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Terrific Vacation Stations for Families

Now is the perfect time for families to hit the road, as this summer, hotels seem to be outdoing each other in attracting families. Places such as Delta, Canadian Pacific and Holiday Inns have always catered to kids. But the fancier properties are encouraging family action too. Hilton brochures show kids wrestling on the beds with their parents; Westin hotels have started a telephone bedtime story service; even the Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, used to catering to the Harry Rosen suited business types, have launched a Kids in Tow program. Youngsters 17 and under enjoy free stays, special meals, complimentary family films and kids-oriented guidebooks. Here's only a smattering of what's being offered this season and a few good bets for a family fun:

DELTA HOTELS & RESORTS: Our family has always liked Delta, one of the pioneers of family amenities such as their Children's Creative Centres, Delta Dolphin Swim Program badges and meal deals. This summer, the Delta Chelsea in Toronto hosts a teen centre for kids who have grown too cool to fuss over the live rabbit. On summer weekend nights, "Theatre baby-sitting" programs are available. On any day, you can organise a pager or free stroller. Some hotels have added pizza baking with the chef, Nintendo championships and tuck-in services. When can parents sign up for these? Hotels in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Vancouver and Ottawa boast waterslides. BEST BET: At the Delta Ottawa Hotel & Suites, you can book a studio with a kitchenette and swoosh down their two-storey 115 ft. waterslide. Sleep 'n' Slide Package of $119 gives you a deluxe room for four, two for one dinner entrées and family fun. Call 1-800-268-1133.

CANADIAN PACIFIC HOTELS & RESORTS: Children can check in themselves on their own little staircase at the reception desk. Most hotels offer them a complimentary gift package of crayons, activity books and other "cool stuff." Usually, kids under 18 are free. All of the properties have large heated indoor pools and health clubs, so parents don't have to dodge ball-throwing water babies to get in a few laps. An added bonus: the family pooch is welcome at most properties as long as he promises to behave. BEST BET: At Chateau Montebello between Ottawa and Montreal, kids (and adults) can participate in more than 36 activities between naps in the largest log "cabin" in the world. The Children's Program, $15 per child, includes breakfast, dinner and activities. Their Bed and Buffet Breakfast program for families with kids under 12 costs $168 per night. Call 1-800-441-1414.

HILTON: The hotel's Vacation Station program, now in its second year, is offered at some 90 hotels and resorts in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean. Kiddie guests become official "Toy Testers" when they check in by borrowing various toys and games at the reception desk and rating them. Welcome gifts such as lunch boxes or water bottles are offered as well as an info pack on local family activities. BEST BET: At the Hilton Head Island Hilton Resort in South Carolina, kids not only cavort on a beautiful sandy beach but also participate in field trips to see dolphins, search for sand dollers and play sports. A special rate gives families continental breakfast and a room with a kitchenette, a dining table and a view starting at $179 U.S. per night per family. Call 1-800-HILTONS.

WESTIN HOTELS & RESORTS: Over the last five years, more than 35,000 kids have joined the Westin Kids Club with its child-friendly rooms offering any crisis-avoiding item from potty seats to bed safety rails, children's movie selections to freebies of sports bottles, tippy cups or coloring atlases. New this year is the Westin Kids Club Story Line that lets kids dial a four-digit number from their room to hear an age-appropriate bedtime story. Many of the resorts offer planned activities that introduce children to the cultural or ecological aspects of the area. BEST BET: If your family is not going on safari or tackling the Tetons, why not escape for a night to the Westin Prince right here in town? The property offers an outdoor pool and indoor jungle gym, discounts to family attractions such as the nearby Ontario Science Centre, free parking and exotic Japanese dining. The "Westin Good Buy Getaway" starts at $105 and includes a buffet breakfast for everyone. Call 1-800 WESTIN-1 or 416-444-2511.

CHOICE HOTELS CANADA: This summer, the more than 200 properties in Canada (including Comfort Inns, Quality Inns and Econo Lodges) are sweetening family stays with free Hershey TasteTations, Classic Caramels and family prizes such as an airline ticket for four to any Canadian destination. Family pets are welcome too at most properties. BEST BET: Last summer, we stayed at the Comfort Inn on Lakeshore Drive in North Bay. Kids can splash in beautiful Lake Nipissing just across the road while Rover can chase sticks in the grassy area behind the hotel. Rooms start at $90. A great breakfast costing $2.75 was served in the lobby. Call 1-800-4-CHOICE or 705-494-9444.





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