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Thursday, October 18, 2012


I spend a lot of time in the City of Angels exploring the best places to travel with your kids, and this is one city that knows how to have a devil of a good time when it comes to Halloween. From the world’s largest Halloween street party to family-friendly Halloween events at museums and other cultural institutions, spell-binding attractions and spine-tingling nightlife, LA is the Capital of Fright and Delight. 

Here's my pick of the fiendish fun and spooky scares:  

1.    The West Hollywood Carnival (31st Oct)
Mingle with the mortals at this famed Halloween street party celebrations, drawing more than half a million people to revel in the streets around the Santa Monica Boulevard. The free carnival also includes a pet costume contest, ‘Drag Racing’ – relay races for people dressed in drag, and pumpkin carving competitions.

2.    Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood (dates until 31st Oct)
Southern California’s most terrifying and exciting annual Halloween event, Universal Studios Hollywood hosts a set of spine-chillingly haunted attractions with five new unrivalled film production-quality mazes, including one by legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper. A new signature backlot attraction ‘Terror Tram: Invaded by the Walking Dead’ takes daring visitors behind the scenes to the historic Universal backlot where the horror film genre was born.

3.    Dearly Departed Tours (daily, year-round)
Dearly Departed offers various tours that explore the twisted underbelly of Los Angeles, everything from celebrity scandals and deaths to horror film locations and infamous crime scenes. Options include Hollywood’s Tragical History Tour and the Helter Skelter Tour. Just for Halloween, Dearly Departed will take guests on a Halloween tour devoted to world-famous horror film locations around Hollywood and Pasadena.

4.    Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, Long Beach (select dates until 31st Oct)
With a reputation as one of Los Angeles’ most haunted places, enter the harbour to witness blood-curdling attractions on ship and shore with mazes, monsters, and 20-foot tall flames. The annual event will host guests with potent potions, devilishly good food and riveting live entertainment.

5.    Annual King Tut’s Tomb at the Egyptian Theatre (27th Oct)
Dubbed the biggest Halloween party in Hollywood, party with Egyptian queens and pharaohs in the classic courtyard illuminated with red and amber lighting at this red carpet moonlit masquerade party. Party-goers can boogie in classic Hollywood style to the tunes of three DJ. The event will also showcase a dazzling laser and lightshow, dance floors – including the Haunted Pyramid Dance Room, go-go dancers and a Halloween costume contest.

6.    Haunted Museum at the Natural History Museum (28th Oct)
The theme for the 9th Annual Haunted Museum is ‘Land of Awes’, a family-friendly event where guests can help put the Scarecrow back together, watch a performance by Dancing Flying Monkeys, learn about marine fossils from Kansas City, see tree frogs in the Enchanted Rainforest and go on a scavenger hunt to find the ruby slippers.

7.    Los Angeles Haunted Hayride at the Old Zoo at Griffith Park (dates until 31st Oct)
One of the city’s most idyllic locations by day with fantastic views over the city, Friffith Park is the backdrop for one of LA’s creepiest locations on select October nights. This tour takes thrill-seekers on a night ride through abandoned cages and habitats set deep in the dark woods of Griffith Park. Also returning to the Haunted Hayride experience is the ‘In Between’ dark maze where visitors are given a small lantern to find their way through amongst unknown creatures in the shadows. A sideshow area includes magic shows, psychics and a house of mirrors.

8.    Old Town Haunt (select dates until 31st Oct)
Descent into the dark basement of the historical Union Savings Bank Building for a devil of a good time; sealed off for decades, it is reported to be haunted. Enhanced with detailed sets from Hollywood shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones, visitors will find this attraction truly spook-tacluar.

9.    Halloween Silent Film at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (31st Oct)
Film buffs will enjoy visual chills accompanied by live aural thrills when silent film ‘Cat & The Canary’ is shown. The film is about the wealthy Cyrus West whose will is read to his relatives who spend the night in his mansion and are stalked by ‘The Cat’, a mysterious escapee from the local asylum. This 1927 classic silent film is accompanied by Clark Wilson on the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s organ to add a suitably eerie musical backdrop.

10.  Halloween & Mourning Tours at Heritage Square (28th & 29th Oct)
A two day event where visitors can learn about Victoria era death and mourning etiquette and participate in a funeral inside one of Heritage Square’s historic homes. See how other cultures celebrate and remember their loved, find out what hair jewellery is, and consult fortune tellers. Children can play period games, make 19th century harvest crafts, choose a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch to take home and carve, bob for apples and listen to spooky stories by the San Gabriel Valley Storytellers.

