Vacation ideas: submarine stay, Vatican visit

As gasoline prices spurt beyond $3 per gallon, with more increases likely, we need a good reason to leave home for anything other than work. We seek good value as well as a good time.

The thrill of touring Italy while driving a Ferrari, for example, probably isn’t appropriate motivation. (If it were, you’d already know about the luxury vacation packages at www.selectitaly.com).

So here are five ideas that are closer to home, ways to motivate you to get out of the house and not feel crummy about it.

War history, equipment and other military resources come out for public eyeballing during the annual Fort McCoy open house, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 20, which is Armed Forces Day.

Exhibits about the Civil to Vietnam wars are a part of this free event. So are tours of the military base, which is on Highway 21, between Tomah and Sparta.

For more about the military installation, which has been used since 1909: www.mccoy.army.mil, 608-388-2407. Enter the compound at Gate 15.

To make military exposure more personal, without being dangerous, take the kids to the U.S.S. Cobia in Manitowoc. The restored World War II submarine, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, can be rented overnight to youth groups (20 to 65 people, including chaperones, at $39 per person). Overnight outings for families are July 22-23 and Aug. 12-13.

Participants don’t merely sleep in a compact bunk bed. They will learn about life aboard a sub. Bring your own grub, as in snacks, and plan to eat a meal before boarding. The experience ends at 8 a.m.

For more about the program and museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution: www.wisconsinmaritime.org, 866-724-2356.

The gem-studded “Saint Peter and the Vatican: Legacy of the Popes” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum is a rare way to learn more about the pomp, tradition and history of Roman Catholicism. This is the exhibit’s last U.S. stop, and its time in Milwaukee has been extended to May 29.

The sacred and stunning array of artifacts is enormous and spans centuries. There is a 6th century representation of the face of Jesus, a chalice with 1,000 diamonds (commissioned in 1854), the hammer used to shatter the ring of Pope John Paul II, upon his death in 2005.

The Sistine Chapel is presented as a work in progress. There are papal diaries, miters, skullcaps, birettas and slippers. Tales and evidence of gifts to popes have been as sincere as the silk scroll given by the Dali Lama in 1978, as sarcastic as a tiara with emeralds that were both stolen and gifted by Napoleon.

For more about the exhibit: www.mpm.edu, 414-278-2728. Reserve a ticket ($18.50) before leaving home; admission is by timed entry.

A trio of downtown Milwaukee hotels also offers tickets as a part of their lodging rate. For more: www.marcushotels.com/vatican (The Pfister, Wyndham Milwaukee Center and Hilton Milwaukee City Center are participants).

For an exceptional Mother’s Day gift, check out InterContinental Chicago’s May 13-14 hotel package. The cost is $499, plus tax, but you know she’s worth it.

It’s good value because the price includes two nights in a room for two, one $100 spa treatment at the nearby Red Door Salon and Spa, and Sunday brunch for two at Zest restaurant.

Wine and chocolate-dipped berries are delivered upon arrival. Live jazz, on both nights, has no cover charge. The swimming pool is cool, too: It has a restored 1920s motif.

For more about this Michigan Avenue deal (just steps from all kinds of shopping): www.icchicagohotel.com, 800-628-2112. Ask for the Magnificent Mother’s Day Weekend Package.

For a more daring adventure, learn how to drive a NASCAR racecar. The Racing School: A Racecar Driving Experience comes to Milwaukee in August.

It is one way to burn rubber but preserve your own tires. All daredevils wear a firesuit and helmet; they are instructed by pros before hitting the track for a few or many laps.

There is no need for racing experience, but “a need for speed” is beneficial, the school says online. Participants drive cars that have been used in NASCAR racing; each is at least 500 horsepower.

The cost depends upon where and how long you race. One-half day (100 to 150 laps, depending upon track length) is $795, and a full day is typically $1,495. Sessions with a lot fewer laps, or more intense instruction, also are available.

There is racing Aug. 18-20 at The Milwaukee Mile, and Aug. 25-26 at Slinger Speedway. Reservations are necessary.

It’s not a cheap thrill but one way to gain great memories while going through all that fuel. For more: www.1877canrace.com, 877-226-7223.