Want to play ball with Michael? How about fly to the edge of space in a MiG? Or strum with Slash? While money can’t buy you happiness, it sure can buy the experience of a lifetime.
In fact, the camping industry is beginning to cater to more than just kids on summer vacation — all together, the industry pulls in $11 billion annually. And so-called fantasy camps are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to assure the right experience. From Vegas penthouse suites and celebrity tutorial sessions to remote cabanas and world-class food, high-end fantasy camps offer just about anything you desire.
Unfortunately, delivering on dreams doesn’t come cheap. At Rock and Roll Fantasy camp, for example, you can pony up $13,000 to record at Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Oasis have all held sessions.
Gary Hofstetter, a 53-year-old real estate manager from Boston, gladly paid the five-figure sum to play with the Who’s Roger Daltry in Los Angeles three years ago. Comfortable in front of crowds, Hofstetter wanted to experience the rush of playing on stage.
"I wanted to sing in front of a group and the first time I sang in public," Hofstetter says, "Brian Wilson [from the Beach Boys] was just a few feet away watching."
Since then, Hofstetter has gone back to camp three more times.
Over six days, campers get to stay in the same hotel as their celebrity instructors and play shows at rock 'n' roll landmarks, such as bars or theaters where music icons once played.
Alternatively, there are some modestly priced fantasy camps, such as the Waves Surf School near Sydney, Australia, which will run you only $499 for three nights in a remote national park. The cost includes instruction, equipment and BBQ meals — but, unfortunately, you have to tack on the price of getting yourself to Sydney, which costs $1,400 for a round-trip economy fare from Los Angeles ($5,300 for business class). Few of the fantasy camps on our list include airfare — but for some of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences, it’s worth the jet lag.
Other fantasy camps, however, might not be so easy to get to, so you'll need to plan ahead.
Florida-based Incredible Adventures, for example, will take you to the edge of space in a MiG jet fighter, flying at a top speed of 2,400 mph. But the flight doesn't take off from Florida — you have to get yourself to either Nizhny, Russia or Cape Town, South Africa, to enjoy the experience.
Both departure cities have their advantages and disadvantages: Travel to South Africa tends to be a little more expensive, but going Mach 3 out of Russia involves a series of medical waivers that could delay or even ground your trip before it gets going. The good news is that the program operates year-round, so if you have the time and the money — and the week you want to go isn't already booked by another thrill-seeker — you're good to go.
Total cost? $18,750 for four days and five nights, including four-star accommodations in Moscow and Nizhny, where the actual flight takes place.
While Incredible Adventures warns in its promotional materials "Flying MiGs may be addictive!" for some, breaking the sound barrier may be a little too intense. Not to worry: The company also offers shark diving, fighter-plane dog fighting and, coming in October 2008, the first skydive over Mount Everest. (This will cost $36,500, which includes airfare to and from Kathmandu and will be filmed by an award-winning documentary filmmaker.)
Play with the pros
For years, the New York Yankees have been famous not just for their on-field performances but for their long-running baseball fantasy camp. For about $5,500, participants spend a week training and sometimes even playing with former and retired Yankees at the team's Spring Training facility in Tampa, Fla. But there's no guarantee that the former pros will attend, so it's more about just playing regulation baseball on a real field in a real Yankee uniform with other like-minded dreamers. Some people, however, prefer a little more hands-on instruction.
They get it at the Michael Jordan Flight School in Las Vegas, where Jordan himself — and other Hall of Famers — will teach you to be like Mike, if only for a few days. That's off the court, too, since the $17,500 cost includes limo service and accommodation at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.
If none of these suit your style, however, most companies specializing in adventure experiences and travel offer a wide variety of options. And there's always something just that much edgier — and costlier — in the works.
Richard Branson's forthcoming Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflights, for example, will run you $200,000 for the two-and-a-half-hour trip. That may sound like a lot, but according to the company, that's 100 times less expensive than what today's space tourists tend to pay (billionaire Charles Simonyi paid $25 million for a trip to the International Space Station in 2007).
A word to the wise, though: Operators of high-end fantasy camps and experiences claim repeat customers for some of their most outrageous offerings. So pick your fantasy wisely, since it can become a very expensive habit.