Animated films have sparked our little ones’ imaginations for generations. How often have little girls dreamed of playing Ariel, The Little Mermaid, with “thingamabobs aplenty” under the sea, while boys have fantasised about burning rubber, the way Lightning McQueen does in Cars?
Did you and your munchkin know that these well-loved animated movies were actually inspired by real-life locations? So, for a different kind of holiday this time, why not watch that movie with junior, then design a dream vacay for your mini-dynamo to one of these movie-inspired destinations?
VISIT Quebec City, Canada
FOR REEL Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, this animated musical feature tells the story of a fearless princess who sets off on an epic journey with a rugged iceman, his loyal pet reindeer, and a naïve snowman to locate her estranged sister, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.
FOR REAL Do you wanna build a snowman? Then visit Hôtel de Glace in Québec City, Canada. While much of the film’s snowy scenery was based on locations in Norway, the lighting and arts team holed up in this ice hotel to study how light reflects and refracts on snow and ice. Located just 10 minutes from downtown Québec City, Hôtel de Glace is a must-see attraction if you’re visiting this neck of the woods in winter.
Made completely from ice, it features impressive snow vaults, crystalline ice sculptures, as well as 44 rooms and suites. A team of ice sculptors turn up every year to build the hotel based on a unique theme (2015’s was “Space Time”). Contests are also held to encourage artists to create rooms with different themes.
At season’s end, the entire hotel is demolished to make space for the new version. So, check out the website to make sure that you visit when the hotel is open for business! CAD$18.25/$20 for adults and CAD$9.25 for kids aged 6 to 12. Free for children 5 years and below.
GETTING THERE Fly to Quebec City via Delta Air Lines from around $1,500 (return).
You’ll often find children with their noses pressed up against the clear walls of the tanks at the aquarium shouting “I found Nemo!”
VISIT Sydney, Australia
FOR REEL In this adorable 2003 film, an overprotective clownfish named Marlin, accompanied by an fish with a memory condition named Dory, travels “across the entire ocean” to Sydney Harbour to look for his abducted son, Nemo. Along the way, Marlin learns to take risks and let Nemo take care of himself.
FOR REAL Bring your young ’uns to Sydney Sealife Aquarium (1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney), so that they can learn all about the incredible biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef, which includes 2,000 species of fish and 350 types of coral.
Peer through the numerous windows of the main display and catch sight of hundreds of tropical reef fish living alongside sharks and sawfish. You’ll often find children with their noses pressed up against the clear walls of the tanks at the aquarium shouting “I found Nemo!” Indeed, junior will be able to see “Nemo” for himself right here, darting around the anemones. Tickets are priced at A$28 ($28.50) for adults and A$19.60 for kids 4 to 15 years old.
Organise a trip to the Sydney Fish Market to chow down on the freshest seafood (but prepare an explanation for “panfried dory”), then take a stroll along the wharf to see the seagulls. Given a bad rap in the film as zombirds that can only say one word — “mine!” — you’ll see plenty of the real thing right here. Watch out if you’re carrying food!
GETTING THERE Fly to Sydney via Emirates from around $900 (return).
Four more “reel” destinations…
Kung Fu Panda
VISIT Sichuan and Beijing, China
FOR REEL Released in 2008, this DreamWorks action comedy showcases Chinese culture, mythology and architecture. Your munchkins will adore Po the bumbling panda, who aspires to be a kung fu master. Much to the chagrin of the resident kung fu warriors, the unwitting Po is chosen as the one who will bring peace to the land.
FOR REAL Head to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Centre in Sichuan to see adorable, real-life pandas. A research facility that has created the natural habitat of these endangered animals — fewer than 2,000 are left in the world — it aims to create an optimal environment for rearing and breeding. It also cultivates masses of bamboo plants and bushes to feed the pandas. Make sure to visit the Giant Panda Museum (tickets cost 58 RMB/$13), where your peewee will receive an important lesson on protecting these majestic creatures.
If you're heading to Beijing as well, watch a kung fu show if your mini-me is raring to learn more about Chinese martial arts. Red Theatre Beijing (44 Xingfu Street, Chongwen District, Beijing, (86) 1380-106-7568) has a high-energy version with a wonderful storyline and impeccable kung fu action sequences. Tickets are 280 RMB.
