STAY AND PLAY

From pre­tend­ing to be an ele­phant keeper to pan­ning for gold, the ac­tiv­i­ties at chil­dren’s clubs have come a long way, re­ports Chris­tine McCabe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HOL­I­DAYS for fam­i­lies have come a long way dur­ing the past decade, due in large part to the de­vel­op­ment of pur­pose-built ho­tel and re­sort-based chil­dren’s clubs. Pro­fes­sional child care, to­gether with su­per­vised ac­tiv­i­ties, al­low par­ents to laze by the pool or en­joy a ro­man­tic meal while their chil­dren are out and about fish­ing, snorkelling, rock climb­ing, rop­ing a steer, learn­ing a lan­guage, even wash­ing an ele­phant. It’s a toss-up as to who is get­ting the bet­ter deal.

Play­ing ele­phant keeper for the day is just one of sev­eral highly orig­i­nal new ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to pint-sized guests (ages six to 12) of the swish Man­darin Ori­en­tal Dhara Dhevi in Chi­ang Mai, Thai­land (named 2006 hideaway of the year in Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Re­port ). Ac­tive young­sters can also learn muay Thai (a dis­ci­pline com­bin­ing kick­box­ing with yoga) or join ex­ec­u­tive chef Do­minique Bug­nand in the kitchen for a chil­dren’s cook­ing class. Af­ter-dark sa­faris take place in a nearby wildlife park, but the re­sort says it’s play­ing at be­ing a jumbo keeper that’s prov­ing top of the hol­i­day pops.

Chil­dren work with staff at an ele­phant farm, 40 min­utes from the re­sort, learn­ing how to care for th­ese won­der­ful crea­tures. They help wash the pachyderms (messier and more fun than bathing the re­cal­ci­trant fam­ily dog) and later take a ride on their new friend. Good value at 4200 baht ($163), in­clud­ing trans­fers, train­ing and lunch. Book through the re­sort’s Lanna Kids Club. www.man­dari­nori­en­tal.com. FIJI is per­haps the most child-friendly hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. In this be­guil­ing is­land chain, lit­tle ones are lauded like roy­alty. At the Outrig­ger on the La­goon Re­sort & Spa on Fiji’s lovely Coral Coast, be­tween Nadi and Suva, two free chil­dren’s clubs (for ages three to seven and eight to 12) pro­vide full day care and a host of beach-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

Sand­cas­tle-build­ing com­pe­ti­tions, scav­enger hunts and mu­si­cal chairs may be the stuff of Enid Bly­ton’s The Fa­mous Five sum­mer hol­i­days, but older chil­dren can main­tain their cool while en­joy­ing pool vol­ley­ball, snorkelling, mini-triathlons and un­der­wa­ter trea­sure hunts. Ev­ery­one loves the frog and crab races. Even bet­ter, both clubs pro­vide lunch, din­ner and late care to 9pm, al­low­ing par­ents to make the most of the ham­mocks strung out­side the thatched bures. www.out­rig­ger­fiji.com. MY 11-year-old son thinks a dude ranch is some­where they breed and graze tremen­dously cool peo­ple. The Kid Wran­glers at the Vista Verde Guest and Ski Ranch in Steam­boat Springs, Colorado, are to­tally au fait with the needs of im­age-con­scious ado­les­cents. While the lit­tle ones are oth­er­wise en­gaged with trea­sure hunts, horserid­ing, pan­ning for gold and teepee pow­wows, teens (12 and older) get to try their hand at ad­vanced rock climb­ing, tub­ing the Yampa River and overnight sur­vival camps.