For more information on Los Angeles and the latest from its neighbourhoods, visit www.discoverlosangeles.com, like on facebook at www.facebook.com/losangelesfan, and follow on Twitter @discoverLA

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Maldives: The Best Place to Travel with Kids For the Perfect His, Hers & Theirs Getaway

When you're planning family travel with children in tow it’s hard to please everyone. I think I've come up with the perfect solution for the best place to travel with the kids, so  the whole family can have a stress-free His, Hers & Theirs Holiday’. 

Her idea of a perfect holiday is absorbing as much Vitamin-D as possible, immersed in a good book, a smiley man with a tray, the clinking sound of ice in a glass and the smell of soothing coconut oil.
His idea of a perfect holiday is high-octane, adrenalin pumping thrills, venturing off to discover new lands, getting in touch with the culture and mixing with the locals. 
   Their idea of a perfect holiday is noise, hubbub and proximity to a video screen, sugar and plenty of kidcentric pampering. 

Sound familiar?  The Maldives may just have the answer to your family travel prayers... 


 For Him:

Get a taste of true Maldivian culture on a local island tour to explore the fishing village, visit the mosque, primary school and meet the locals. Vilu Reef participate in a community involvement project so guests can also donate supplies to the local school children
Slice the waves on a catamaran or take an exhilarating ride on a wake board, as well as lots of other adrenalin-fuelled activities at the resort’s watersports centre
 Experience the thrills of traditional hand-reel fishing aboard a dhoni boat and savour the sweet taste of success as Vilu Reef’s chef prepares the day’s catch to perfection
Snorkel the resort’s amazing house reef, or dive deeper into the ocean to reveal hidden treasures and a myriad of colours of the Maldives’ rich underwater life

For Her:

  • Surrounded by shimmering pools of emerald and sapphire water and bathed in swathes of golden sand beaches, this unspoilt island is a beach-lover’s paradise
  • At Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort there’s an infinity pool with huge sun deck overlooking the lagoon and ocean, plus plenty of cheery waiters to bring cocktails, fresh fruit juices or tasty snacks. A tranquil Sun Spa, hidden away in the lush greenery of the island, offers a huge array of relaxing massages, holistic and Ayurvedic treatments, facials and scrubs to indulge yourself in.

Travelbag (www.travelbag.co.uk) offers seven nights at Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort from only £999 per person in June 2013. The price includes return flights from Heathrow with Qatar, accommodation in a garden villa on a half-board basis, resort seaplane transfers, taxes and surcharges. Book by 31 March 2013.

For Them:

Located on breathtaking Mudhdhoo Island - northwest of the capital Malé - Dusit Thani was newly opened in February.  The resort boasts 46 Beach Villas, two Beach Residences, 30 Lagoon Villa with Pools, 20 Ocean Villas with Pools and two Ocean Pavilions.  Extensive facilities include the largest pool  in the Maldives, pool bar, over-water and grill restaurants, elevated spa, tennis courts, dive centre and numerous water activities in and around the resort.  It is just 35 minutes travel time via sea plane from Malé International Airport. Dusit Thani Maldives is a Preferred Boutique Resort, the first in the Indian Ocean.

Now the Devarana Spa at the Dusit Thani Maldives has launched a bespoke spa programme exclusively for children aged between 6 and 14 years old called “happiness for the little one”. The brand new a la carte spa menu comprises of five specialist treatments, all of which have been carefully designed to balance energy and engender pure relaxation. Treatments available include: 
Happy Feet (60mins): Relieve tired and weary feet from swimming and snorkelling with peppermint foot soak, followed by a jolly foot massage using cheery green grass scented lotion.
Lavender Lullaby (60mins): This calming and balancing head treatment starts with warm lavender oil hair mask and ends wonderfully with a relaxing Ayurvedic head massage to promote sweet dreams at night.  
Magical Massage (60mins): Mix your own magic potion from the exquisite selection of aromatic oils. Then use it for the ultimate relaxing massage from top to toe.  
Pretty Sweet Hands (60mins): Indulge in the sweetest pampering starting with chocolate & caramel hand wrap, followed by a hand massage using floral-scented lotion and a mini manicure. Pick your favourite glittering and island dream nail colours for the perfect beach chic style.
Spalicious Treat (90mins): The yummiest body treat for young souls. Spoil your body and mind with a total flavourful and unwinding journey that begins with a warm chocolate milk foot soak, followed by a soft lavender coconut cupcake rub, and ends delightfully with a mellow oil massage. 

