12 great holiday gifts that don’t come in a box

A customer gets up in the air at iFly Fort Worth
A customer gets up in the air at iFly Fort Worth iFly Fort Worth via Facebook

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are all about buying stuff for Christmas, much of which will either go unused, get broken or be returned.

Giving Tuesday flips the script and focuses on putting charities in the spotlight.

But if you want to give a different type of gift — one that’s more about an experience rather than an object — there’s no day for that. In fact, such an approach to the holiday season often gets overlooked in our quest to get each other more and more things.

But why just give things when you can give things to do?

An experience — a cooking class or indoor skydiving to just name two — not only offers something unique but it’s something that will be remembered for a long time by all those involved. With this mind, here are a dozen such local experiences for a very interactive 12 Days of Christmas that’s a lot more fun than a partridge in a pear tree.

Sky’s the limit

If jumping out of an actual plane is just too adrenaline-charged for your loved one, opt for the next best thing: indoor skydiving.

At iFlyDallas in Frisco and iFly Fort Worth in Hurst, the latter just having opened in October, you will find yourself up in the air thanks to a 12-foot recirculating wind tunnel.

But before that happens, the facility provides everything you need, including a personalized training session as well as a jumpsuit, helmet, goggles and earplugs. Though it’s recommended that first-timers spend between two and six minutes in the air, the entire experience, including preparation, takes between one and two hours.

The place is available for group/event hosting and has party rooms as well as conference and catering facilities. So it’s a good gift for an individual or several people.

Packages start at $69.95 and go up to $669.95. Extra minutes can be purchased. Right now, there’s a special for first-timers, who will get get 25 percent off until Dec. 23.

663 N.E. Loop 820 in Hurst; 817 818-4359 and 8380 Texas 121 in Frisco; 214 618-4359. For more information, go to or

Whose house? Dak’s house!

Here’s the perfect thing for the Monday-morning quarterback in your life: a tour of where the Cowboys magic (11-1, baby!) has been happening this season, AT&T Stadium.

But there’s more to this massive building than Cowboys football. It is the world’s largest domed structure, has been the setting for many major concerts (U2, Taylor Swift, George Strait, Coldplay and more) and features enough visual art to rival a museum.

Accordingly, there are four tours you can take: a VIP guided tour ($27.50); a self-guided tour ($17.50); an art tour ($22) and an educational tour for students.

One AT&T Way, Arlington; 817-892-4000;

As long as you’re in the neighborhood, you can also opt for a tour of the Rangers’ home, Globe Life Park, next door. (Go soon, a new $1 billion stadium for the Rangers just got approved by Arlington voters and is slated to open in 2020.) You’ll get to see batting cages, the press box and the dugout. $15 adults, $12 seniors and students, $8 ages 4-14. Group tours and field-trip tours are also available for $13 adults, $10 seniors/students and $5 ages 4-14.

1000 Ballpark Way, Arlington; 817-273-5099;

Rooms with a clue

You’ve done paintball and laser tag, and now here’s the latest rage in interactive horseplay: escape rooms, puzzle rooms or mystery rooms.

They are enclosed, locked spaces which you and your friends have to figure how to get out of within a certain amount of time with what few clues and tools you are given.

They’ve been popping up all over DFW, including The Secret Chambers in Fort Worth, Mind Maze in Mansfield, A Room with a Clue in Deep Ellum, Escape the Room in Dallas; and Dallas Panic Room in Irving.

Each has different rooms with different themes. For example, The Secret Chambers has The Pirate Chamber (aboard a pirate ship) and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu Chamber. Escape the Room has such themes as Western Bank Heist, the Apartment, the Indiana Jones-style The Dig, and the James Bond-influenced The Agency.

Admission generally runs approximately $25-$30 per person, so a team of four should expect to spend around $100.

A Room with a Clue, 2715 Main St., Dallas;; Dallas Panic Room, 2001 W. Irving Blvd., Irving;; Escape the Room, 11661 Preston Road, Suite 184, Dallas; ; The Secret Chambers, 2350 Mall Circle, Fort Worth;; Mind Maze, 1301 U.S. 287 Frontage Road, Suite 107, Mansfield;

Adopt a Zoo Animal

The good thing about adopting an animal at the Fort Worth Zoo is that you don’t have to worry about getting it into your car, feeding it, walking it or nursing it back to health when it gets sick. The animal stays in the care of those best equipped to handle it. But you get the satisfaction of knowing you are contributing to its care.

