From bear watching to circus school: Here are a few unique all-inclusive resorts

One of the reasons I love traveling is because there's always something new to discover. Every landscape, national park, island, and city is different. Sometimes I've even been blown away by something surprising and different at the family resorts I've stayed at with my kids. In fact, many of these all-inclusive resorts have perks that are so cool they're worth planning a whole vacation around. Here are some of my favorites.

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Beaches has a Discover Snuba program for kids as young as eight.
Beaches has a Discover Snuba program for kids as young as eight.

1. Snuba diving at Beaches Resorts

Locations in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos

Beaches Resorts are located on some of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, and one of the coolest amenities is that unlimited dives are included with a stay for all certified divers. Of course, this isn’t useful for most families, especially those with young children. So, to make sure (almost) everyone can get the scuba experience, Beaches also offers a Discover Snuba program for kids as young as eight. Other options include the PADI Seal Team Program, which features a series of "AquaMissions" including diving with flashlights, mastering underwater photography, and floating like an astronaut.

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If that’s too adventurous, The PADI Bubblemaker Experience introduces children to scuba diving in a pool in less than six feet of water. Older divers between the ages of 10 and 15 can earn their PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification at the resort. My 11-year-old daughter went diving for the first time during our trip to Beaches Turks and Caicos. It was one of the highlights of our trip. The only downside is that she has been spoiled by the crystal-clear waters of the ocean in Grace Bay.

JW Marriott Bonnet Creek is the perfect Disney alternative.
JW Marriott Bonnet Creek is the perfect Disney alternative.

2. Rooftop climbing and mini golf at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek Resort and Spa

Orlando, Florida 

Most families head to Orlando to hit the amusement parks. Some need a rest day to chill at the hotel and others want a family-friendly base to explore everything else Florida has to offer. That's why the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek is the perfect Disney alternative. In addition to its fabulous pool, the resort has a great kids club, which is an unusual amenity for hotels in the United States.

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JW Marriott Bonnet Creek also has a unique rooftop that was my children’s dream come true, complete with a climbing wall, mini-golf course, and playground when my family visited this resort. Surprisingly, my kids didn’t ask about going to Orlando’s bigger attractions once while we were there. We also made a stop at the resort’s nearby sister property, the JW Marriott Grande Lakes, for more unique experiences. There, we got to participate in an extraordinary Falconry experience and go to the hotel’s on-site farm.

Guests of Xcaret have access to natural underground swimming holes.
Guests of Xcaret have access to natural underground swimming holes.

3. Cenote swimming at Xcaret

Cancun, Mexico

I’ve visited many different resorts and haven’t seen anything quite like Xcaret. While staying at a different resort in Cancun, my family and I decided to spend a day at Xcaret Park and I vowed to return one day to stay at the resort. Guests of Xcaret have access to on-site cenotes (natural underground swimming holes), night-time swimming through a cave, and an adventure park that takes you high above the Mayan jungle. I got a small taste of Xcaret on a day trip but I can’t wait to return to try all of the other amenities as a guest.

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Atlantis Royal Water View.
Atlantis Royal Water View.

4. Swimming with dolphins at Atlantis Paradise Island

Paradise Island, Bahamas

My kids are absolutely wild about animals. When my youngest son was seven, he was especially enamored with marine life. In the Bahamas, Atlantis Paradise Island has several unique features, including a world-class on-site aquarium and waterslides that zip through shark tanks. These are thrilling and not to be missed, but what my son talks about most is swimming with dolphins at the resort’s Dolphin Cay.

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Kids don’t have to be strong swimmers to participate. The experience includes getting a ride from dolphins by holding onto their fins, using snorkeling gear to get an up-close look at dolphins as they swim around you, and getting pushed through the water by a dolphin’s nose.

Hot air ballooning at Boulders Resort.
Hot air ballooning at Boulders Resort.

5. Hot air ballooning and desert survival lessons at Boulders Resort and Spa Scottsdale

Scottsdale, Arizona 

In Scottsdale, Boulders Resort and Spa's setting in a lush part of the Arizona desert makes it the perfect jumping-off point for wildlife and nature tours. Some wildlife also makes its way onto the resort’s grounds, so you can see some of the desert critters even if you never wander off the property. And if a land tour doesn’t sound like something your family would enjoy, the resort offers sunrise and sunset hot air balloon rides, a true bucket-list item with sweeping views of the unique Arizona landscape.

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Kids who are tuned into environmental issues will love Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo.
Kids who are tuned into environmental issues will love Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo.

6. Underwater clean-up at Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo

Key Largo, Florida

Many families seek out ways to give back while traveling. You can do that in a unique way at Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, a lovely family resort featuring two private beaches, family and adult pools, parasailing, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and deep-sea or backcountry fishing excursions. What sets this resort apart is that you also have the chance to offset the environmental impact of your travels and protect the fragile ecosystem around the Keys.

