Tired of the same old family destinations? We suggest unusual places that are surprisingly kid-friendly.
IF YOU’D LIKE SOMEWHERE FAMILIAR BUT NEW
Canberra, the Australian capital, inspires little more than scepticism as a holiday spot when compared with Sydney and Melbourne. That may change now that Singapore Airlines has launched non-stop flights to the city. It is a surprising treasure trove for children, with museums, parks and activities that cater to them.
Most of these attractions are an easy 10- to 20-minute walk or drive from one another. Start with a bird’s-eye view of the city aboard a hot-air balloon with Balloon Aloft (www.balloonaloftcanberra.com.au). Then head to Yarralumla Play Station (www.yarraps.com.au) for a 36-hole mini golf course, a small petting zoo and a ride on a miniature Thomas the Tank Engine-like train (keep an eye out for kangaroos).
For sporty fun, race gokarts around an F1-style circuit at Power Kart Raceway (www.powerkarts.com.au). Family members of all ages will find fun at Questacon, The National Science and Technology Centre (www.questacon.edu.au). It boasts more than 200 interactive exhibits, including an earthquake simulation, the chance to challenge a robot to a game of air hockey, and workshops that teach you how to build a battlebot.
Nature lovers will enjoy the National Arboretum Canberra (www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au), one of the largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees. It also houses the Pod Playground (pictured, top right), which has rope tunnels, slides, climbing nets, music-making equipment and sandpits.
Finally, take a walk on the wild side at National Zoo & Aquarium (www.nationalzoo.com.au) and experience an overnight safari at Jamala Wildlife Lodge (www.jamalawildlifelodge.com.au). Located in the middle of the animal enclosures, the African safari-inspired luxury lodge features 18 rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows or balconies that allow guests to sleep, eat and bathe next to the zoo’s main attractions.
IF YOU DON’T MIND ROUGHING IT OUT
Once outside Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, there are few cars or people, so the kids can run wild across grassy plains. Step into the simple life by booking a homestay with Mongolian nomads in a ger (pictured), ride horses or camels, and explore the magnificent landscape. Highlights include Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260.
Here, 13th-century conqueror Genghis Khan rallied troops for war. The ancient city in the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, a steppe covered in bright green and yellow grass, was named a Unesco World Heritage Site for its representation of nomadic life and culture over two millennia. In the Gobi Desert, watch wild animals such as black-tailed gazelles, Bactrian camels, sand plovers, brown bears and, perhaps, even rare snow leopards.
The desert is a place of dinosaur bones and eggs, too. Back in the city, check out the National Museum of Mongolia, which focuses on the archaeology and cultural history of the country. The Mongolian Natural History Museum (www.dinosaurmuseum.mn) has a collection of the country’s flora, fauna and geology. Also known as the Dinosaur Museum, it boasts a permanent exhibition of dinosaur fossils and eggs.
IF YOU WANT A WINTER HOLIDAY
Hokkaido is an expensive ski destination, so why not try Harbin in northernmost China instead? A Harbin holiday may be less than half the cost of a Hokkaido trip, according to Dynasty Travel agency. See some of the best ice and snow art at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival from Jan 5 to Feb 25, with intricate sculptures towering more than 40m (pictured).
Walk along Central Street, or Zhongyang Street, to experience the city’s European flair. The street is lined with Baroque and Byzantine architecture, mostly built by Russian businessmen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Harbin was a hub for the Trans-Siberian Railway. Just outside the city, on the bank of Ashi River, visitors can soak in the Russian flavour at Volga Manor, a 60ha park with 30 Russian-style buildings, including the beautiful St Nicholas Cathedral.
About 280km out of Harbin, you will find Snow Town, a winter wonderland of 20 log cabins set among 500ha of mountains and forests. Besides skiing, you can hike through surrounding villages and forest, ride on a snowmobile or horseor dog-pulled sleds, and have meals with local families. Ski-focused families can head to Club Med Beidahu (www.clubmed.com.sg), which is the French hotel group’s second ski resort in China.