For the Entire Family:

This unique group tour takes in a plethora of idyllic islands, allowing you a chance to experience the highlights of this tropical paradise, with the freedom to move around, explore and meet the locals. Visit deserted islands, sand bars, coral reefs and the best swimming and snorkelling spots. Experience true Maldivian culture and cuisine staying on a local island and then finish the tour at The Royal Island Resort & Spa where facilities include two restaurants, four bars, a spa, watersports and PADI dive centre.

Prices start from £999 per person, to include nine nights’ varied accommodation staying a night in a Malé hotel, three nights on board a yacht, two nights in a local island guest house and three nights in a five-star villa resort, all on a mixed-board basis with snorkelling gear provided and the services of a local tour leader throughout.

Prices do not include international flights. 
Contact Encounters Travel (www.encounterstravel.com)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Your unwanted currency helps fight child poverty

If, like me, you travel with small children, 
it's good to know that now we can give something back to kids 
less fortunate than our own.

The Children’s Society has today launched a new partnership 
with Travelex Foreign Currency Services that will see 
unwanted holiday currency, foreign coins and notes turned into 
vital funds to help some of society’s most 
disadvantaged children.

Two thirds of travellers return from abroad with foreign currency and the average holidaymaker returns home 
with just over £28 in notes and coins.

This new partnership hopes to raise over £25,000 in the next year that will go towards helping hundreds 
of vulnerable children simply through collecting unused currency.

Just 5% of people ever change the foreign money back into sterling. 
Worse still, 17% admit they have thrown away the money on returning, rather than be lumbered with loose change. 
Only 4% donate it to charity, even though it is easy to hand it over to good causes.

Visa Europe estimates that UK travellers amass on average more than £900m unused foreign currency a year.

Collection boxes are located at all 84 Children’s Society shops, and collection pouches can be provided for 
offices, schools and churches.  
For your nearest Children’s Society shop 
please visit The Children’s Society or call their supporter care team on 0300 303 7000.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Top Ten UK Brainiac Days Out - for Cool Kids (and their Parents)

As kids around the country return to school after a summer holiday packed with fun and adventure, there's still time to plan a family day out, combat those back to school blues and brush up on their learning (don't let the kids know) 

If the thought of endless queues at yet another corny theme park rates L for Lame... here's my Top Ten novel ways to entertain your brood, get 'em brainy and enjoy yourself at the same time. Whether you're eager about English, gaga about Geography or besotted with Biology, treat your budding graduates to a visit to any one of these educational experiences...

Brush up on….History

This fun and lively medieval-themed show is played out amidst the banqueting tables so you can enjoy the entertainment put on by King Henry VIII and his entourage whilst indulging in a sumptuous feast. Tickets start from £48 per adult and £27 per child.

Enjoy a visit to Warwick Castle and experience over 1,000 years of history, mystery and intrigue. Daily events include falconry, jousting, jesting, fighting knight and working displays of the mighty Trebuchet – the world’s largest siege machine. Tickets start from £17 per adult and £12 per child.

Brush up on….Geography

Step back in time to the London that shaped the history of the world, from Parliament and palaces to top department stores, famous hotels, 10 Downing Street and beyond. Tickets start from £20 per adult and £10 per child.

Enjoy a full day guided coach tour to Loch Ness which includes travelling through the breath-taking Highlands of Scotland, a stop at Glen Coe, a boat trip on Loch Ness, a stop for lunch near Fort William and spectacular views of Urquhart Castle and the Forth Road Bridge. Tickets start from £38 per adult and £30 per child.

Brush up on….Biology

From London to Weymouth, Yarmouth to Blackpool, journey beneath the ocean deep and learn about thousands of marine creatures including crabs, stingrays and starfish. Tickets start from £18 per adult and £14 per child (Weymouth Sea Life Centre).

Home to an incredible 15,104 creatures in the middle of leafy Regent’s Park, London Zoo opened in 1828 making it the oldest - and one of the finest – zoo’s in the world. Tickets start from £22 per adult and £17 per child.

Brush up on….Home Economics

Discover a whole world of creamy, rich stickylicious chocolate on a fun and educational visit to Cadbury World in Bournville, home to Cadbury’s chocolate for over 150 years. Highlights include The World’s Biggest Cadbury Shop, situated in Cadbury World and home to practically every Cadbury chocolate bar ever made. Tickets start from £14 per adult and £10 per child.

Teach young friends or relatives that learning to cook can be fun. Treat them to a cookery class during which youngsters from 9-years-old prepare and cook a variety of tasty, healthy dishes under the guidance of a friendly professional chef. Tickets start from £40.