In win­ter there’s ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing, even dog sled­ding. Add to this moun­tain bik­ing, hik­ing and bal­loon­ing, and there’s more than enough to keep the most ac­tive child amused on this glo­ri­ously lo­cated work­ing ranch. And, let’s face it, few ho­tels would be will­ing to teach you to fly-fish and rope a steer in the same week. The overnight tar­iff in­cludes lodge or cabin ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals and most ac­tiv­i­ties. www.vis­taverde.com. SET be­hind a rav­ish­ing stretch of beach on Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast, the Hy­att Re­gency Coolum op­er­ates one of Aus­tralia’s most com­pre­hen­sive re­sort-based child­care pro­grams, cater­ing for chil­dren as young as six weeks. The pro­fes­sion­ally equipped and staffed Camp Hy­att is sit­u­ated in a large build­ing (with out­door play ar­eas) at the heart of the re­sort with sep­a­rate ar­eas for each age group. Ap­pro­pri­ate su­per­vised ac­tiv­i­ties and nu­tri­tional meals are in­cluded in the kids’ club fees (from $45 a half-day ses­sion; slightly cheaper if you have more than one child). CHIL­DREN and dogs are wel­come at the rather chip­per and aw­fully el­e­gant Bovey Cas­tle near Dart­moor in Devon, where there’s noth­ing as un­seemly as a kids’ club but rather a ju­nior ac­tiv­i­ties barn (with cin­ema and games) and a host of out­door pur­suits to keep chil­dren of all ages amused. That dogs are wel­come (al­though not that Dur­ing school hol­i­days, res­i­dent Wal­la­bies (eight to 12 years) can join ex­cur­sions to the Aus­tralia Zoo, Top Shots Ad­ven­ture Park and Zone 3 Laser Park, while evening ses­sions op­er­ate for the younger chil­dren, al­low­ing par­ents to en­joy that rarest of treats, din­ner for two. www.coolum.hy­att.com. pesky Hound of the Baskervilles) vol­umes for this charm­ing ho­tel.

Out­door ac­tiv­i­ties are suit­ably Bri­tish and there’s am­ple op­por­tu­nity for your prog­eny to pol­ish their so­cial skills with a spot of archery, golf, ten­nis, horse rid­ing, fly-fish­ing or clayp­i­geon shoot­ing. Of course it wouldn’t be the same with­out cricket and cro­quet. Even the in­door pas­times have an old world feel: Scalex­tric, Lego, ping-pong and bil­liards. There’s even a dress-up chest. Fal­conry dis­plays with a Euro­pean ea­gle owl will en­chant Pot­ter fans. www.bov­ey­cas­tle.com.

speaks AT the Sof­i­tel Fiji Re­sort & Spa on De­na­rau is­land near Nadi the fam­ily hol­i­day con­cept has been ex­tended to in­clude spe­cial fam­ily gue­strooms (fea­tur­ing a sep­a­rate chil­dren’s area with bunk beds and PlayS­ta­tion) and in­no­va­tive ac­tive pack­ages, dubbed Adrenalin Fiji, which can be tai­lored to in­clude a se­lec­tion of ac­tiv­i­ties from sky div­ing, jet ski­ing or scuba div­ing to sea kayak­ing or pic­nic cruises to neigh­bour­ing is­lands.

The Tur­tle Club for kids is open 12 hours (9am-9pm) and caters to chil­dren two to 12 (with rates from $FJ10, or $7.40, a day), while the La­goon Restau­rant fea­tures a chil­dren’s buf­fet, a pleas­ant change from the old chicken nuggets and spaghetti bolog­naise stand­bys. www.sof­itelfiji.com.fj.

CLUB Med helped de­velop the con­cept of re­sort-based chil­dren’s clubs al­most four decades ago and it has been re­fin­ing the con­cept ever since, with its cir­cus schools pro­vid­ing older chil­dren with an op­por­tu­nity to test their Cirque du Soleil cre­den­tials.

At Club Med Cher­at­ing Beach, on Malaysia’s beau­ti­ful east coast, the cir­cus school forms only one part of a com­pre­hen­sive chil­dren’s pro­gram that has all bases cov­ered, from babes in arms (up to 23 months), through Petit Club Med (two to three years) and Mini Club (four to 10) to Ju­niors (11 to 17), where tightrope walk­ing, the trapeze and bungy bounce make a re­fresh­ing change from com­puter games.

Re­fur­bished to five-star stan­dards three years ago, Club Med Cher­at­ing Beach of­fers plenty of out­door fun for kids (sail­ing, archery, in­line skat­ing, ten­nis, beach golf, even tur­tle watch­ing in sea­son) and in­door down­time for par­ents at the well-equipped day spa. And all kids’ club ac­tiv­i­ties are in­cluded in the pack­age price. www.clubmed.com.au. SKI re­sorts gen­er­ally of­fer a good range of child­care op­tions. At Mt Hotham, a ded­i­cated, newly ren­o­vated day­care cen­tre helps out with chil­dren as young as three months and of­fers full day­care cum learn-to-ski pack­ages for chil­dren as young as two (priced at $159 and in­clud­ing private tu­ition).