It works like this. You can adopt one of the elephant calves, Dilly the young giraffe or Asali the baby bonobo by purchasing a $40 adoption package. What you get is a plush animal, color photo of the animal, an adoption certificate, animal fact sheet, the zoo publication and an animal carrier box.

1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth; 817 759-7372;

Learn to make others LOL!

Give the gift of laughter. If you have someone in your life who loves dad jokes and puns, well, a class at Four Day Weekend is just the gift to help them up their game.

The Fort Worth comedy group offers improv classes at their downtown location for $220 and offers five levels of focus. After taking the eight-week class, you’ll be ready to take the stage in a showcase for your fans. Tuesday nights at Four Day Weekend are all student-created shows and are free.

Even if you’re not looking to hit the comedy circuit, improv classes are perfect for anyone wanting to learn clever ways to strike up a conversation. Laughter is a great first impression, just in case dashing good looks and enormous wealth aren’t on your side.

312 Houston St., Fort Worth; 817-226-4329. For more information or to purchase a class gift certificate, go to

Pack your knives and go ... to school

Everyone knows the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Well, they could have added, “Teach him how to cook a fish — maybe pan searing a little halibut — and he’ll dine deliciously in that lifetime.”

Cooking classes are a good way to get on the road to culinary independence. Central Market, with locations all over DFW, is a good place to start as it offers a variety of courses. For December, they include Sharpen Your Knife Skills, Celebrate with Prosecco and Ciccetti, and Expect the Unexpected: Bubbles and Bites. Registration costs vary. For more information, go to

The new Sur La Table in the Waterside development in Fort Worth also has classes. They have classes this month that include holiday tamales and handmade holiday chocolates. Cost varies. 3400 Bryan Irvin Road, Fort Worth; 817-735-0023;

For those really young food lovers, the Young Chefs Academy — with locations in Fort Worth and Frisco — is a good way to go. The classes are designed specifically for children as these future Top Chef contestants will learn the basics of kitchen safety, food preparation, presentation, table setting and manners.

6333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Suite 260, Fort Worth; 817-989-CHEF; 9350 Pasadena Drive, Suite 300, Frisco; 972 335-4449;

Tee off on something

If you play golf, you might wonder why you can’t use a microchipped ball like you can at Topgolf — not only could it tell you how far you hit it, but the microchip would come in handy for finding those drives that went slicing into the woods.

But Topgolf isn’t necessarily for avid, handicap-obsessed golfers.

There are lighted targets, heated hitting bays and, most importantly, cocktails. There are games for all skill levels, and unlike in regulation golf, you want your score to be higher — the closer to the target you are, and the farther you hit your ball, the more points you’ll get. Alongside that is the sports-bar-style menu, which beats the basic hot dog you’ll choke down at the turn playing your local muni course.

Gift cards are available — the top dollar amount for a card is $500, but you can buy multiple cards for up to $2,000. In DFW, Topgolf has locations in Dallas, The Colony and Allen — but a Fort Worth location is scheduled to open in 2017.

8787 Park Lane, Dallas, 214-341-9600; 1500 Andrews Parkway, Allen, 469-675-9730; 3760 Blair Oaks Drive, The Colony, 469-213-5204;

Baby, you can drive a (really cool) car

The thing about Texas Motor Speedway is that many of us in Tarrant County have to take I-35W to get there. Since I-35W is almost perpetually clogged, by the time you get to the speedway, you might feel like driving pretty fast yourself.

And there’s a way you can do it.

Fittipaldi Exotic Driving puts you in the driver’s seat — at Texas Motor Speedway, in your choice of a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a Nissan GT-R, a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a Lamborghini Superleggera or a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni, cars so luxurious we’re not sure we can even afford to write about them.

For $289 to $419, depending on the car, you — er, we mean your gift recipient — can drive six laps at TMS. An instructor comes along for the ride, to make sure you drive fast — and safely.

If you want to purchase more laps, you can, for more money, of course. If you want to buy a lower-key (relatively speaking) experience, you can purchase a two-lap race ride around the speedway — but a professional will do the driving.

