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    Family Travel Ink

Our Top Ten Family Vacations

Kids and parents often differ as to what makes a terrific holiday. We once vacationed at an Ontario pheasant farm (no longer in operation thank goodness) where the owners barged people back and forth to their island with no life jackets on board (we borrowed some from a neighboring boat), sent our six-and eight-year-old boys off across the fields in all-terrain vehicle (we quickly vetoed that) and let the guests share sleeping accomodation with the hunting dogs who lay panting on the end of the beds - all except one non-housebroken hound who ran all night from window to window baying to be let in. The kids loved it. "That was the best," they said. "Let's come here every year." Needless to say, my husband and I did not make a repeat booking.

Great holidays for parents and kids mean fun, relaxation, new experiences and friends. Here's a roundup of places where we would definitely return ( a sure sign of success) or places we would love to try based on other parents' experiences.

Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman was voted Number One by our kids. It's clean, it's friendly, there's an 11 p.m. noise curfew so no wild parties can wake the kids at 2 a.m.. Seven Mile Beach is among the best in the Caribbean and the snorkelling is superb. Although our eight-year-old was stung when he brushed by fire coral, it did not deter him from swimming with the stingrays at Stingray city. We loved descending in the Atlantis, the world's first passenger submarine and having our pictures taken in Hell ( a local village). Biggest drawback: it's expensive. Villas of the Galleon (809) 949-8098 Fax: (809) 949- 7054 (beside the Holiday Inn) lets you cook some meals while still participating in the activities next door.

Ireland: Ireland is a great place for parents with a baby in tow. When we took our four-month-old into pubs, restaurants, or hotels, we were greeted with "Ah, now dear, are you planning to nurse the little one? Well, we'll just set you up in the corner table with a nice cup of tea so you can all relax." In this family-friendly country, there was always someone to admire the baby, talk to the baby, pick the baby up to sing him a song. The Irish Tourist Board (929-2777) rents thatched cottages from $300 a week, grand manor houses for $800. The West Coast especially has great scenery, fishing, and a variety of bed-and-breakfasts and small inns.

Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida: This is how baseball was meant to be: small ball parks with grass; easy parking, a chance to have Pat Borders sign your glove after the game. Next time, we'll come for longer so that we can see more games and get to know the other teams. Close by are the white sand beaches of Clearwater and Tampa's Busch Gardens - definitely worth a visit. A reportedly good base camp might Radisson Suite Resort on Sand Key, joined by a toll bridge to Clearwater Beach with facilities from a kiddies' pool to volleyball courts.

Camping in Brittany, France: To me, this was heaven. Seven years ago, we booked with Canvas Holidays, a British tenting organisation, that set up your tent and everything in it - beds, lights, stove, washroom - before you arrive. It's like a cottage with canvas walls. In four different campgrounds, the kids windsurfed, hunted for treasure, played mini-golf, danced at a family disco and rode bikes and ponies without ever leaving the premises. Many have take-away service. At one chateau campground, Madame comes across the grass at 5 p.m. bearing a gourmet dinner under silver domes to be served in your tent. Heaven! In the off season (mid-June), we paid $40 per night for all five of us. Write Bull Plain, Hertford, Hertfordshire, SG14 1DY.

Venice: This city may not seem like a kid destination but it was a magical place for ours. From the moment they stepped out of the train station and into a vaporetto (the boats that act like buses on the canals), the kids were transfixed. We bought a family pass and rode the city for five days. They loved the shop windows filled with glass animals, the architecture and windows leaning right up against the water, the tiny bridges and the canals at night where the sounds echo off the buildings. "Some day, I'm going to live here," declared our fourteen-year-old.

Lake Huron: We've travelled to many beaches around the world but one of the best is only hours away. From Tobermory down to Goderich, the Lake Huron shore offers great sand and water that is often the color of the Caribbean. Most kids take one look and think it's the ocean. McGregor Point Provincial Park offers scenic camping, and a kids program that includes nature hikes, cookouts, and even a ghost walk in the dark with the spirits of dead sailors. The park's Visitor Centre displays snakes, toads and other critters that kids have caught in the park, to be released in a grand ceremony during Labor Day weekend.

The California Coast: From San Francisco to San Diego, the Pacific Coast is one giant playground. Whether it's gazing up at the giant Redwood trees, watching the surfers, riding the wooden roller coaster at Santa boardwalk amusement park, or laughing at the sea otters at the spectacular Monterey Bay Aquarium, nature is a constant equalizer. A popular hotel with both parents and kids is the Rancho Bernardo Inn just north of San Diego (1 -800-542-6096). Kids Camp, which runs during all the major school holidays, includes kids up to 17; kids 13 and under stay free. good

Mt. Tremblant: We're fairly new to skiing as a family, but that didn't matter at Mt. Tremblant (1-800-461-8711). The instructors were patient with young and old. This season, the resort offers 18 new trails, a six-passenger high-speed gondola, 600 new parking spaces, new condos on the hill. During a March break, our 3 kids were split up into a four-day Kids' Club with children their own ages. The highlight? Ski races for everyone on the last day and a special run down the mountain at night holding torches for kids advanced enough to ski with fire in the dark. Kids under 12 get free lodging; kids under 5 ski free.

Club Med: One family of five we know makes it a habit to vacation at Club Med Family Resorts (960-3279). Their favorite - and they have visited almost all of them in this hemisphere - is Ixtapa in Mexico. Children as young as four months can participate in planned activities while their parents are relaxing or participating in their sport of choice. One word of caution: families of five have to split up for sleeping. A good way to avoid the high rates is to vacation during low periods (between Jan 7 and Feb 11, the all-inclusive rates are $1599 per week for adults, $1238 for under 12s) or sign on for Family Escape. New this year, the program lets you pay a low price for an unknown destination. Two weeks before departure, you will be informed as to which Club Med your family will be heading towards.

Jamaica: This island launched the Caribbean's first all-inclusive family resort, Boscobel Beach in Ocho Rios, just voted best family resort in a recent poll of 25,000 travel agents. Now similar all-inclusive resorts such as Poinciana Beach Club in Negril compete. But it was the people who made our vacation there with two toddlers special. They had the patience to make them hats out of palm leaves, show them how to climb trees for coconuts, how to catch lobster. We're ready for another Jamaican holiday and in fact, will be there this week.

This list will no doubt change even in the next year. We haven't done Disney ( most families' ultimate vacation), nor have we cruised ( a wonderful holiday especially if there are several generations along). There's Las Vegas, now promoting family fare, and New Orleans. And then there's the new Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, where you walk through a walled aquarium to get to dinner.





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