The ski-in, ski-out resort in Beidahu, a five-hour drive from Harbin, opens next month, with 19 ski runs ranging from 526m to 1,404m. It will offer ski lessons and indoor activities for all ages, including a kids’ club with babysitting services, arts and crafts, and an interactive game lounge.
IF MALLS AND THEME PARKS ARE A MUST
Dubai is sometimes called the Singapore of the Middle East. Like Singaporeans, Emiratis escape the heat by retreating into airconditioned malls that offer more than just shopping. At The Dubai Mall, tour the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (www.thedubaiaquarium.com). Its 10 million-litre tank contains more than 33,000 aquatic animals and the largest collection of sand tiger sharks anywhere.
Visitors can snorkel and dive with more than 100 species of fish. The Mall of the Emirates houses Ski Dubai (www.theplaymania.com/skidubai), an indoor ski resort (pictured above). Visitors can ski, snowboard and toboggan, as well as enjoy a 40-minute encounter with penguins. If you’ve had enough indoor fun, head to Dubai’s new theme parks.
IMG Worlds of Adventure (www.imgworlds.com), which opened in August, is the largest temperature-controlled indoor theme park in the world at 143,000 sq m. Families can enjoy rides, movies, live shows and restaurants in four main zones: Marvel, Lost Valley, Cartoon Network and IMG Boulevard.
Dubai Parks and Resorts (www.dubaiparksandresorts.com), which was due to open last month, will have three theme parks, including Hollywood- and Bollywood inspired ones. In the desert, go on camel rides, dune buggy racing and sand-boarding with Arabian Adventures (www.arabianadventures.com).
IF YOU LOVE THRILLS
It may be known as Sin City, but its infamous Las Vegas Strip is rich in child-friendly activities, too. Your little ones can cruise in a gondola along the Grand Canal and watch street performers at The Venetian (www.venetian.com), or play carnival games in the Coney Island-themed hall in the New York-New York hotel and casino (www.newyorknewyork.com).
Next door at the mediaeval themed Excalibur (www.excalibur.com), dig into a three-course dinner while gallant knights joust at a dinner theatre. For dazzle, The Bellagio (www.bellagio.com) has a famous fountain and light show, while Fall Of Atlantis at Caesar’s Palace (www.caesars.com) is a free 11-minute show with special effects and animatronic statues.
Thrill-seeking older children can ride the Big Apple roller coaster at New York-New York and the Big Shot at Stratosphere hotel (www.stratospherehotel.com), which propels riders 49m into the air in 2½ seconds.
Indulge your kid’s sweet tooth at M&M’s World (www.mmsworld.com), four floors of fun where visitors can buy personalised candy-covered chocolates, or tour the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (www.ethelm.com). Las Vegas also has a Natural History Museum (www.lvnhm.org), as well as the Nevada State Railroad Museum (www.museums.nevadaculture.org), where visitors can ride in a 1930s-era train.
IF YOU WANT TO GET AWAY FROM IT ALL
The South Pacific conjures up images of relaxed romance for honeymooners, but Fiji has plenty of room for families, too. It has been a top destination for families from Australia and New Zealand for more than a decade, so there are many established options for family activities and lodgings. Fiji is home to some of the best soft coral reefs, where children can enjoy worldclass snorkelling and diving.
Kayaking, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding and fishing are other aquatic highlights, while horseback rides along its beaches are favourites, too. Had enough sun? Head inland for cultural dance performances, Fijian cooking classes and nature walks to discover the unique flora and fauna. Speed along the Sigatoka River on a jet boat to visit Fijian villages, where many still live in bures, singleroom thatched roof homes, with adventure tour operator Sigatoka River Safari (www.sigatokariver.com).
Many hotels and resorts offer family packages, kids’ clubs and nanny services, from Club Fiji Resort (clubfiji-resort.com) and Koro Sun Resort (www.korosunresort.com) on Fiji’s main islands, to private island resorts such as Outrigger Beach Resort (www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji) and Castaway Island (www.castawayfiji.com). Best of all, Fiji Airways (www.fijiairways.com) offers child fares. Children aged two to 11 get 20 to 40 per cent off adult rates.