Family fun can be found in urban jungles

Sunday, June 2, 2002

NEW YORK -- Family vacations should be fun -- for everyone.

And that's the No. 1 selling point for a trip to the city, says William Travis, an editor at Fodors Travel Publications.

"What's good about city vacations is that they're good for any age because there is so much to do," says Travis.

Cities are open 24 hours, seven days a week and good weather isn't a make-or-break factor.

("Beach vacation plus rain equals the hotel room," Travis says.)

Also, most people live within driving distance of a city so the trip can be somewhat spontaneous.

The only time a city vacation isn't right, according to Travis, is when finances are really tight. Transportation and food are often more expensive in the urban jungle than anywhere else.

"You can do a city on a budget but you can't do it without spending any money," he says.

Fodors recently published 15 city-specific guides, featuring "68 great things to do together" in each place, including New York, Denver, Seattle and Rome.

The first thing to do when considering a family vacation -- no matter what the destination -- is prioritizing the attractions.

A vacation schedule should never be overloaded, especially when traveling with young children, Travis says, but, at the same time, there should always be enough options mapped out just in case the day speeds along faster than you expected.

Plan your activities

"Know your child," he advises, "know when they need naps, know their interests."

In general, a museum or other indoor activity that requires attention and concentration to enjoy is best in the morning, while a park or other form of physical fun works in the afternoon when they begin to get a little antsy. An IMAX movie or a trip to a planetarium are good rainy-day alternatives, says Travis, the father of a 2-year-old girl. No matter where you go, don't forget to bring a lot of nonperishable snacks.

And, he adds, remember that the little things that are routine to a city dweller but might be fascinating to a child who has never experienced them. A hot dog from a vendor in New York's Central Park, for instance, is the ultimate city experience; as is taking a streetcar in San Francisco; or a ride on the "el" train in Chicago.

For a rural kid, city lights in any city can be beautiful and amazing. Take a sunset steamboat cruise in New Orleans or a Circle Line trip in New York to see the city's bridges lit up at night, Travis recommends.

Many urban hotels are actively courting families, especially on weekends when business travelers go home.

The Kid Concierge at Le Parker Meridien in New York starts off with a homework assignment for parents: a questionnaire to be filled out before their arrival about their children's likes and dislikes.

"We asked ourselves how do we make it a good time for kids and not stressful for their parents," says Steven Pipes, the hotel's general manager.

The answer was to help families plan their itineraries before they leave their houses.

"A big part of a vacation is the anticipation. If they know they are going to go to the planetarium, the kids could be anticipating it before they leave," says Pipes.

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