills and quiet parks, and quaint shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts—the perfect excuse to spend a weekend wining and exploring. Utilize the trail’s lodging partners’ special “Sip & Stay” year-round

Brandywine Valley Wine Trail's Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford produces award-winning wine.

Brandywine Valley Wine Trail’s Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford produces award-winning wine.

wine package. Visit the website at and click “Where to Sleep” for more information. BVWT P.O. Box 234, Lewisville, Pa.; 610-444-3842.

The Delaware Beer, Wine & Spirits Trail is a group of 17 breweries, wineries and distilleries throughout the state (mini road trip, anyone?). You might be pleasantly surprised to find all the possibilities that the Small Wonder has to offer. Just download a passport from the website, select a couple of B&Bs and scenic stops, and go! Delaware Tourism Office—99 Kings Highway, Dover; 1-866-284-7483;

Let the gift recipient indulge in a taste of the First State as he or she embarks on the Delaware Culinary Trail. It’s similar to the other trails, and all the recipient has to do is download a passport and pick which of the 24 iconic restaurants he or she would like to visit, then narrow down a list of accommodations and sightseeing spots. It makes for a great weekend of dining and exploring. Delaware Tourism Office—99 Kings Highway, Dover; 1-866-284-7483;

Okay, this one will take longer than the weekend, but it’s the perfect choice for summertime adventurers. The Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport will admit your recipient to 11 attractions for one price. The passport includes one-time admission to top area attractions from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2015. Destinations are the Brandywine River Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Museum of Natural History, Hagley Museum and Library, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center, Nemours Mansion & Gardens, Rockwood Mansion & Park, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Tickets are $45 for individuals and $95 for a family of two adults and up to three children. Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau —1-800-489-6664;

Kalmar Nyckel Sailor’s Volunteer Fee

We understand how offering to cover the fee for a loved one to work without compensation might sound like a bizarre gift. However, how many people can claim they know how to sail a tall ship?

The recreated version of the 17th century Kalmar Nyckel is maintained and sailed mainly by a volunteer crew. More than 300 volunteers support the ship, education program, and Kalmar Nyckel Foundation annually. Most important: no experience is required to start.
Volunteer crew-training classes are conducted twice a year. Winter classes are at the Kalmar Nyckel shipyard in Wilmington for nine all-day Saturdays from mid-January through mid-April. A two-and-a-half week spring class in Wilmington and another in the summer in Lewes are also available. Experienced sailors can choose other options. Session fees start at $106. Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard—1124 E. 7th St., Wilmington; 429-7447;

AMC Dine-In Theatre

Tasty cuisine and the alcohol of choice while relaxing and watching the latest films on the big screen? We’re in.

The new Painter’s Crossing AMC Dine-In Theatre in West Chester, Pa.—the only one around—offers two styles of dine-in experiences. For casual diners, check out the Fork & Screen option. If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, opt for the Cinema Suites, which includes personal recliners. Both options offer extensive menus and seat-side service. 112 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, Pa.; 610-558-4814;

Classes & Lessons

A gift certificate for classes or lessons, honed specifically to the recipient’s interests, sounds like a superb, personalized present to us.


Center for the Creative Arts offers pottery classes, among many others.

A pottery class at the Center for the Creative Arts in Yorklyn means your recipient will explore basic hands-on techniques in the studio, create one piece of pottery with the help of expert ceramists, and leave proudly with a finished piece of art. Other classes, including photography, fabric, music, dancing, yoga and jewelry-making, are also available. Or you can gather some of your closest friends and family and gift them with an art party at $165 for a group of six ($25 per additional person). If pottery isn’t your group’s thing, other themes include wine glass or plate-painting, and mosaic, mirror or jewelry-making. Party guests are welcome to decorate the room and bring their own food and beverages. 410 Upper Snuff Mill Row, Yorklyn; 239-2434;

Perhaps your recipient would appreciate a gift card for a few Krav Maga lessons. At Krav Maga Glen Mills, they teach this form of self-defense that was created by the Israeli military. It has gained popularity in the U. S. as a form of both exercise and self-defense. There are no rules—all techniques focus on strategies and effectiveness in real-life conditions and situations. 1731 Wilmington/West Chester Pike Glen Mills, Pa.; 610-459-1933;

A cooking class at Celebrity Chefs Cooking in Wilmington, a recreational cooking school, will give the giftee a demonstration or hands-on opportunity to cook four-course dinners, instructed by master chefs. Paired wines are offered free of charge with each course. Menus include sushi and tempura, filet mignon and varieties of seafood entrees, along with salads, soups and desserts —and the recipient takes home the recipe. Independence Mall, 1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington;; 427-COOK.

Or how about a few Delaware Rock Gym classes or membership? Intro to climbing classes are regularly offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. at the Delaware Rock Gym in Bear, and by appointment during the week. The class includes two hours of instruction, harness and belay-device use, a day pass, and a coupon for 10 percent off any equipment purchase from the pro shop. The intro class is $35, and membership fees start at $45. The Delaware Rock Gym is at 520 Carson Dr., Bear; 838-5850;

Take it to a whole new level. Really. Horizon Helicopters, Inc., provides helicopter introduction flight lessons, custom private charters, dinner and scenic tours, a flight school and more. If you think your giftee would be up for it, our recommendation is to book an intro flight—yes, she or he would learn how to fly the helicopter. Intro flights are

Give your giftee the opportunity to fly a helicopter with Horizon Helicopters.

Give your giftee the opportunity to fly a helicopter with Horizon Helicopters.

$225, and available to anyone. The flight includes a brief Horizon tour, an introduction in the simulator (an on-ground, computerized flight experience), a program chat, and 30 minutes of airtime with one of the certified flight instructors. Scenic tours over Winterthur, Longwood Gardens and Montchanin; an Eastern Shore Tour over the Chesapeake, North East, and Elk Rivers, or a custom tour of choice are also available for up to four passengers. 2035 Sunset Lake Rd., Newark; 368-5135;

So, what do you think? Please comment below.