q. We want to make the great baseball pilgrimage. What are three things not to miss in Cooperstown, and where should we stay?--L.P., Reno, Nev.
a. It's been 25 years since Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record, and there's a terrific video at the National Baseball Hall of Fame (607/547-7200). What else to see?The oldest baseball diamond in the world--Doubleday Field, where the first official game is said to have been played in 1839; and Cooperstown Bat Co. in nearby Fly Creek (Rte. 28; 607/547-2415), where you can watch the northern white ash being hand-finished, and buy the kids bats with their names on them. Stay at the Federal brick Cooper Inn (Main St.; 800/348-6222; two-room suites big enough for a family of four, $185 a night, $15 for each additional person). Guests at the Cooper can go to the inn's sister resort, the grand waterfront Otesaga (60 Lake St.; 800/348-6222), to swim, play tennis, golf, or rent a canoe to fish for lake salmon and largemouth bass.
q. I dream of taking my nine-year-old on a covered-wagon trip. Can you recommend any outfitters?--R.B., Old Saybrook, Conn.
a. Join a wagon train just north of Jackson, Wyoming, and head out toward the Grand Tetons with American Wilderness Experience (800/444-0099 or 303/444-2622), based in Boulder, Colorado. During the day, children can ride horses alongside the train, stop to fish or hike, and even help drive the wagons. After dinner from the chuck wagon, evenings end with cowboy songs around a campfire. Four- to six-day trips cost $595-$795 for adults, $510-$695 for children 5 to 13, and are scheduled from June through August. Another company, the Oregon Trail Wagon Train (308/586-1850; four-day trips $479-$580 for adults, $379 for children through age 12), departs from Bayard, Nebraska, and follows a segment of the 2,000-mile Manifest Destiny path to the Oregon Territory. Trips run from June to September, winding through prairie and hills, with camp-outs and surprise Pony Express deliveries along the way.
q. What are the top three winter beach resorts for families in Florida?--H.W., St. Louis, Mo.
a. Scores of families have been going to the Breakers, in Palm Beach, for generations, and a recent $100 million refurbishment will no doubt bring many more (888/273-2537 or 561/655-6611; suites from $445). The 1926 landmark has 14 tennis courts, two golf courses, and a new spa. The children's programs run year-round: three- to five-year-olds spend their days making sandcastles, learning to swim, and playing croquet, while the Coconut Crew (ages 6 to 12) plays beach soccer and snorkels over a coral reef. Amelia Island Plantation (800/874-6878 or 904/261-6161; suites from $334) occupies 1,350 quiet acres by Fernandina Beach, on the bay side of Florida's northernmost island. It has a legendary golf course and a first-rate fitness center. For children 3 to 12, there are pool parties, hayrides, and sing-alongs. The Plantation's well-planned teen program offers beach volleyball, deep-sea fishing, movie nights, and "extreme bowling." The relaxed, 203-room Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada (800/327-2888 or 305/664-4651; suites from $285) has an incredible beachfront, some of the best sportfishing anywhere, and the environmentally aware Camp Cheeca. Kids 6 to 12 learn about marine life while canoeing at Long Key, visiting the Dolphin Research Center, and catching (and releasing) yellowtail snappers off the resort's pier.
Reader's Tip: Children's Ski Programs in Europe
For a less-touristy family ski trip, consider France. My son and I love the small to midrange resorts, such as Megève and Les Deux Alpes; they're not only charming but a great bargain as well. Before you plan a trip, make sure your kids won't mind being the only English-speaking skiers in the children's program. The instructors will know some English, but most French kids under 10 haven't studied the language; and the lesser-known resorts draw few English and American tourists.
Children's programs in France are different from ones in the U.S.--most require that the kids be picked up at lunchtime, then returned for the afternoon session. Also, the focus is on outdoor activity, so the indoor entertainment is kind of bare-bones. Generally, toddlers have the best play options inside; older kids may have to resort to board games. The third difference is cost: Children's programs here often run $75-$95 per day. At a midsize European resort, the rate is more in the $25-$35 range.
--Susan Graham, Top Flight Travel, San Diego, Calif.
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