The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
Q.We are thinking of taking our three children (two teenagers, one younger) on a winter holiday to Cancun or another resort on Mexico's Caribbean coast. The idea is that we get plenty of sand, sea, watersports, scuba diving and nightlife, but also a dose of high-grade culture at the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan. Can you give us some pointers on which resort to go for, and also on the best archaeological sites to visit?

James and Lucy Roberts

Winchester

A.Cancun itself feels much more like Florida than Mexico. It is a fast- moving, purpose-built holiday metropolis of international-style hotels, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and shops where the great majority of the people you will meet are urban Americans. Unijet (0870 5336336) offers a week's all-inclusive stay at the Cancun Crown Paradise Club from pounds 969, children sharing with parents pay pounds 299.

Certainly you will get the beaches, the nightlife, the watersports and the have-a-nice-day service ethic here. But so too will you at some of the other, far more characterful resorts in the region. Playa del Carmen, less than an hour by road south of Cancun, is a much better bet for families. A handful of hotels are sprinkled along miles of powdery sand, tapering off into coconut groves - particularly charming are the ones comprising thatched, beachside bungalows such as The Allegro Resort Playacar. The sea is turquoise-tinged and there is excellent snorkelling just off-shore. Dazzlingly plumed birds perch on your balcony hoping for crumbs of your breakfast toast. Of the bars and discos, many have a genuinely Mexican ambience.

British Airways Holidays (0870 2424 245) offers a week at the Allegro Resort Playacar from pounds 895 per adult and from pounds 565 per child on an all- inclusive basis, including flights.

A jet ferry whisks passengers across the 20 kilometres of water from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel - the resort island which I suggest you also consider, especially if any of the family are divers. The clear sea, abundant multi-coloured coral reefs and fish make for wonderful underwater experiences. The beaches are also superb, and there are some stylish hotels generating their own nightlife. The limitation of staying on Cozumel is that visiting the Mayan ruins involves taking the ferry to the mainland. Kuoni (01306 747000) offers a week all-inclusive at the Allegro Resort on Cozumel from pounds 930, with a 50 per cent reduction for children sharing.

The ruins you simply must not miss are at Chichen Itza. The scale and geometric precision of these 6th-century AD pyramids, temples and astronomical observatories out in the jungle, is mind-blowing. Exploring the ruins should be every bit as much of an adventure for older children as it is for adults - especially climbing the pyramids. There are also captivatingly gory details of human sacrifices on the site to absorb. Whether going on a group tour or independently in a hire car, try and get there before the convoys of tour buses, which start arriving at about 11am. If you can contrive to get there for dawn, you will experience an eerie, ethereal atmosphere that soon evaporates.

The same is true of Mayan ruins at Tulum, from the same era, which are on the coast 115km south of Cancun. The ruins themselves are not as awe- inspiring, but the setting is - an ancient city perched on the edge of a cliff looking out across the deep-blue Caribbean.

Q.Help me, please! I have promised to take my children (Delilah, 10, and Ewan, seven) away for a weekend treat of their choice in the New Year, and they have gone for Disneyland in Paris. What's the best way to go about it? Or is it pure madness to do this in winter?

Tom Wood,

Islington, London N1

A.No, it is not madness. I took my own children to Disneyland Paris last winter, and we had heaps of fun. In fact, the trip was, in many ways, more successful than when we went to Disneyworld in Florida a couple of years ago - which was overcrowded and unbearably hot.

We were impressed by the way the cold weather and short daylight hours are deployed as a backdrop to an exciting extravaganza of stars, lights and frosty festivities. Mickey and Minnie are re-packaged in sparkling silver and white, leading a dazzling parade. Also, unlike in Florida or California, many of the attractions and rides are connected by covered walkways, and the indoor ones are centrally heated.

My main piece of advice to you, however, involves beating the queues. If you can get there on a Friday, on a weekend after the French schools have gone back in early January, the chances are you will be able to knock off all the main rides - Big Thunder Mountain, The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted House, Peter Pan, to mention a few of the most popular - in a couple of hours. Do as many of these as you can, because the queues will be far longer for the whole of Saturday and Sunday. Delilah and Ewan will probably both be too small for the white-knuckle rides, Space Mountain and Indiana Jones (you need to be over 1.40m, or 4ft 6ins), though, so don't waste time queuing for these.

As for how to go about it, easily the best option - especially as you live in London - would be to take the Eurostar direct from Waterloo to the gates of the park. Disneyland Paris Direct (0990 030303) offers packages using the direct train leaving Waterloo on Friday morning and returning Sunday evening.

For you and the two children, the best deal would be a total of pounds 405 for all of you, including a shared room at the Santa Fe Hotel B&B, rail fare and three days' entrance to the park. Enjoy!

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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