How did you spend the summer as a kid? Me? My brothers and I messed around in the neighborhood, hung out at the pool, eventually landed summer jobs, and when we got bored and ornery, my mom signed us up for day camp at a local church, even though we weren’t religious. At the time it seemed like torture. Now that I’m a mom, I totally get it!
But it was fine. I hung out with my friends, learned to swim and, as I got older, earned some spending money. You know: normal teen stuff.
We were middle class.
But if you’re rich, the options are seemingly endless. Just take a look at these spendy summer camps for kids:
International Riding Camp
International Riding CampWhere: Greenfield Park, in upstate New York
Cost: $15,100 for a 10-week summer program (lesser packages available; additional boarding fees for BYOHorse)
What for: Horseback riding, of course. All campers ride for up to four and a half hours a day, eat an all-organic menu as well as swim in a heated pool, water-ski, play tennis and do other camp activities.
Sweet perks: This package includes a three-day riding trip to the Hamptons, where, according to the website, campers “stay in a luxurious duplex condo overlooking the bay and swimming pool. Our horses stay at a polo club near the ocean. We get up at 6 a.m. to ride on the beach and splash through the surf. The rest of the day is spent swimming, Jet Skiing and shopping in Southampton.”
Junior and Teen Camp
Junior and Teen CampWhere: Swiss Alps
Cost: $25,100 for eight weeks, including airfare
What for: The family-owned camp has a focus on languages, with lessons five mornings per week. The experience also includes typical outdoor camp activities (swimming, tennis, repelling) and shopping trips to St. Moritz, natch.
Sweet perks: The camp is limited to one hundred 7- to 16-year-olds who stay at the boutique Riders Palace—one of 94 members of a “design consortium,” according to MySwitzerland.com.
Stagedoor ManorWhere: Located in the Catskill mountains outside New York City, campers reside in an old resort with private baths—not nasty old bunks!
Cost: $5,645 for three-week sessions
What for: This is a serious performing arts camp where professional directors, choreographers, set and costume designers work with campers to produce a full musical or play by the end of the session.
Sweet perk: How cool is it to say you went to a camp that graduated Natalie Portman, Jon Cryer, Zach Braff, Mandy Moore and Robert Downey Jr.?
Pali AdventuresWhere: San Bernardino County, California
Cost: $1,865 per week
What for: This camp is all about choice and all about kids. Your son or daughter can choose from one of 18 specialties that they can master in seven days, including movie makeup, cooking, broadcast, Hollywood stunt camp, motorsports, secret agent camp (high ropes, paintball, archery, obstacle course—all while dressed in camo) and trapeze. Lots of choice for electives (dune buggies, shaving cream fights, mani-pedis) and evening activities (theme dances, casino night and the house favorite: a game called Pandemonium). The food menu is just as friendly, with breakfast offering a waffle bar and a “Mc Pali Sandwich” and dessert tricked out with homemade ice cream sandwiches and a sundae bar.
Sweet perk: There is really nothing else like it out there. This place looks so fun I almost wouldn’t want to send my kids because the rest of their whole lives would be so boring by comparison.
If you don’t have a few thousands burning a hole in your pocket, worry not. I interviewed Jill Tipograph, founder and director of Everything Summer, a New York City–based camp consultancy that helps families choose summer experiences for their kids. I asked Tipograph how everyday people can afford camp, which nationwide averages $690 per week for sleepaway camp and $304 per week for day camp, according to the American Camp Association. (On the East Coast, where I live, prices can more than double.)
“Both parents and kids need camp more than ever,” says Tipograph, who did not disclose her fees when asked. “The kids are not just taking classes and having fun, they’re developing problem-solving skills, creativity, leadership abilities—life skills that are so much harder for parents to teach their kids today but are so important.”
While camp is extremely expensive for most families, there are many affordable options, Tipograph insists. Look into religion-based programs, as well as those offered by the YMCA and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Also check out Mysummercamps.com, Kidscamps.com, and Campeasy.com if you need a program for specific dates.
Be aware that the prices listed are not set in stone. Consider these price-slashing tactics from Tipograph:
- Call your camp of choice and ask if there are weeks when demand is lower and whether they would accept a lower fee.
- Offer to work and/or volunteer at the facility to offset costs.
- Many camps offer an early-registration fee—often as early as the fall before.
- Inquire about discounts for sibling, referrals and repeat campers.
- A new trend is for programs that traditionally were six or eight weeks to now offer shorter-term programs.
The bottom line? “Like I tell my kids: It can’t hurt to ask. The worst they can say is no,” Tipograph says. Most camps are privately run and have the flexibility to be creative. So ask!