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Boston's Mass. Appeal

Charles Hotel 1 Bennett St., Cambridge; 800/882-1818 or 617/864-1200, fax 617/864-5715; doubles from $249. The upside to this hotel is the location—right near Harvard Square, which is full of enticements for kids. The drawback: the Charles shares its pool with a health club, and there are restricted hours for children—a very unpopular concept in our group. But the young ones were forgiving when they discovered the other amenities: board games, the reliable Nintendo, and a VCR with kids' videos. Best of all, each guest room has a great set-up for a cozy bedtime: down comforters and telephones programmed with "Children's Storyline," narrated tales that can be heard over the phone's speaker.

Hilton Boston Back Bay 40 Dalton St.; 800/874-0663 or 617/236-1100, fax 617/867-6104; doubles from $255. The name of the game here is Vacation Station, the hotel's offering to kids: they can check out computer, card, and board games, as well as toys (Legos, cars, dolls) from a lending library by the pool. Guests under 12 get a free backpack.

Westin Copley Place Boston 10 Huntington Ave.; 800/937-8461 or 617/262-9600, fax 617/424-7483. The family junior suite ($239 per night) has childproofed rooms and includes membership in the Kids Club for children ages one to nine. Their privileges?Coloring books and crayons, tub toys, plastic dinosaurs, and access to the Disney Channel. Nearby is the Prudential Center, with its 50th-floor observation deck.

Royal Sonesta Hotel Boston 5 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge; 800/766-3782 or 617/491-3600, fax 617/806-4232. The Sonesta's rooms and restaurants are pleasantly comfortable, if unremarkable. But there's a nice pool and great views of the sailboats and sculls on the Charles, and the Museum of Science is only a short walk away. A $189, Friday- or Saturday-night family package includes entry to the Museum of Science or the Aquarium.

SPLURGE Four Seasons 200 Boylston St., Boston; 800/332-3442 or 617/338-4400, fax 617/423-0154; doubles from $325. According to Susannah, the ideal hotel provides each guest with a pool the length of 14 bathtubs. Also, the beds should resemble clouds. Soon after we checked into our suite here, the staff wheeled in two plush cots that passed Susannah's inspection, thanks to a loophole: they at least felt like clouds. As for the private pool, she forgave its absence when she discovered the hotel's supply of board games, Nintendo, Legos, balloons, and stuffed animals, along with bread crumbs for feeding the ducks at the Public Garden, across from the hotel. There was also food for kids, including dishes of M&M's and chocolate-chip cookies. Besides, the staff had laid out miniature terry robes, which carried the promise of a visit to the hotel's indoor rooftop pool.

SPLURGE Ritz-Carlton 15 Arlington St., Boston; 800/241-3333 or 617/536-5700, fax 617/536-9340, doubles from $325. The Ritz's Junior Presidential Suite ($725, including breakfast for four) is the most over-the-top kids' getaway in town. They'll play with F.A.O. Schwarz toys and Nintendo games, get creative in the arts and crafts area, grab a snack out of their own fridge, then fall asleep under glow-in-the-dark stars in tot-size trundle beds. But first they'll brush their teeth at a two-foot-high sink (there's a taller one for older kids) and take a bath in a tub resembling a circus tent. Warning: After a taste of this luxury, your kids might expect their own car and driver.

Great Books

The best collection of travel literature on Boston and New England can be found at the Globe Corner Bookstore , in Boston's Back Bay (500 Boylston St.; 617/859-8008) and in Harvard Square (28 Church St., Cambridge; 617/497-6277). Some titles to look out for:

Boston Handbook by Jeff Perk (Moon Publications)—The all-around guidebook of choice, with lots of detail.

TripBuilder Boston (TripBuilder)—The most convenient short guide available. Includes a handy foldout map, and a subway map on the back cover.

Kidding Around: Boston by Helen Byers (John Muir Publications)—A workbook/game book for children 10 and under who want to learn the history of the city.

A Kid's Guide to Boston's Freedom Trail by Jane and Gary Ferguson, Lita and Mike Ebersole (GCBA Publishing)—Coloring .

Kids Explore Boston by Susan D. Moffat (Bob Adams, Inc.)—Oversimplified but helpful summaries of Boston's many sights, along with photos, designed to help harried parents decide what to do and what to skip.

The Best of Harvard Square

By Ella, age 10, and Ned, age 9

Peter Panic performs in Harvard Square most evenings when the weather is mild. He can balance a grocery cart on his chin while juggling and cycling.

Curious George Goes to Wordsworth (1 JFK St.; 617/498-0062) is our favorite bookstore. The people there know everything about chapter books, and make good suggestions.

Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe (6 Brattle St.; 617/491-8888) has the most beautiful candies. Please beware that sometimes they are too beautiful to eat!

Billings & Stover (41A Brattle St.; 617/547-0502) is a nice little drugstore, and a very good place to buy fudge. We like the chocolate-mint and chocolate-orange flavors. They also sell great hairbrushes.

La Flamme (21 Dunster St.; 617/354-8377) is the place we recommend if you have to get a haircut. The barbers are quick and know how to do any kind of cut. As usual, you get a lollipop if you are a kid.

Harvard Museum of Natural History (26 Oxford St.; www.hmnh.harvard.edu 617/495-3045) has whale bones—we love to sketch them. There are a lot of real animals that were killed and stuffed, and it's cool to find the ones from the book series Redwall, like the stoat.

The Learningsmith (25 Brattle St.; 617/661-6008) has tons and tons of toys. They let kids try computer games while their parents read about them, so everybody is content.

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