Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Kids in tow

Three parent-tested hot spots to bring your tots, tweens and teens

Both of my kids were introduced to travel early. And, other than a few “what were we thinking?!” moments, our initial family jaunts went off without a hitch. My husband and I just decided where we adults wanted to go and carted the children along.

This methodology worked because, as babies they were oblivious to new surroundings and as tots were equally happy in Moncton or Morocco, provided they got our undivided attention. But as our two outgrew the toddling stage, a different MO was needed.

Understanding that their interests and abilities now had to be factored into the vacation equation, we decided the best way to ensure a successful trip was to pick the right destination based on their ages. Herewith, three tried-and-true recommendations for parents who’ve reached the same conclusion.

Ages 4-8: Go go go!

Kids in this category believe the beach is a dream destination, so it’s no surprise that San Diego (tel: 619-232-3101; www.sandiego.org) would draw families in droves. California’s southernmost city is, after all, blessed with “endless summer” weather and plenty of palmy Pacific beaches.

What sets San Diego apart, however, is that it arguably has North America’s highest concentration of age-appropriate educational attractions as well. The arts-oriented New Children’s Museum (tel: 619-233-8792; www.thinkplaycreate.org), which debuted last year, and Old Town (tel: 619-220-5422; www.parks.ca.gov), a restored pueblo that brings Hispanic history to life, are two popular choices. The jewel in San Diego’s crown, though, is Balboa Park (tel: 619- 239-0512; www.balboapark.org): the largest urban cultural park in the United States. Museum hopping with the four-to-eight set is usually a snooze, but here it’s the sleeper hit of the trip. Considering the park line-up includes an aerospace museum, model railroad museum and car museum, children crazy about planes, trains and automobiles will be enthralled.

Balboa Park’s other attractions — among them a fossil-filled natural history museum and hands-on science centre — are interspersed with playgrounds and picnic spots. Enjoying these is easy: a complimentary tram connects the sites (that’s a real boon for little legs), and a seven-day Balboa Park Passport (adults $48; children 3-12 $26) lets you see them at your leisure.

An upgraded park passport also allows entry to the world-class San Diego Zoo (tel: 619-236-1212; www.sandiego.org). Youngsters never tire of the tigers that reside in its faux rainforest or the polar bears that make themselves at home in the imitation Arctic. Lions, hippos, indeed the whole Madagascar cast is on hand too, as are pandas.

Prefer Nemo’s friends? SeaWorld (tel: 800-257-4268; www.seaworld.com), the splashy aquarium-cum-amusement park that ranks as the city’s second most famous attraction is a short drive away. After ogling exhibits and watching Shamu the Killer Whale perform, older kids can feed dolphins while little tykes twirl on the rides in the new Sesame Street Bay of Play zone.

If rides appealing to the entire age group are required, Legoland (tel: 760- 918-5946; www.legoland.com), 30 minutes north of San Diego, has you covered. In addition to themed shows and meticulously detailed models, this 52-hectare complex has a wide range of classic kiddy rides. Sure they’ve been tweaked to

resemble giant Lego play sets, but many run on “kid power” and even the tallest motorized one — Lego Technic Test Track — is designed with four-year olds in mind.

Ages 9-12: Get Wild

Once children reach the tween years, they are ready for more active adventures and Puerto Rico (www.gotopuertorico.com) really delivers. From a parental perspective this topographically diverse destination has several advantages. For starters, it boasts one of the Caribbean’s busiest airport, and that high volume translates into affordable airfares.

Moreover, the island has everything you’d expect in a semi-autonomous US territory, from modern highways to English-speaking service providers. Hence you can explore most of it independently rather than being locked into pricey packaged excursions.

Puerto Rico has enough natural wonders to dazzle any Discovery Channel junkie. Take El Yunque National Forest (tel: 787-888-1880; www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean). Conveniently situated 45 minutes east of the airport, it’s an 11,000-hectare rainforest reserve that’s tailor made for kids eager to graduate from jungle gyms to the real jungle. A stunning visitor centre introduces the ecosystem via interactive exhibits and an elevated walkway outside it gives a bird’s-eye look at the leafy canopy.

