Family Travel: I'm part of the Union; Q&A

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
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Q.My rugby-mad son wants to go on a tour of Twickenham or the new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for a birthday treat this month, just before the World Cup starts on 1 October. Is this possible, in the way that you can tour Old Trafford or Anfield, for example?

Gareth Roberts

Oxford

A.At Twickenham, yes it is. There is also an excellent Museum of Rugby incorporated into the tour. First, however, you go round the stadium, visiting the royal box, the president's suite, the media centre and finally the players' dressing-rooms, before making a fantasy run through the tunnel and out on to the pitch. There are usually plenty of youngsters on the tours, and the guides are skilled at keeping them amused.

The tour itself takes about an hour, but leave at least another hour and a half for the museum. High-tech visuals and acoustics brilliantly recreate the atmosphere on match days. You go through a mock-up turnstile into a cauldron of life-size model players in action, surrounded by singing, shouting and moving crowds projected on to the walls. What will probably detain your son the longest is the bank of interactive touch-screen computers. Here you can call up any team or era you like, and watch choice pieces of action, while listening to original commentary through headphones.

To book a tour of the stadium, contact the Twickenham Experience on 0181-892 2000. There are currently no tours of the new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, as the management is busily putting the final touches to it before the World Cup. However, if you happen to find yourselves in Edinburgh you can tour Murrayfield, the Scottish international stadium (contact the Scottish Rugby Union on 0131-346 5000).

Q.When are children old enough to go on safari? Our daughters, aged 11 and eight, are hardy, healthy and keen as mustard on wildlife, and we feel that a trip to Africa would be hugely educational.

However, just about everybody we talk to, including friends who have been on safari, seems to believe that safaris and children do not mix well.

"They will be bored rigid on long road journeys, they will be ill, they will be afraid of the wild animals" seems to be the consensus. Even our travel agent suggested we take them to Disney's new Animal Kingdom in Florida instead. He reckoned that you get the African safari experience with real animals, but in complete comfort and safety. What is your view on this?

Mrs R Huckstep

Sevenoaks

A.I am with you and the girls all the way on this one. I have taken my own children on safari twice, and these rank among the most exciting and educational things we have ever done as a family. Our youngest, Sebastian, was only five when we first took him to Kenya, and he was anything but bored, ill or afraid. And to think that we too had nearly been put off by the whingers, before telling ourselves: "Hang that, we're going to Africa."

Another common misconception is the price. Although such trips are not cheap, it is quite possible to do a family safari on a budget. Somak Holidays (0181-423 3000) specialises in East African safaris, and can tailor- make an itinerary to suit you. A week-long trip including four nights on safari, taking in the Masai Mara game reserve and Amboseli National Park, then finishing up with three days' relaxation at a beach hotel on the Indian Ocean, costs between pounds 800 and pounds 1,100 per person (depending on when you travel, and excluding Christmas and New Year, which is more expensive). There is a 30 per cent discount for one child under 12 sharing with two adults; the price includes scheduled flights from Heathrow to Nairobi, transport, game drives, the services of a driver/guide, full board on safari, and B&B at the beach hotel. Pay an extra pounds 100 and you can have an exclusive minibus, if there are at least four passengers.

The advantage of a mainstream itinerary like this, taking in the popular reserves, is that plentiful big-game sightings are highly likely. This, of course, is what the children will be frantic to see. I shall never forget, as we entered the Masai Mara for the first time, the faces of my children when a herd of about 50 elephants crossed just yards from our path, wandering down to a watering-hole. Or the time when we stumbled on a pride of mating lions, and a pack of hyenas gorging on their kill.

Of course, a safari like this is not the Africa-at-its-wildest experience, which adults might choose for themselves. But it is an excellent introduction to safaris for children for no more than the cost of a cheapish skiing holiday.

Another advantage is that the accommodation is in lodges - really, safari- themed hotels. These tend to be more comfortable than tented camps, and they also usually have swimming-pools, which are particularly welcome during the hot afternoons between morning and evening game drives.

However, for all these advantages, don't dismiss the option of going the whole (wart)hog and taking the girls on a true wilderness safari. After our Kenyan experience, I found that the children were ready for something even more adventurous. The trouble was, I found, that many of the wilderness lodges and camps in both east and southern Africa are iffy about children; some ban under-12s outright.

In the end we hit on Botswana, staying in a pair of magical camps, each one out on its own in a vast area of wildlife-rich wilderness. One was Kwara, in the Moremi reserve in the Okavango delta, which included trips in "makoro" dugout canoes as part of the daily activity; the other was in the arid Kwando concession, up on the Namibian border.

In both places we stayed in comfort, but under canvas, listening to the nocturnal roar of lions. It was quite magical, and the children were transfixed. Both of these camps actively welcome children, rather than merely tolerating them. The latter is run by a South African couple, Norman and Cathy Galli, who have a small son themselves and live at the camp. For these camps, contact Okavango Tours and Safaris (0181-343 3283); a nine-day trip split between camps costs in the region of pounds 2,500 per adult and pounds 2,000 per child, including flights to Botswana via Harare or Johannesburg, transport by light aircraft between the camps, boat and vehicle-borne game-viewing accompanied by professional guides, and all food and drink.

As far as safety is concerned, the most important thing to remember is to be meticulous about taking anti-malarial tablets, however unpopular they prove to be. You must also have insurance covering air evacuation so that, however remote you are, in case of emergency you are no more than a couple of hours from top-class medical attention.

If you are still not convinced, then do as your agent suggests and take your daughters to Disneyworld.

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL

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