cruisin' with mickey
The long-anticipated Disney Magic set sail this summer, ushering in a new era of family-oriented cruises. The whimsical ship is a child's oceangoing nirvana, with deck after deck of video arcades, playgrounds, theaters--even a coffeehouse for teens--as well as grown-up restaurants, spa facilities, and discos that Mouseketeers may not enter. The ship sails on three- and four-day cruises from Florida to the Bahamas; weeklong packages, including airfare and a stay at Disney World, start at $1,295 per adult, $999 per child. Call 800/951-3532 or 407/566-7000.
--Mark Orwoll

sandcastles 101
"I've never met sand that I couldn't do something with," says professional sand sculptress Sandy Feet, a.k.a. Lucinda Wiernga, We asked her and fellow virtuoso Ed Moore to share their castle-building tips:

  1. Use the wet stuff. "Water is like glue," Sandy says.
  2. Raid the kitchen for spatulas, cake-decorating tools, melon ballers, and straws (to blow away excess sand).
  3. Use molds such as garbage cans--the bigger the better.
  4. Taper a tower. It won't topple over.
  5. Feeling lazy?Try a rounded form, like a sea turtle.
  6. Dig a frame around your finished art to show it off.
  7. Study up. Look for Bruce Moody's video Let's Build a Sandcastle(888/506-2400; $20).

--Katy McColl

hotel del sol
San Francisco's kicky Joie de Vivre hotel group has transformed a 1950's motor lodge into a family destination for the new millennium. In the yuppified Marina District, the 57-room Hotel del Sol is candy for the eyes: rainbow hammocks swing between giant palms in a striped courtyard; the reception area is paved with colorful mosaics. Kids will flip for the Sandbox Suite, with its board games and denim-swathed bunk beds. The hotel's most unexpected amenity?Kites to launch in nearby Golden Cate Park. Hotel del Sol, 3100 Webster St.; 800/433-5765 or 415/921-5520; doubles from $99.
--Jane E. Lasky

what's on the teletubbies
Stratford-upon-Avon, England, seems like an odd place for the trendy Teletubbies to pop up. But that's where Ann and Barry Wood, the TV show's creators, have opened Ragdoll Shop (11 Chapel St.; 44-17189/262-774), which doubles as an all-indoor fun park. Meet life-size Laa Laa and Tinky Winkys, see yourself on their tummy screens, buy a backpack. To go or not to go?There's no question.
--Vanessa Friedman

london: a snap
Help your kids get a grip on London's daunting Underground system with a nifty 35mm camera from the London Transport Museum (39 Wellington St.; 44-171/379-6344). Colors match the hues assigned to each line (pink for Hammersmith & City: blue for Piccadilly; red for Central), and a map of the Tube system is included, Quality rating: not bad for a pocket-size, $23 point-and-shoot.
--Laura Begley

sleek in seattle
In era starved for simplicity and quality, Flora & Henri--a chic new Seattle line of clothing based on vintage designs--is especially welcome. Owner Jane Hedreen uses sturdy European fabrics and sewing methods rarely seen in kids' clothes today: French seams, blind hems. The result?Garments that are nostalgic but not too precious to be worn hard. The creations, in sizes ranging from newborn to preteen, can be found in her store, with its concrete floors and exposed ducts, or ordered from a catalogue, inspired by a new travel destination each season. Flora & Henri, 1215 First Ave.; 206/749-9698.
--Kimberly Brown

lofty lodges
Ever longed for a Swiss Family Robinson vacation?We searched the globe for the best treetop hotels:
MAUI--Torches and candies replace electricity at the rustic Tree Houses of Hana. Three screen-enclosed huts overlook a five-acre flower farm, with views of the ocean. 808/248-7241; doubles from $40.
OREGON--Out 'n' About has nine "dormitrees" fitted with futons and kitchenettes. The hotel, in the vacation town of Cave Junction, also offers lessons in tree house construction. 800/200-5484 or 547/592-2208; doubles $80.
AUSTRALIA--Set on 16 acres of ancient Queensland rain forest, Daintree EcoLodge has 15 villas high in the lush canopy. 61-70/986-100; doubles $636.
SOUTH AFRICA--From the balcony at any of Pezuklu Treehouse Game Lodge's seven thatched and reeded cottages, you can spot zebra and kudu roaming the veld near Kruger Park. 27-1579/32724; doubles $160.
--Hannah Wallace