Brush up on….English

Travel back in time to Elizabethan England, courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and relive the life of one of history’s greatest playwrights. Visit his birthplace, homes and important places that played a part in the life of The Bard. Tickets start from £21 per adult and £13 per child.

Take a trip back in time to Dickens World, where visitors take an exhilarating journey from sewer to rooftop through the cobbled alleyways of Dickensian England! Tickets start from £13 per adult and £8 per child.

For more inspiration or to book, visit www.goseedo.com 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The summer our family went global

Family Holidays
Sydney Opera House
Michael Dunning/Getty Images
Sydney Opera House
When the summer holidays come round I catch my breath. Planning the schedules for six weeks of a 15-year-old and a six-year-old is stupefying.
Last summer, I decided to do something different. I’d already promised my two sons time in Australia to catch up with friends. The more I looked into it, though, the more I realised there is an ineluctable logic to flying right around the world if you are already heading half way. For practically the same price as a return ticket to Australia, we could take as much time as we liked.
We had six weeks, but we could have taken a year. What’s more our route would do away with a lot of jet lag. Starting with a north-south flight that avoided crossing any time zones, we would circumnavigate east to west, touch down in five cities, and allow a week to adjust to each time shift. But negotiating the holiday equivalent of a pre-nup was not going to be easy.
My teenager George wanted noise, hubbub and proximity to “fit” girls. I wanted discovery, tranquillity and less of the cloud of teenage sarcasm. Six-year-old Jack wanted to ride a camel.
The finer details hammered out, I had not banked on Heathrow being the biggest headache of the entire trip. A delayed flight meant we missed both our connecting flight from Johannesburg and our pick-up in Cape Town. So when we had completed stage one of our journey eight hours later than planned, Jack practically detonated in the reception area of Grootbos Nature Reserve. Thankfully, I had spent the best part of a month pinning down accommodation where I’d feel indulged, not punished, for bringing my kids along. Grootbos did not disappoint.