Or fully immerse yourself in ancient Chinese culture and tradition by taking a rickshaw ride through an authentic hutong (traditional homes in alleys and lanes). You may even wish to book a stay in one of the courtyard homes that surround the Forbidden City, where most Beijing residents used to live. Check out Mao’er Courtyard B&B in Beijing’s downtown area in the Dongcheng District (from 588 RMB for a double room).
GETTING THERE Fly to Chengdu or Beijing, via Singapore Airlines from around $750 (return).
The Lion King
VISIT South Africa, Africa
FOR REEL This 1994 animated Disney film, about the birth, childhood and eventual manhood of Simba, a lion cub, showcases the amazing wildlife and beauty of Africa. Besides the lions, you’ll encounter animals like hyenas, warthogs and meerkats.
FOR REAL Let junior experience the real “circle of life” at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a great spot to enjoy a safari experience. South Africa’s largest game reserve — covering 20,720sqkm — also happens to be one of the world’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries.
Luxurious Tintswalo Safari Lodge, located in Kruger's Manyeleti Game Reserve welcomes kids of all ages at the Manor house (3,655 rand/$364 per person per night). Boasting a swimming pool, a shaded patio and traditional boma (enclosure), the child’s room even features an en-suite bathroom.
Children under age 12 may go on a game drive (at the guide’s discretion), and also take part in a special kids’ programme. So that junior gets a fun and educational bush experience, it will cover themes like animal tracking, star-gazing and how to survive in the bush.
Kids who sign up for this programme will receive a “brat” bag filled with goodies like pencils, binoculars, a water bottle and an activity book. The lodge also provides babysitting services.
GETTING THERE Fly to Johannesburg, South Africa via Singapore Airlines, from around $1,800 (return).
The Sultan’s palace that Princess Jasmine in Aladdin resides in is based on India’s Taj Mahal
VISIT New Delhi, India
FOR REEL This 1992 Disney film is based on the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp from the Middle-Eastern folk tale, 1001 Arabian Nights. A genie grants street rat Aladdin’s wishes after he frees him from a lamp. However, he soon finds that an evil sorcerer has dastardly designs on the lamp — and on his love, the beautiful Princess Jasmine.
FOR REAL The Sultan’s palace that Princess Jasmine resides in is based on India’s Taj Mahal, even though the market streets Aladdin lived in were inspired by the town of Isfahan in Iran. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the iconic structure was completed in 1648. Since then, the towering tribute to love has remained one of India’s prized architectural gems.
Although it looks like a palace, it is actually a crypt. Walk alongside the mausoleum’s reflecting pools and fountains, and marvel at the sheer craftsmanship of pure marble and semi-precious stones. Point out the symmetry of the lawns to junior, as well as the perfect reflection of the Taj in the pools. Tickets cost 750 rupees/$16, while kids under 15 years enjoy free admission.
GETTING THERE Fly to New Delhi via Thai Airways from around $600 (return).
VISIT Canaima, Venezuela
FOR REEL The 3D-animated comedy adventure by Pixar is sure to tug at your heartstrings. In the movie, an elderly widower named Carl ties thousands of balloons to his home to fulfil the promise he made to his late wife to see the wilds of South America. Unknown to Carl, an earnest young Wilderness Explorer (as opposed to a Scout or a Boy’s Brigader) named Russell unwittingly joins him for the ride of his life.
FOR REAL Venezuela’s Tepui Mountain range inspired many of the film’s dreamlike locations. In fact, Up’s Paradise Falls was modelled after Canaima National Park’s Angel Falls. The Unesco World Heritage Site — known to the locals as Parekupa-meru or “waterfall of the deepest place” — is the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall (it falls 979m from the Churum River).
Set against the breathtaking Tepui mountains and dotted with countless rivers, lakes, waterfalls, forests and savannahs, Canaima National Park is a magical sight to behold.
Sadly, junior will have to sit out the challenging trek to reach it, but if you’re raring for an adventure, you can fly into Canaima, before taking a four-hour river trip upstream to Angel Falls. In order to catch the breathtaking view of the Falls, you’ll need to hike another hour or two up the tough jungle terrain (think soggy, slippery and steep).
Stay at one of the small lodgings that sit discreetly within the park, such as the Waku Lodge (price available on request), where they’ll be able to plan your excursion to the falls.
GETTING THERE Fly to Caracas, Venezuela via Air France for around $3,500 (return), then take a private jet to Canaima for around US$250 ($356) per person. Travel agencies like Latin Odyssey can help you plan your itinerary.
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