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Four surprising alternatives to Disney World for your next family trip

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When my husband, Daniel, and I first moved to London, we were young, child-free and eager to travel. But mere days before we left for our first long adventure — a 10-day train ride from London to Lisbon, with stops in France and Spain — I discovered I was pregnant. Needless to say, Daniel enjoyed the trip far more than I did, with a glass of wine never far from his lips and a plastic bag never far from mine.

Six months after our daughter was born, we took our first trip as parents to Amsterdam for a long weekend. We carried her in a backpack through museums, put her to bed in her stroller in restaurants and coffee shops, and cuddled her on a boat ride through the canals. It never occurred to us not to travel, despite the addition of a new passenger.

Clivenden, a National Trust estate in Maidenhead, England.
Clivenden, a National Trust estate in Maidenhead, England.  (ANDREW TESTA / The New York Times)

I am glad we made that decision, because our two-year stint abroad turned into 20 years in four countries, with two more children eventually added to our brood. And though we made the occasional birthday pilgrimage to Disneyland Paris and Legoland, we typically had little interest in visiting places designed exclusively for children. Instead, we went where we wanted to go and made them “family-friendly” simply by taking the family and being friendly.

Below are four trips that worked well for both generations of travellers in our family.

Downton Abbey meets Beatrix Potter

Imagine staying in a castle, a stately home, a gardener’s cottage or a lighthouse in England. Welcome to the National Trust, which protects and maintains some of that country’s historic residences and grounds for public use. On two occasions, we rented one of their cosy cottages, first at Polesden Lacy, a Downton Abbey-like Edwardian estate in Surrey, and then Cliveden, once the home of Waldorf and Nancy Astor and the social gathering place for the British elite for much of the 20th century.

The experience was both educational and elegant. Each day, we visited other National Trust homes in the area, learning from an audio tour the history of the houses and grounds, complete with colouring books for the young ones. Each night, we sipped champagne in the gardens surrounding our cottages (closed to the public at 5 p.m.) and watched our children as they ran through our personal playground of magical pathways.

The National Trust now has more than 400 cottages in all sizes and price ranges, as well as hotels, and even glamping and camping sites. Although Hill Top, the Lake District farmhouse where Beatrix Potter spent much of her adult life, is not available for rent, the house is open to visitors every day except Friday, and can be used as the starting point for a regional walking tour suggested by the National Trust as a way to explore the life and work of the Peter Rabbit author.

Matisse and Marineland

The old town of Monaco, from Jardin Exotique botanical garden.
The old town of Monaco, from Jardin Exotique botanical garden.  (REBECCA MARSHALL/THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Think of the French Riviera and the first thing that comes to mind are yachts filled with film stars and beaches dotted with bikinis. That is not completely wrong, as we discovered when we took our three children (then 14, 10 and 9) to Nice, Cannes and Monaco. Yet all quickly blended into the landscape from our first day on the beach, where we ate freshly caught fish between dips in the sea. But the Riviera is not just a beach vacation. We visited Marineland in Antibes and a Roman city in Frejus. Add to that a day in Monaco — which included visiting Prince Ranier’s collection of more than 100 cars and seeing live sharks at the Oceanographic Museum — and we had the perfect vacation for everyone in our group.

CV Villas rents houses all along the Côte d’Azur. A villa with a private pool and three bedrooms that sleeps up to six starts at $1,800 (U.S.) for a week, depending on the season.

Rollicking in ruins

The Acropolis, seen from afar in Athens is a great place to see the ancient Greek ruins and indulge in Mediterranean food.
The Acropolis, seen from afar in Athens is a great place to see the ancient Greek ruins and indulge in Mediterranean food.  (EIRINI VOURLOUMIS/THE NEW YORK TIMES)

One of the best vacations for both learning and lounging we ever took was to the Peloponnesus, an unspoiled part of Greece, with an initial stop in Athens to visit the Acropolis. With my children then 15, 11 and 10, it seemed the perfect time to bring the Greek gods to life. We visited the archeological ruins in Olympia, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Corinth; body surfed in the Mediterranean; ate souvlaki and spinach pie at a seaside cafe, and wandered the streets of cities like Nafplio looking for after-dinner ice cream cones. But the bonus was that the children came home from vacation schooled in the classics, from Zeus to Pericles, not realizing we had been on an academic adventure.

We stayed at the Aldemar Resort near Olympia. Located on the beach, it has dozens of pools, a variety of restaurants, and a wide selection of rooms and suites. In season, a beachfront room that sleeps four starts at $500 a night, including breakfast. In Nafplio, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite at the Amphitryon Hotel overlooking the bay of Nafplion is $460 a night in mid-June with two bathrooms and two private balconies. Ideal for two adults and two children.

An island holiday (ABBA was here)

Split, Croatia, a favourite destination for Europeans traveling with their kids.
Split, Croatia, a favourite destination for Europeans traveling with their kids.  (MAX CANTOR/THE NEW YORK TIMES)

This past summer, I took our family to Split, Croatia. Split is a favourite weekend destination for Europeans and the perfect place to use as a base for visiting one of the many nearby islands in the Adriatic. Though my offspring are now young adults, I couldn’t help but notice how many Europeans had their children in tow. No doubt, Diocletian’s Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to AD 295) is the primary draw. The walled inner city is full of stone-paved pedestrian paths and is a car-free maze of shops, restaurants, courtyards and centuries-old ruins. You may want to extend your trip by taking the 2 1/2-hour ferry to the island of Vis (the location of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”), where breathtakingly beautiful beaches await, as well as the Blue Cave, so-called because the sun shining through a crevice in the top turns the water neon blue. Yes, the locals will talk about spotting Colin Firth and Amanda Seyfred at their favourite restaurants and the hostess at Lambek will no doubt confide that Pierce Brosnan told her that its pizza was the best in the world (he may be right), but the hordes of ABBA fanatics have yet to materialize or spoil this former outpost of the Venetian empire.

In Split, we stayed at Goli + Bosi, a boutique hostel that had a bar-restaurant in the lobby and was just inside the palace. Rooms start at $100 a night even at the height of summer, and include rooms that could accommodate a whole family of six. There are only two small hotels in the main village of Kut, on the island of Vis, but there are hundreds of apartments and houses for rent on booking.com or visvillas.com, ranging from two-bedroom apartments with striking views of the sea at less than $100 a night to a six-bedroom, 16th-century Venetian seafront palazzo (once the summer home of Tito) that rents for $10,000 a week in peak season.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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