That afternoon we took a guided 4x4 through a tumultuous landscape of rocks and caves eroded by the wind and punctuated by thousand-year-old milkwood trees. A rainbow appeared as our guide set up an impromptu picnic on the bonnet of our truck. The boys ping-ponged their way over the crags and olive-hued fynbos, whooping at the top of their lungs. It was a sublimely liberating moment.
Our next stop, Sanbona Reserve, offered more of the connoisseur’s Africa. Less of the vast game herds and lines of gassy Land Cruisers meant serenity, yet plenty of open space for my sons’ pent-up energy. Win-win. An early morning drive summoned the usual suspects: cheetah, black rhino, zebra, ostrich, eland, kudu, plus the rare spectacle of white lion cubs padding past us oh-so-nonchalantly.
After lunch, shadowing a herd of elephant on foot, the realities of Africa jolted us into instantaneous modesty. A smug, adolescent bull approached us, ears flapping, trunk raised. Our ranger Janni — all khaki and camouflage — counter charged, gun raised, yelling wildly. The tension was palpable. “Do we run?” gasped Jack. My brain revved into gear, “Imagine this is Wii”, I whispered, “and you’re stuck on pause.”
All too quickly the thrill of the Cape — the rampant wildlife, sandboarding (think snowboarding but slower) that long-awaited camel trek and high tea at the Mount Nelson — began wearing off. While Jack missed Daddy, George defaulted to lurking, wrapped in a bathrobe, hunched in front of one or other screen. It seemed my world-weary teen had grown less and less thrilled by the prospect of Australia, our next stop (we’d driven the Great Ocean Road when he was 6 and as far as George was concerned he’d seen it, been there, done it). Plus he had a zit. Plus he hadn’t seen his girlfriend for over a week.
After ticking off Sydney’s twin icons of the coathanger Harbour Bridge and billowing Opera House, I shifted our focus seven miles northeast of Sydney to the suburb of Manly. Neatly hemmed in by a ribbon of apricot sand, hip Manly is more mellow than brash Bondi, but still brimful of sun-bleached hair and flip-flops, Speedo-clad kayakers and paddle boarders. Jack enrolled himself with the bucket and spade brigade. George came close to expressing keenness when I offered the chance to live dangerously on a 20-minute dive at Oceanworld. A tank teeming with great grey nurse sharks, wobbegong sharks and moray eels is not my cup of tea but, according to George’s Facebook entry, it was an “OMG LOL” success story (Thumb up. Like) — light at the end of the video-tunnel.
As his shadow of teenage gloom lifted, George press-ganged Jack into more and more big brother ventures. Now, try as I might to settle down with a novel and a cup of Starbucks, I found myself overcome by a numbing mindlessness, an urge to be a kid like them again. With childish abandon we passed a detour to the Great Barrier Reef’s Hamilton Island in a haze of boat trips, snorkelling, go-karting and quad biking.
Across the Pacific pond we sidestepped LA’s glitz, glam and curiosity of “did you see who that was?” Instead we cycled Venice Beach boardwalk, suffered the indignity of surf lessons, trawled the customary theme parks and took to the notorious freeways like every other bona fide Angelino.
One morning something very Thelma and Louise came over me. The realisation that I actually enjoyed driving where there is an absence of traffic lights and roundabouts got me hooked on the idea of a road trip. Car packed, top down, we sliced our way through the Santa Rosa Mountains into the Coachella Valley, heading for La Quinta where the sun hits hotter than a habanero. The journey epitomised the rolling chaos that is my family on the move. For three stifling hours, sweating like a melted candle, I bit my lip and put up with George’s incessant need for calorific pit stops and Jack’s whines of “are we nearrrrrrrrrrrrly there?” My dynamic duo, meanwhile, bore the brunt of my rattling anecdotes, perimenopausal hot flushes and wrong turns.
Months after our return, both boys maintain the highlight of the trip was New York. They loved the way art and theatre spilt out of everywhere, the street vendors, whacky stores, the nonsensical cab drivers, skyscrapers and mishmash metro. Both boys drifted trance-like, block by block, hyper-focused on everything around them.
Our hotel, the high-voltage Gansevoort, was saturated with fashionistas and media types. The two boys cornered a sheepish Will.i.am (from the Black Eyed Peas) who autographed their baseball caps. His feet aching from pounding the Big Apple sidewalks, Jack found the energy to bust some moves in a vintage hip-hop sneaker store. George, meanwhile, was brazen enough to cut himself loose and take the subway to Grand Central where he hooked up with an old pal and hit a movie in Times Square. He did not mention his girlfriend once.
As for me, I cannot get past a mental snapshot of Janni, our guide back in Sanbona. After the elephant debacle you would imagine that we had learnt our lesson, but blindly we followed our leader back into the bush. A walking safari with kids seemed like a fine idea until we were out of arm’s reach of our 4x4. Rounding a corner we came across two young male cheetahs, fresh from a kill: heart pounding stuff. My maternal instincts kicked in as Janni hissed at us to turn around and slowly file back to the vehicle. “What’s up?” I shot at him. “The cheetah have locked on to your son Jack,” he mumbled. “I’m working on a contingency plan.”
That blind leap of faith summarised our round-the-world trip. A spontaneous decision that led to unimagined surprises, a few panic button moments and some very sharp U-turns. I could have chosen a less challenging way to spend the summer but in this age of kids’ clubs, summer camps and “time to ourselves” on spa breaks, I fear family travel has become a little soft, a little vanilla. Like blancmange. I did not want my children charmed away by nannies to a corner of the resort well out of earshot. I wanted a chance for us to talk more, laugh more, try more, see more. And for a month that is exactly what I got. Zits and all.
How to plan your round-the-world trip
A round-the-world air ticket must start and end in the same country and include one crossing each of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Rates vary according to time of the year. The southern hemisphere is off-peak during our summer. Both flights and room rates drop, but there is a catch — it’s partly because the weather is less predictable. Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.co.uk) claims to be the only single airline to offer a round-the-world service with a routing between London, Hong Kong, Auckland and Los Angeles in both east and west directions. I plumped for Qantas Airlines (qantas.com.au), largely because it is the most competitive on price. Our World Walkabout ticket, for £1,235 per adult and £927 per child (aged 2-11), plus taxes, allowed for up to six free international stopovers (including Fiji and Hawaii) and was valid not only on Qantas but also British Airways, Cathay Pacific (between Hong Kong and Bangkok, Singapore and Denpasar, Bangkok and Singapore) and Jetstar.
Planning and shopping for a round-the-world ticket is labour intensive. If you are not keen on doing all the legwork yourself, take advantage of the relationships that tour companies have with airlines and hotels. Bushbaby Travel (0845 1244455, bushbaby.travel) offers a tailor-made round-the-world service especially for families. The total cost for a three-week holiday this summer is from £17,500 for a family of four. The price can be cut by choosing less exclusive accommodation in Cape Town and the US.

Pack for the best scenario, not the worst, and buy what you need when you need it. You will be more mobile — and you will save money by carrying your own bag.