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Advice: You Can Take Them With You: Great Family Guidebooks Make Trip Planning Easy

Hurray! A whole slew of family guidebooks has come onto the market just in time for summer. As I am heavily into guidebook mode myself these days (writing a family guidebook on Toronto for Fodor’s), I am more than curious as to what makes the perfect family guide. Is is the pick of attractions, the depth of description or the choice of age ranges? It’s handy to have ratings system, but which activities are perfect for toddlers—and oh so boring for teenagers—or vice versa? The bookshelves seem to be full of potential advice. For Walt Disney World alone, there are official guides, unofficial guides and guides for idiots. Even the family dog has choices for overnight itineraries. Here then, are some useful books for families, each with a good bet for this summer’s lazy, crazy days with the kids.

NATURALLY ONTARIO: EXPLORING THE WEALTH OF ONTARIO’S WILD PLACES (Random House of Canada; $22.95): Although this guidebook is not geared soley toward families, author Betty Zyvatkauskas tested most of her nature-related activities in Ontario with her two daughters ages 11 and 13. They enjoyed some of the outings so much‚ such as the wolf howls in Algonquin Park and the Haliburton Forest, that they’ve since returned to some destinations for more. The “wild” adventures range from kayaking with loons in the Kawarthas or hunting for fossils on a Lake Huron beach to taking the Polar Bear Express rail trip from Cochrane in northern Ontario to Moosonee.

GOOD BET: One of their favorite destinations is Bancroft’s Rockhound Gemboree which is taking place today and tomorrow. Equipped with an $18 family pass, kids and adults can scour some of the old mining sites with trained geologists in what’s been dubbed the Mineral Capital of Canada. It’s hard to believe but you can find quartz, mica and other sparkling rocks that the kids will beg to bring home as souvenirs. And they can. For information, call 613-332-1513 or visit www.commerce.bancroft.on.ca.

THE LOBSTER KID’S GUIDES (Lobster Press Ltd; $17.95): You can tell right away from the covers of this new series that these books will be fun. A blistering red lobster rides sidesaddle with an adventurous family. So far, guides to five Canadian cities—Montreal, Ottawa-Hull, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver—have been published. The unique Lobster rating system shows how many claws up for many of the hundreds of family-friendly possibilities while icons indicate picnic tables or playgrounds.

GOOD BET: Did you know that La Ronde, the amusement park on Île Sainte-Hélène in Montréal boasts the tallest wooden twin-track roller coaster in the world? It’s appropriately called Le Monstre and it's fast. To cool off, there are swimming pools and a shaded picnic area. More info available in The Lobster Kids’Guide to Exploring Montréal or call 1-800-797-4537 or visit www.pdi-montreal.com for admission rates and hours. Ages three and under visit for free.

FODOR’S ALL AROUND GUIDES (Random House; $14.95): These brightly-coloured smart little city guidebooks are supposed to fit into a jeans pocket of an adult in charge or even a kid as there are tips and info boxes written especially for junior travelers. Each guide contains “68 Great Things to do Together”, chosen by parent writers who know each city intimately. Five U.S. cities have been visited—New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago—with Toronto, London and Paris scheduled for 2001 along with Boston and Philadelphia. With flip art and colourful printing enlivening the hundreds of choices for eating and visiting, these are fun little guidebooks to read (and to write).

GOOD BET: What’s the most popular museum in the world, also thought to be the world’s most visited building? Around Washington, DC with Kids reveals that it’s the National Air and Space Museum, site of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis plane and Chuck Yeager’s rocket plane in which he broke the sound barrier. Families can travel away from earth too in the Albert Einstein Planetarium which offers numerous shows for star gazers.

FAMILY TRAVELS:AROUND THE WORLD IN 30 (OR SO) DAYS (Andrews McCeel Publishing; $15.50): This book gives one hope and inspiration. Journalist Richard Reeves and his wife, Catherine O’Neill, proposed to their five offspring that they do a round-the-world trip during one month’s summer vacation. The only requirement from the kids was that they had to write about their travels each night for about 15 or 20 minutes. The kids lobbied for their dream destinations, including ten-year-old Fiona’s wish for one overnight train trip (which turned out to be a nightmare).Off they went for what turned out to be a six-week odyssey from Tokyo to Nepal to Islamabad and on through Jerusalem to Berlin. Stops were quick but the resulting report is a page-turner as the crew of eight (including one seven-week-old baby who joined them in Europe) discover foreign culture and each other.

GOOD BET: Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s amusement park and aquarium. The views of the harbor from the park’s cable cars was worth the price of admission.





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