Admission to both is under $8 for a family of four; and, when you are ready to see more, you simply choose between El Yunque’s paved trails. The Big Tree option is particularly good for tweens thanks to well-positioned rest stops and interpretative panels. Better still, the one-and-a-half kilometre route culminates at a dramatic waterfall.

For bragging rights, nothing beats an after-dark outing to one the island’s bioluminescent bays. Microscopic organisms called pyrodinium dart through the water creating a surreal glowstick-green lightshow, whether you swim in Vieques (the most vivid) or kayak in Fajardo (the most accessible). For daytime dipping, the coastal beaches are pretty stellar. Some offer bathtub-calm conditions for snorkellers; others have rougher surf that is just right for beginning boogie boarders.

You can dry off afterwards with an urban excursion to Puerto Rico’s 16th-century capital: Old San Juan (tel: 787-729-6777; www.nps.gov/saju). Founded by Spaniards and once frequented by real Pirates of the Caribbean, this walled city contains seven-square blocks of beautifully preserved colonial architecture. When time is tight (or enthusiasm slight) focus your attention on El Morro. As one of the New World’s oldest forts, it has atmospheric tunnels, towers and ramparts to fire tween imaginations, plus a broad lawn that’s ideal for kite flying.

Ages 13 +: Trés cool

Paris (tel: 011-33-8-9268-3000; www.parisinfo.com) is immediately recognizable to all, which is precisely why it’s such a perfect family destination. My own children, having vicariously discovered it through the Aristocats and Rugrats, fell in love with the City of Light as pre-schoolers.

Nevertheless, a Parisian vacation is especially well-suited to teens. First, it qualifies as a “trophy trip.” So even kids inclined to balk at alone time with the ’rents (those people formerly referred to as Mommy and Daddy) will happily sign on.

Another benefit is that the French capital’s iconic attractions can be covered in a week or less. That’s good news because teenagers get separation anxiety when apart from peers too long. Most importantly, adult and teen interests converge in Paris, making sightseeing an opportunity for bonding not bickering. It also helps that the majority of sites on your shared to-do list happen to be gratis for teens.

Paris’ state-owned monuments (like the Arc de Triomphe) and museums, such as the Louvre (tel: 011-33-1-4020-5824; www.louvre.fr) and Musée d’Orsay (tel: 011-33-1-4049-4814; www.musee-orsay.fr) generously waive entry fees for anyone under 18. A dozen municipal museums offer complimentary admission, and Notre-Dame Basilica (tel: 011-33-1-4234-5610;. www.notredamedeparis.fr) gets in on the act as well. Not only is the cathedral free to all, teenagers can climb the South Tower’s spiralling steps to see the gargoyles and Quasimodo’s bell without dropping a dime.

The Eiffel Tower (tel: 011-33-8-9270-1239; www.tour-eiffel.fr) is an exception to this rule. Taking the elevator to the top costs $15 for teens and $20 for grown-ups, but ascending — if merely for the sake of a Facebook photo op — feels mandatory.

Another pay-for-play site with proven appeal is Musée des Égouts (tel: 011-33-1-5368-2781) (aka the Paris Sewer Museum), which allows fans of quirky attractions to make a not-so-fragrant foray deep beneath Quai d’Orsay.

Alternately teens can remain at street level and concentrate on another time-honoured activity — shopping. Relax, your brood can stock up on labels a 35-minute train ride east in La Vallée Village (www.lavalleevillage.com). This outlet mall has an A to Z of retailers (think Armani to Zadig & Voltaire) and designer duds up to 60 percent off.

Walt Disney Studios (tel: 011-33-1-6030-6053; www.disneylandparis.com), Disneyland Paris’ teen-friendly sister park, sit nearby. So they can later feed their need for speed on familiar rides like Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Roller coaster. With options like that, the most jaded teen will find it hard to feign boredom.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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