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The resort hosts monthly beach cleanups, including the chance to participate in an underwater cleanup in partnership with local environmental non-profits. Even if you don’t participate in the clean-up, you can learn about the fragile Florida Keys ecosystems through eco-educator-led nature walks. Kids who are tuned into environmental issues will love that they can do something to help the planet while on vacation.

Horse enthusiasts of all ages should head to Ireland’s spectacular Cashel Palace.
Horse enthusiasts of all ages should head to Ireland’s spectacular Cashel Palace.

7. Equine Concierge at Cashel Palace Hotel

Tipperary, Ireland

Horse enthusiasts of all ages should head to Ireland's spectacular Cashel Palace, which has a dedicated Equine Concierge. Owned by the Magnier Family, the palace has been at the heart of Ireland’s thoroughbred racing and breeding legacy for generations. Staying in a palace would be thrilling enough for most children, but the hotel's concierge can also plan a full range of equestrian adventures across its own Tipperary’s Thoroughbred Trail.

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The Racing Royalty Equine Experience includes an exclusive look behind closed doors of the Magnier family’s breeding operation at Coolmore Stud and training facilities at Ballydoyle. Here you can also see world-class racehorses in action during the morning and magnificent stallions in the afternoon, experiences normally only available for those directly involved in the business. Plenty of horseback riding is available also, of course!

Bear watching and glacier trekking are two unique experiences at Tutka Bay Lodge.
Bear watching and glacier trekking are two unique experiences at Tutka Bay Lodge.

8. Bear watching and glacier trekking at Tutka Bay Lodge

Kachemak Bay, Alaska

This unique adventure lodge is set on the edge of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay State Park is the perfect spot for a huge range of Alaskan experiences. The lodge can arrange just about any type of adventure right outside your front door, including bird watching and kayaking. Two of the most unusual activities offered by the lodge are bear watching and glacier trekking, both of which may be especially appealing to adventurous teens.

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You won’t be able to miss the northern lights when you stay at Hotel Rangá.
You won’t be able to miss the northern lights when you stay at Hotel Rangá.

9. Northern lights observatory and wake-up call at Hotel Rangá

Hella, Iceland

The best place to view the northern lights is away from the light pollution of big cities like Reykjavík. Hotel Rangá leans into its remote location as a prime spot for viewing the northern lights. The hotel offers a wake-up service that ensures you won't miss the northern lights whenever they make an appearance, even if it’s in the dead of night.

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The hotel is also stocked with snowsuits to keep you warm and toasty, and an on-site observatory with a resident local astronomer ready to show your family the stars on clear nights. Anyone who dares to brave the cold can also use the hotel’s hot tub to catch a glimpse of the light show Mother Nature puts on every year.

10. Dining in the sky at Grand Hyatt Goa

Goa, India 

Goa is home to gorgeous beaches, but in my opinion the best way to take in the stunning coastal landscape is to fly high above it—while having dinner. And you can do exactly that at the Grand Hyatt Goa, where one of the more unique experiences is dining while suspended 160 feet in the air at the hotel's FlyDining Goa experience.

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You can choose from breakfast, high tea, or a sunset dinner. The hotel, which overlooks the stunning waters of the Bambolim bay, also has an 11th floor pool with incredible views and an on-site adventure park.

Club Med in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Club Med in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

11. Circus School at Club Med Punta Cana

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Most families head to the Caribbean for some rest and relaxation. But for something you won't find on just any island, head to Club Med’s unique Circus School in Punta Cana. This all-inclusive resort includes unlimited access to the play space, with more than 30 recreational acrobatic and artistic activities reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil.

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You can even join your child on a double trapeze, perform tricks on the trampoline, and try bungee jumping. Once your family is done living out your circus dreams, head to the pool or beach to rest up for your next performance. As a bonus, your kids are sure to sleep well after a full day of circus antics.

There’s plenty to do at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa.
There’s plenty to do at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa.

12. Feeding flamingos at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa

Palm Desert, California

Young guests at the JW Marriott Desert Springs can snag a JW Family Passport when they check in. Passport activities include family yoga, ice cream socials, mini golf, and scavenger hunts. The coolest activity at the resort is flamingo feedings with the resort’s resident birds. If your kids love seeing flamingos at the zoo, they'll absolutely love to get up close and personal with some of these adorable pink creatures.

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The resort also features family nature walks where kids learn about sustainable gardening, mindfulness, and meditation. When it’s time to head indoors, kids will enjoy the report’s arcade, which is the largest in SoCal and features everything from high-tech simulators to classics like Pac-Man and Skee-Ball.

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The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY. and are owned and operated by Vacationist Media LLC. Using the FamilyVacationist travel recommendation methodology, we review and select family vacation ideas, family vacation spots, all-inclusive family resorts, and classic family vacations for all ages. TourScoop covers guided group tours and tour operators, tour operator reviews, tour itinerary reviews and travel gear recommendations.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best all-inclusive resorts: These packages offer something unique