Star-Telegram transportation reporter Gordon Dickson took a spin in a Lamborghini Balboni earlier this year. It tops out at 199 mph; Dickson wrote that he managed to get it above 100.

Gift certificates are $100-$1,000. Holiday specials are available. Schedules are limited: As of this writing, nothing was available to reserve until late January.

To make a reservation or purchase a gift certificate, log on to

Someone’s in the kitchen — you

The National Restaurant Association calls them “the best seat in the house”: Chef’s tables, where a group of restaurant diners can eat in the kitchen and see (and hear) all the action.

Buca di Beppo, a national restaurant chain with locations in Southlake, Dallas and Frisco, goes beyond the usual chain experience with a chef’s table. From the Buca di Beppo “blog”:

“You’ll all get the chance to see professional chefs practicing authentic Italian cooking techniques right before your eyes. And there’s a lot more to it than boiling noodles. There’s also baking, sauteing, chopping, topping, roasting —the list goes on and on and it’s definitely all worth it in the end. We think seeing how your food is made might somehow make it taste better.”

If you want a more independent, and usually higher-end, chef’s table experience, Michaels Cuisine Restaurant & Ancho Chile Bar in Fort Worth, as well as Dallas restaurants Abacus, Fearing’s, FT33 and the Mansion all do chef’s tables. The sizes and prices vary, and you’ll need to call for reservations.

Buca di Beppo, 2701 Texas 114, Southlake, 817-749-6262,; also in Dallas and Frisco. Michaels Cuisine, 3413 W. Seventh St, Fort Worth, 817-877-3413, Abacus: 4511 McKinney Ave, Dallas, 214-559-3111, Fearing’s, 2121 McKinney Ave., Dallas, 214-922-4848, FT33, 1617 Hi Line Drive, Dallas, 214-741-2629, Mansion Restaurant in the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, 214-443-4747,

Unleash your inner rock star

Tired of singing in the shower or belting out ballads during your commute to work, and ready to take the next step to rock superstardom?

Then become a student at one of the nine area Schools of Rock, with locations in Fort Worth, Dallas, Southlake, Mansfield and elsewhere — from beginner guitar players all the way to expert drummers, there are classes available for every skill level. With actual rock stars like Josh Freese and Mike Watt serving as guest professors, enrolling in the School of Rock is the next best thing to heading out on tour with your favorite band and better than seeing the Jack Black movie of the same name.

Various School of Rock locations around DFW; for more information, visit

Ice, ice baby

A frigid delight for families, Ice! at Gaylord Texan is, as its press materials describe, “an indoor winter wonderland,” with 2 million pounds (!) of hand-carved ice sculptures to admire, as well as two-story ice slides to slip down and the sight of a Nativity scene, carved out of ice. (Just be sure to bundle up: Ice! at Gaylord Texan is kept at a numbing nine degrees.) Snow tubing and a re-telling of the classic television special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town are also available to enjoy through Jan. 1 — as is the adults-only On the Blocks Ice! Bar — and tickets (ranging from $19.99-$32.99) would make a fine, frosty stocking stuffer this holiday season.

Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Panther Island Ice — the city’s only outdoor ice rink — has returned, running through Jan. 16. $12 (including skate rental), $10 (group discount for 15 or more skaters).

Ice! at Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine; www.

Panther Island Ice, 223 N.E. Fourth St., Fort Worth;; 682-704-7711.

Up, up and away

For those who have to travel long distances during the holiday season, there is probably the occasional thought — while standing in that interminable airport security line, maybe? — that learning how to fly an airplane might make for smoother seasonal travel in the future.

Fortunately, for those amateur pilots wanting more instruction (or families with amateur pilots in them, wondering what to give as a gift), the DFW area has several options for flight schools.

Fort Worth’s American Pilot Academy has an introductory flight for $149 — offering “an opportunity to experience the thrill of flying and you’re doing the driving,” per its website — while Dallas’ Slipstream Aviation offers something similar (a Discovery Flight), allowing those with visions of soaring through the skies a chance to see what flying really feels like. That one runs $155.

American Pilot Academy, 4001 N. Main St., Suite 300, Fort Worth, 817-900-9224;; Slipstream Aviation, 5435 Saturn Drive, Dallas, 817-658-5988;