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How to give the gift of experience on Long Island

Lynn Martinek from The Baking Coach teaches children

Lynn Martinek from The Baking Coach teaches children how to make German pretzels at the Smithtown Library Commack Branch in Commack. The company offers gift-worthy Saturday courses that vary from baking a basic from-scratch cake to working with fondant. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Sometimes a sweater or a video game just won't do. If you are still searching for that perfect present for a loved one, maybe a gift of an experience would be the perfect fit.

From learning new skills to theater ticket subscriptions to riding in a vintage plane, there are plenty of ways to please your loved one.

I ALWAYS WANTED TO . . .

Some of the best gifts are learning something new.

The Baking Coach in Huntington has Saturday courses that vary from baking a basic from-scratch cake to working with fondant.

"An apron goes on, you are in a commercial environment and you are ready to learn," says owner Lisa Basini. $55 with onetime $15 registration fee, 631-543-8608, bakingcoach.com

Getting into the saddle can be a gift that jump-starts a new passion. Olde Towne Equestrian Center in Selden is good for novices and even has two students in their 80s. "They say it's on their bucket list," says owner Myrna Treuting. $70 an hour, 20 percent off before Dec. 25; 631-513-0261, nwsdy.li/ride

HISTORICAL ROLE PLAY

Imagine being in the French countryside during World War II, rolling toward the enemy in a Sherman tank. The Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage replicates the experience by putting players in the middle of full-fledged re-enactments, riding in real military vehicles with period uniforms, crawling on their hands and knees with a bayonet or carrying rifles. "It gives a small glimpse into what those guys went through" during wartime, says museum director Mark Renton. $80, 516-454-8265 nwsdy.li/armor

Maybe you'd rather head into the skies in a World War II plane? The American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale offers flying experiences on three of its aircraft. For example, fly behind "enemy lines" in a C-47 troop transport plane, fitted in an airborne trooper field jacket and helmet as you re-enact a mission. $320, 631-293-6398, nwsdy.li/airpower

DAY AT THE MUSEUM

A membership to the ultracontemporary Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill includes unlimited visits and members-only events such as live music, film screenings and talks from artists and curators during the year. $55 single, $95 family. Art lovers from ages 21 to 45 may enjoy the Contemporaries Circle membership, which adds six special art-related social events, including a kickoff party with artist Eric Fischl in Manhattan. $350, 631-283-2118, parrishart.org

At the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City, the displays are mostly interactive and play-based learning, "which we know is the best way for children to learn," says Maureen Mangan, communications director. New exhibits are installed every four months. $48 for one visit for a family of four, 516-224-5800. licm.org

MAKE A SPLASH

Give a gift that makes waves all summer -- Splish Splash in Calverton has its regular season passes on sale this month -- get unlimited visits for $62.99 or pre-purchase a single visit now at a discounted holiday rate of $29.99. Regularly $41.99, 631-727-3600, splishsplash.com

Yes, you can still swim with the sharks at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, plunging down into the massive tank (along with an instructor) for a closer look at the fishes ($165). Less intense: Waddling with the penguins. Kids ages 12 and older can pet and play with African penguins in a "penguin preschool" area. An educator teaches visitors all about the species.

"You don't really get a chance to pet a penguin any other time," says Darlene Puntillo, marketing director. Videotaping is encouraged. $50 a person plus general admission, kids ages 5-11 can participate with an adult also paying for the experience; 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.com

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