Make the most of your child’s prime years and go on a family vacation!

Travel before your child begins school


Photo by INGPHOTOS

The London Zoo, Regent’s Park, London, England


Photo by www.zsl.org

Start at the Aquarium, where your little one will have an “under the sea” experience with exotic fishes and delightful penguins. Over at Gorilla Kingdom, your mini dynamo can “hang out” with the Western lowland gorillas as well as snakes and lizards at the Reptile House. Junior can continue his creepy-crawly adventures at Bugs! (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival), where creatures like naked mole rats are displayed in cases that are at tot height. At Butterfly Paradise, he’ll encounter the pretty winged creatures, and spot prized giraffes, zebras and hunting dogs when he steps Into Africa.

During the Rainforest Life walk, junior can interact with cheeky red titi monkeys, sleepy sloths and gold lion tamarins, plus animals hanging freely from the treetops. At dedicated children’s zoo Animal Adventures, your tyke will crawl through tunnels and meet meerkats on the other side of a glass barrier. They can pet and feed goats and sheep at the Touch Zone, while the Splash Zone offers plenty of water fun. Don’t forget to bring a spare set of clothes with you.

Animals aside, you’ll recognise bits from the Harry Potter movies here, so you’ll have a winner on your hands.

Admission, which varies according to season, from £20/$39 (adult), £15.50 (children aged 3 and above). Free for children 3 years and below.

Accomodation: The Novotel London Tower Bridge (www. novotel.com, from £195 per night) offers free breakfast for kids under 16. Or live it up at the Athenaeum (www.athenaeumhotel. com, from £400 per night). Here, your children enjoy their own concierge service, which ensures that their favourite DVDs and treats will be waiting for them when they arrive.
Transport: Singapore Airlines flies to Heathrow Airport from $1,442.
Useful Links: www.zsl.org


Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida, USA


Photo by www.kennedyspacecenter.com

Your little space ranger will bone up on space exploration when he marvels at authentic Nasa rocket displays. At the IMAX theatre, he’ll also get to watch 3D footage shot by astronauts during actual missions. Your child can even break bread with a veteran astronaut (book ahead), and pose all the space questions he’s been dying to ask. After lunch, a tour bus takes him around the sprawling grounds, where he can take in a dramatic 360-degree view of the launch pads at the observation gantry, touch a moon rock at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, and gape at the 111m-high Saturn V — the most powerful American rocket ever launched.

The highlight of his excursion will undoubtedly be the shuttle launch experience. On entering the shuttle launch simulator, he’ll be briefed by crew members before “taking off” amid dramatic sound and lighting effects! Before leaving, make sure that your budding astronaut spends some time at the Children’s Play Dome, where he can climb a “moon rock” wall, crawl through rocket tunnels and slide to the surface of the moon. Admission is US$50(adult) and US$40 (children ages 3-11).

Accomodation: The Riverview Hotel (www.riverviewhotel. com, from US$149 per night) offers beach fun, while the DoubleTree by Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel (www. cocoabeachdoubletree.com, is close to plenty of child-friendly attractions.
Transport: Fly American Airlines ($2,500 round-trip) to Orlando International Airport.
Then jump into a Greyhound bus (www.greyhound.com) to Titusville — it’s an hour-long ride (US$15.30).
Useful Links: www.kennedyspacecenter.com

Royal Castles in Edinburgh, Linlithgow and Stirling, Scotland


Photo by www.edinburgh.org

Two palaces stand at opposite ends of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle, which sits on a rocky summit at the upper end, has been operating as a military garrison for several centuries. Go into Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedroom to see where she gave birth to James VI of Scotland (who went on to become James I of England). Then, stop by the Crown Chambers to feast your eyes on Scotland’s most stunning crown jewels.
Admission: £14.50 (adult), £8.60 (children aged 5 to 15), free for kids under 5 years.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse waits at the other end of the Royal Mile. Built in the 1660s by English King Charles II, it’s still a royal residence today, so you won’t be allowed access if the Queen is in.

Travel 29km west of Edinburgh to Linlithgow Castle and you’ll see where Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542 — six days before her father, James V, died. This castle met its doom in 1746 when the English troops left it in flames. One of the country’s most awe-inspiring ruins, you’ll get a sense of how grand it once was by looking at its remains.

