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Room At the Nottawasaga Inn, Ontario

Enough, already! We've had all we can take of this winter's endless chill! And if you've stuck out these six snow-clad months without a warm break, then you're probably going stir crazy with the kids underfoot about now. Luckily there's help only an hour away. At the Nottawasaga Inn, about 85 km north of Toronto near Alliston, kids can play mini-golf and shoot down a water slide, parents can ease stress away in the spa and perfect their tennis game without even leaving the hotel. If the weather turns warm, add golf and bike riding to the itinerary (bring the bikes) or take a family hike along the winding river valley that's part of the 375 km resort.

This time last year, we took four kids for a mini-break at the Inn and it was a welcome dose of warmth. As soon as we arrived on Friday evening, the kids wanted to check out the games area with ping pong, air hockey, basketball, and a total of 57 video games and 7 pinball machines. But it was time for dinner and so we sidled off into the Riverview Dining Room with its big stone fireplace and view of the river below. Almost every table had kids eating away happily on the pasta and Alberta beef with Yorkshire pudding. It was clear that the cheerful staff were not phased by the numbers in high chairs or kids who decided to ditch their dinners in favour of the raspberry sponge dessert or warm bread smothered with local Alliston butter. During holiday times and weekends, the restaurant feeds between 150 to 180 kids each day.

Probably the biggest draw at the Inn, however, for kids (and adults) is the Sports & LeisureDome. Opened in 1994, this 70,000 square foot activity and health club incorporates a 25-metre heated pool with a 100-foot waterslide, a wading area, cascading waterfalls, whirlpools, and palm trees. There's a wheelchair entry so all kids can enjoy the water. Three-stories high, the centre is large enough to accommodate dozens of kids. We also toured the gym and the indoor courts at the upstairs fitness centre, but because the pool was open until 9:30 p.m., the kids opted to swim for a few hours before heading back to their room to catch some late-night TV.

The next morning, after an early buffet breakfast complete with hot muffins and as much cereal as the children could eat, we checked out the kids' programs. Flavia Pistor, manager of the health and fitness centre, and her team of co-ordinators believe in keeping kids busy. Judging from the March break action of line dancing, tennis clinics, cookie-making, treasure hunts, magic shows, and nature walks, holiday sessions offer an exhausting line-up of activities. Kids from six to 12 attended magic sessions, made ice cream sundaes, and grouped together for scavanger hunts. Teenagers haven't been forgotten either; kids 15 and up can use the three tennis and three racquet ball courts; those over 16 can use the weight machines in the well-equipped gym.

The Nic Nac playroom for kids 18 months to six years, open year-round 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday, is well stocked with Little Tikes equipment, painting easels, etc; childcare supervisors are Early Childhood Education graduates.

Also fun for families is the new Jungle Quest mini-putt featuring jungle noises, waterfalls, a Mayan-like temple and large styrofoam animals such as a gorilla whose eyes light up. Before lunch, the kids set out to play mini-golf with their dad while I had a session in the salon. After lunch, it was more video games, billiards, and another session in the pool and sauna before leaving for home. Floating past the murals of tropical birds and beach scenes, with the sun streaming in through the windows, you could almost imagine you were basking on some southern isle. Despite the cold weather, our stay at the Inn had been a warm break for everybody. Actually, the only difficult part of the whole stay was tearing the kids away.

Children under 12 stay free on all packages. Accommodation includes the use of the pool, waterslide, sauna fitness centre, squash, racquetball, cross-country ski trails, nature and jogging trail. You pay extra for mini-golf, aerobics and tennis, and childcare. Check to see what's open on any given weekend or summer week for your kids' age groups. The games room is coin-operated. Some suites include fireplaces and Jacuzzi. This summer, the Inn is planning summer camp sessions for kids six to 12. The Summer Sensations program costs $24 per child for a full day from 9 to 4 and includes a snack, lunch and taxes. Their most reasonable family program this month is a two-night minimum Great Escape package. The $156 per night includes breakfast and dinner for two adults; accompanying kids under 12 are free but pay for meals. For more information, call (416) 364-5068 of fax (705) 435-5840.





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