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Hotels are enhancing offerings for pint-size guests

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As a mother of two young children who often accompany me on my travels, I can say that most of the hotel kids’ clubs I have seen — that is, if a property even has one — tend to be single room spaces with little consideration to youthful interests. Most offer predictable activities like arts and crafts and board games.

But increasingly I have begun to see clubs that have unique settings and entertainment offerings that aim to stimulate children and give them a sense of place. They best connect children to the culture of their destination while giving them space to play.

The art room in the kids’ club at the Marbella Club in Spain. Once boring spaces with a few toys and a TV, “kids’ clubs” at hotels and resorts are evolving into destinations that your children may actually enjoy hanging out in.
The art room in the kids’ club at the Marbella Club in Spain. Once boring spaces with a few toys and a TV, “kids’ clubs” at hotels and resorts are evolving into destinations that your children may actually enjoy hanging out in.  (MARBELLA CLUB HOTEL / The New York Times)

It is not a surprising move, explained Amanda Norcross, features editor of Family Vacation Critic. “Parents want their children to be happy and engaged on their trips,” she said. “Having an innovative kids’ club is certainly a way to do that. It also gives a hotel a differentiating factor in an industry that’s always competing for guests.”

Lessons in culture and wildlife

The kids’ club at the Marbella Club, a beachside resort in Spain, is a good example of a club that puts culture first. It is in a 55,000-square-foot villa that was the original home of Prince Alfonso of Spain. It has its own shallow pool and plenty of outdoor space with extensive gardens.

Children between the ages of 4 and 12 (there is a separate area for children from 5 months old to 3 years old) have a choice of six different activities a day. They may pick lavender and other herbs from the vegetable garden and use them to blend their own perfumes in Andalusian style. Or the counsellors might take them to the nearby beach where they can try their hand at kayaking or paddle surfing and learn about local birds.

Access to the club is 90 euros per day. Meals are included, and are always traditional Spanish dishes like paella or gazpacho that the youngsters help prepare themselves.

Jam-making and recycling

Located in the heart of Provence, the kids’ club at Domaine de Manville is headquartered in two collector caravan cars.

Children entertain themselves with pottery making, gardening, jam-making classes using fruit grown on the property, and recycling workshops where they create arts and crafts using second-hand materials. There is also a court where children can learn to play Pétanque, a sport — similar to bocce — that is native to Provence. Plus, the club is free to children (up to 13) staying at the resort. Room rates begin at $215 (U.S).

Treasure hunting in a Medina

Similarly, Royal Mansour, in Marrakech, has a new kids’ club set in a private pavilion within the property’s gardens, but still brings children all the richness of the local culture.

Access is included in the room charge (rates start at around $1,000 a night), and activities include Moroccan art workshops, Arabic lessons and a treasure hunt in the hotel’s medina. The hotel also offers a hands-on chocolate making experience for children in their on-site chocolate laboratory — the best part may be when the youngsters taste-test the bonbons, truffles and other confections they have created.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip

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(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled

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(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online

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(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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