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
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