book list
Stock up on books and art projects to keep the kids busy on winter weekends. • Before the big van Gogh show (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; October 4-January 3), pick up an Art Activity Pack (Chronicle Books, $9.95), which explains the artist's techniques and subjects. Warning: By the time your children hit the exhibition, they may know more than you do. • The Fandex Family Field Guides (Workman, $9.95) are take-along packs of 50 fact-filled cards on five subjects: American presidents, dogs, cats trees, and--for your next road trip--the 50 states. • Art Around the World: Loo-Loo, Boo, and More Art You Can Do (Houghton Mifflin, $15) takes young readers on a journey, with simple crafts to make at each stop. • Or check out these travel-inspiring tomes. • What are the top 10 uses for a turban?Find the answer, plus how to survive a desert sandstorm in 52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure (Annick Press, $14.95). • In Tulip Sees America (Blue Sky, $15.95), a golden retriever and her young owner leave their sleepy Midwestern town in a Volkswagon Beetle to journey west.
--Emily Berquist

here to serve youth
Hotels are going the extra mile for pint-size guests. • Children have their own concierge at Phoenix's Point Hilton Resort at Squaw Peak (800/765-2785 or 602/997-2626); weekly activities might include karate lessons and inner-tube races. • The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida (800/833-3141 or 561/655-6611), recently built a Children's Secret Garden, with topiary animals and a maze. • On the South Carolina coast, Fripp Island Resort (800/845-4100 or 843/838-3535) has introduced Wee Links for golfers under 10. The seaside course has 18 shorter holes and fewer hazards. • Paris's Hôtel Ritz (33-1/43-16-30-70) runs a daylong cooking school. Les Ateliers des Marmitons. Students outfitted in mini-uniforms practice recipes with a chef.

fish by design
From bluefish to stingrays, predators to prey, fish are getting their 15 minutes. This year, splashy aquariums have surfaced in Seattle; Long Beach, California; Lisbon; and Genoa, Italy. But the most innovative take on aquatic life can be found at Boston's Computer Museum (300 Congress St.; 617/426-2800). With Virtual Fish Tank, you get to create your own fish. Pick your creature's personality and its physical traits (curiosity changes fin shape; fear affects the eyes). Then watch it interact with nearly 100 other cartoonlike characters. It's a lesson in 3-D computer graphics and real-time animation: good preparation for your future filmmaker.
--Caren Osten Gerszberg

  • what's your bag?
  • American teens might think that bags from Manhattan Portage are the bomb, but what's cool to their counterparts halfway around the world?Courier bags from a kooky little South African company called Fishfinger are being slung over the hippest shoulders in Cape Town. The slick PVC bags have straps made of seat-belt webbing. From $22; 27-21/448-1987, fax 27-21/448-2040; E-mail
  • -L.B.

adventure for all
Special Expeditions--a 20-year-old tour operator--has just launched adventure trips geared exclusively to families with children over the age of six. On this year's roster: a cruise through the Swedish archipelago (fish, ride Zodiacs, get hands-on geology lessons) and a sail around the GaIápagos (snorkel, hike, learn basket weaving). A nature expert comes along, as well as a coordinator who plans games and outings and thinks of those little things kids love--like extra peanut butter. Trips start at $1,445 for children, $1,950 for adults; 800/397-3348.

By Caren GerszbergEmily BerquistHannah WallaceJane LaskyKaty McCollKimberly BrownLaura Begley BloomMark Orwoll and Vanessa Friedman