Stirling Castle, some 60 km northwest of Edinburgh, looms over the River Forth. James V died while building this lavish palace to impress his new French wife and daughter, the future Mary, Queen of Scots, who spent her first four years as a child here while regents ruled Scotland on her behalf.

Transport: Fly Emirates to Edinburgh Airport from $1,486.
Royal Scottish Tours (www.royalscottishtours.com) offers personalised itineraries for self-drive holidays. Prices start at £599.
Accomodation: At the centrally-located Carlton Hotel Edinburgh (www.pumahotels.co.uk, from £135 per night), you can have a sauna while the kids have a go in the pool. For more homey pleasures, try Thrums Bed and Breakfast (www.thrumshotel.com, from £110 per night), which has an outdoor play area.
Useful Links: www.edinburgh.org, www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk


Leuralla New South Wales Toy and Railway Museum, Leura, New South Wales, Australia


Photo by www.toyandrailwaymuseum.com.au

Nestled in the scenic Blue Mountains, this historic mansion is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest display of toys and trains. It dates back to the early 20th century and will surely captivate your toy-loving tot, while evoking feelings of nostalgia in you.

Your mini-me will be in doll heaven when she sees their diverse selection — from Barbie, Bob the Builder, Popeye, Tintin and Alice in Wonderland, to pre-war antique dolls. Besides Lenci Dolls (in military uniforms), there are also 1920s Käthe Kruse dolls with hand-painted faces and Steiff bears. Meanwhile, your boy will make a beeline for the model trains, boats, aeroplanes, trucks and cars. There are also hundreds of life-like lead figures representing farmers, soldiers and railway personnel, depicting their place in history, right down to style of the motorcars driven then. The railway exhibits outdoors are all the more thrilling, thanks to an all-weather working Matterhorn garden railway (A$2 per ride) that boasts three trains, viaducts, tunnels, gorges, a waterfall, plus a 6m replica of the Swiss mountain. Admission: A$12/$15 for adults, A$6/child

Later, take in the breathtaking views when you hop onto the scenic railway ride at the nearby Scenic World (www.scenicworld.com.au, A$21/adult and A$10/child) — the world’s steepest passenger railway, which descends 310m through a cliff-side tunnel and emerges into an ancient rainforest.

Accomodation: Live in the lap of luxury at Harmony Cottage (www.harmonycottage.com.au, from AU$195 per night), featuring a spa bath and swings in the backyard. Or stay at the Waldorf Leura Gardens Resort (www. leuragardensresort.com.au, from AU$169 per night).
Transport: Singapore Airlines flies to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport from $1,161. A Jetstar flight starts at $420 or fly Scoot from only $243. Once there, book a day tour with Trolley Tours (www.trolleytours.com.au, $40/adult and $25/child).
Useful Links: www.toyandrailwaymuseum.com.au


Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, Texas, USA


The Dinosaur Valley State Park is home to some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks from the Cretaceous age, some 113 million years ago. Book a tour with a ranger, who will lead you through the Paluxy riverbed where the tracks are located.

Go in late summer (August), when the water level is at its shallowest but chances are, you’ll still get wet, so pack extra clothes. Your little explorer is going to be thrilled when he wades right up to the larger-than-life footprints made by the threetoed theropods, duck-billed dinos, as well as saucer-shaped sauropods. Later, he even gets to “meet” these prehistoric creatures in the form of two fibreglass models — a 14m-high Tyrannosaurus Rex and a towering 21m-tall Apatosaurus. For a small fee, junior can also make a miniature footprint cast from a ball of clay, which is then stored in a special box. It’s the perfect keepsake to bring home.

The State Park is also a great place for countless outdoor adventures, from hiking, swimming, fishing and observing the wildlife, to mountain biking and horse riding. Complete your experience by camping overnight — roast some marshmallows over a bonfire with your mini-me, then cuddle up under the stars. Admission is US$7 for adults, free for children 12 years and below.

Accommodation: Dinosaur Valley Inn and Suites (www. dinosaurvalleyinn.com, from US$65 per night) has cosy rooms and an art and craft area for kids.