Cool Vacation Spots for Geeks like Me

July 10, 2007

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Before we use up our precious vacation time, we need to figure out where to go and what to do. There are so many options. A cruise? A major museum? An underwater hotel? Consider some of these classic vacation ideas for engineers and geeks like me.

Despite reporting an average of two more vacation days this year than in 2005, Expedia.com's seventh annual Vacation Deprivation survey, released in April, found that 35 percent of Americans will not use all of their vacation days and will actually leave an average of three vacation days on the table this year.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Vacations are good.

It isn't that Americans don't see the value in vacation. But the Expedia.com survey found that work responsibilities can be a deterrent to taking vacation, with 19 percent of U.S. adults responding that they've canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work.

And when it comes to engineers taking vacations, as the folks at the IEEE Spectrum blog recently noted:

"Hard work never hurt anyone." Everyone's heard the expression. It's true, but there's work and then there's work. For engineers, the work ethic runs deep. It's what keeps you chained to your desk cranking code into the middle of the night or perfecting that design presentation that's due the next morning.

But before we take our vacations, we need to figure out where to go and what to do. If you're one of those people who wants a break from work but doesn't want to give up precious vacation time just to sit around the house or stay nearby, consider some of these classic vacation ideas for yourself or the whole family — cool for engineers and geeks like me:

National Air and Space Museum / Udvar-Hazy Center In addition to the Smithsonian's NASM, which maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world, there is also the Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. The building, which opened in December 2003, provides enough space for the Smithsonian to display the thousands of aviation and space artifacts that cannot be exhibited on the National Mall. At the companion facility, "you can see actual large aircraft such as the Space Shuttle Enterprise, Concorde and the Blackbird spy plane, all from inside a huge hangar replete with a 'control tower' where you can go watch flight operations at the nearby airport," according to eWeek.

International Spy Museum Seeing as you'll already be nearby, head to the International Spy Museum in downtown Washington, where the exhibits include "The Secret History of History" and a "School for Spies," complete with 200 spy gadgets: microdots and invisible ink, buttonhole cameras and submarine recording systems, bugs of all sizes and kinds, and ingenious disguise techniques developed by Hollywood for the CIA. On top of all that, eWeek adds, "the museum's restaurant, Zola, makes a great martini that is — of course — shaken, not stirred."

Space Camp So you think you've grown out of Space Camp, do 'ya? The Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., has a slew of programs for the 19-and-up set, including astronaut training, aviation challenges and even a corporate learning program for a workplace outing. At Space Camp for Adults, you can experience four G's of force when you blast off 140 feet on SPACE SHOT; feel what it's like to walk on the moon in the 1/6th Gravity Trainer; experience a simulated tumble in space in the Multi-Axis Trainer; and alternate roles in mission control and shuttle crew during two different Space Shuttle missions.

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There's also a Parent/Child Program, in which you and your little one can explore the history of space flight and experience the sensations of real Shuttle launches from giant-screen IMAX movies showing Shuttle astronauts performing missions in space. The Parent/Child program is designed to give both of you an overview of space exploration while experiencing very real space simulations.

National Computer Museum "The way we see it," notes eWeek, "country music fanatics have Opryland, those obsessed with the Civil War have Gettysburg and geeks, well, geeks have the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif." Learn about the history of computer chess and practice your knowledge of microprocessors, and "bask in the warmth of being surrounded by those who are as passionate about the computing revolution as you are."

Geek Cruises Although not all have summer schedules, InSight Cruises founder Neil Bauman organizes vacations for geeks and their families to far-flung destinations wherein the resident geeks can take training classes in their science/technology of choice. With "Geek Cruise" names like Photoshop Fling 5, Mac Mania 8, Chess Moves 3 and Shakespeare at Sea, you can fly your geek flag all you want, proudly, on board. Check out next year's Scientific American/Bright Horizons, which is not only a Western Caribbean cruise, it will also have seminars on: archeology; astrophysics and cosmology; future technology and society; cognitive psychology; computational science; and evolution.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates Tourism, one of the driving forces behind Dubai's radical growth, attracted 6.5 million visitors last year, compared with just 500,000 in 1990. The government of Dubai predicts that tourism, mostly from Europe, will quadruple to 15 million visitors annually by 2010.

Not really into museums, cruises or space camp? If you're more of a beach person, consider the Palm Islands in Dubai in the near future.

The three artificial islands that make up the Palm — comprising the Palm Jumeirah, the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Deira — are the world's biggest manmade islands. Each settlement will be in the shape of a palm tree, topped with a crescent, and will have a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment centers. Between the three islands, there will be more than 100 luxury hotels, exclusive residential beach side villas and apartments, marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities and health spas. Over the next few years, as the tourism phases develop, the Palm Jumeirah is touted as (soon to be) one of the world's premiere resorts.

The Palm Island, which can be seen from outer space, is the self-declared "Eighth Wonder of the World." The resort is one of several massive projects in Dubai aimed at diversifying the economic base by expanding the tourist industry.

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If hotels are all booked in Dubai, you can head on over down to Hydropolis — a self-proclaimed 10-star, underwater hotel in Dubai.

Situated roughly 70 feet below the surface of the Persian Gulf, Hydropolis will feature 150+ guest suites and a host of underwater firsts: spa, library, cosmetic surgery clinic, movie theater and, of course, shopping mall. Reinforced by concrete and steel, its Plexiglas walls and bubble-shaped dome ceilings offer sights of a number of sea creatures. Scheduled to open later this year, Hydropolis has faced major delays due to cost issues and concerns over the project's impact on marine life.

After you fly in to the world's largest airport, which Dubai has, you can also check out the world's tallest building (when completed next year), one of the world's largest shopping malls and a theme park/resort/mall community twice the size of Disney's U.S. properties combined.

Fortunately, increasingly more companies are encouraging employees to take their allotted personal time, so take yours and geek out.

Anyone have additional suggestions?

Earlier:

Get a Personal Life

Break the Habit. Take a Vacation. It's What Bosses Now Want

Resources

The 15 Geekiest Vacations eWeek.com

Are You Working Yourself to Death? by Kieron Murphy IEEE blog, June 13, 2007

Annual Expedia.com Survey Reveals 51.2 Million American Workers Are Vacation Deprived Expedia.com, April 25, 2007

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