Lo­cated at the Big D, with gen­tly un­du­lat­ing begin­ners’ slopes, the Hotham Kids’ Snow­zone pro­vides half and full-day ses­sions in two age groups (three to six and seven to 14) with snow­board­ing and race days for older chil­dren. New this year are min­is­now­mo­biles, op­er­at­ing near the top of the Big D, pro­vid­ing an ex­cel­lent way for older chil­dren (seven to 14) to break up their ski­ing day. And as Hotham’s new snow dragon mas­cot Harry knows, safety comes first. So ev­ery child who rents equip­ment or is en­rolled in a Snow­zone pro­gram re­ceives free use of a cer­ti­fied snows­ports hel­met. www.hotham.com.au/kids. ON Bali’s Jim­baran Bay, the glam­orous In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Bali Re­sort op­er­ates one of the best chil­dren’s clubs on the is­land. Dubbed Club J, this ex­ten­sive fa­cil­ity func­tions as a re­sort within a re­sort re­plete with large air­con­di­tioned club­house, out­door swim­ming pool, climb­ing frame, mini bas­ket­ball com­pound and a pop­u­lar in­ter­net cave.

Op­er­at­ing be­tween 9am and 10pm daily and cater­ing to two de­fined age groups (ages four to seven and eight to 12; baby sit­ting avail­able for younger chil­dren), Club J is pro­fes­sion­ally staffed and fea­tures a state-ofthe-art video se­cu­rity sys­tem to­gether with life­guards and healthy meals served in a fun, themed room.

A jam-packed ac­tiv­ity pro­gram high­lights tra­di­tional pas­times — kite-mak­ing, lo­cal crafts, Ba­li­nese dance and lan­guage — plus marine con­ser­va­tion, with the club’s green sea tur­tle mas­cot a fo­cus for such ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pool games, fish­ing, meet-the-chef and other beach­front fun take chil­dren out and about while par­ents get to en­joy the In­terCon­ti­nen­tal’s many restau­rants, bars and day spa. www.bali.in­tercon­ti­nen­tal.com. BALI’S cul­ture takes cen­tre stage at Club Dolfi (Ac­cor Ho­tels’ sig­na­ture chil­dren’s club) at the Novo­tel Benoa Bali, a thatched, low-rise re­sort nestling on the cusp of Nusa Dua on the lovely Tan­jung Benoa Beach.

The pur­pose-built chil­dren’s club (cater­ing for ages six to 12; a babysit­ting ser­vice is avail­able for younger chil­dren) in­cor­po­rates tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese pas­times such as pup­pet and kite-mak­ing, theatre and dance.

Su­per­vised out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude swim­ming (the re­sort has three pools) to­gether with a range of wa­ter­sports while, af­ter dark, chil­dren can take part in fun magic shows and pi­rate nights. Off-re­sort ex­cur­sions are avail­able, with an in­ex­pen­sive glass­bot­tom boat tour a pop­u­lar op­tion. www.novotel­bali.com. GIVEN that al­most one-third of its pas­sen­gers are fam­i­lies, P & O Cruises Aus­tralia takes chil­dren se­ri­ously, with three sep­a­rate clubs for ju­nior sailors op­er­at­ing on each of the com­pany’s Aus­tralian ves­sels: Pa­cific Star, Pa­cific Sun and the su­per­liner Pa­cific Dawn, which be­gins sail­ing year-round from Syd­ney in Novem­ber.

Cater­ing for chil­dren three to 17, the clubs are staffed by pro­fes­sional child­care and youth co-or­di­na­tors and of­fer al­most un­lim­ited en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing movie nights, pizza and dance par­ties, tal­ent shows and scav­enger hunts. All clubs are open late, al­low­ing par­ents to dine mi­nus prog­eny (pagers are avail­able) and ad­di­tional child­mind­ing is avail­able to 1am. Club ac­tiv­i­ties are in­cluded in the fare but it’s im­por­tant to note that no su­per­vised ac­tiv­i­ties are pro­vided for chil­dren un­der three, and babes in arms (un­der 12 months) are not per­mit­ted to sail. www.pocruises.com.au. The Curious Cook: Is­land flavours at the Outrig­ger on the La­goon, Fiji — Page 10

Multi-tusk­ing: Play­ing ele­phant keeper for the day is one of a range of highly orig­i­nal new ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to small guests at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal Dhara Dhevi in Chi­ang Mai, Thai­land

Per­fect for prog­eny: Clock­wise from bot­tom left, Thai sa­fari; ski lessons at Mt Hotham; the royal treat­ment in Fiji; Kids Club at Outrig­ger on the La­goon; trapeze school

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