Q&A: Time for a flight into Egypt

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
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Q.We are keen to visit Egypt for a week next year with a 10-year- old daughter, either at half-term or Easter, but we're not sure how to do it.

Mrs D Challis

Bristol

A.There's certainly never been a better time to visit Egypt. It is one of the bargains of the decade with extremely competitive prices, as tour operators attempt to lure back visitors after November 1998's terrorist attack in Luxor. Stringent security is now in operation at main tourist sites.

Although I don't think Egypt is a particularly suitable destination for babies or toddlers, the sheer impact of that mysterious world of hidden tombs and gigantic temples, strange hieroglyphics, two-dimensional Pharaohs as well as the drama of the Nile itself and the Biblical setting, will appeal to all but the most philistine of children. I took my 10-year- old on a highly enjoyable winter visit. Obviously I kept a close eye to prevent sunburn and insisted on drinking water (and even cleaning teeth) only from sealed bottles.

Where to stay ? As you only have a week, I suggest you stick to two centres rather than pack in too much. And I would not choose a cruise - some boats will not accept children, others may have a large percentage of elderly passengers.

Since there is no way you can visit Egypt without seeing the Pyramids, I would start with Cairo for perhaps three nights, and relax in the sunshine of Luxor later.

Cairo is completely mad but you can escape the noise, traffic jams and pollution at places like the Mena House Oberoi, with a 40-acre garden, tennis and swimming pool, and a good view of the Pyramids.

Make sure you also visit the Cairo Museum to put the discoveries at Luxor into perspective when you get there. My son particularly enjoyed a half- day camel trip from the Pyramids at Giza across a bit of desert to the earliest tombs. Hotels and tour operators will arrange these excursions for you; they charge around pounds 30 per adult, pounds 15 per child for a full day's visit to include the Pyramids and the Museum.

On to Luxor for four days, where you can expect temperatures of around 70 to75 degrees Fahrenheit in February or at Easter, some of the best times to visit. As a base I'd suggest the Jolie Ville Movenpick Hotel, which like the Mena House is outside the centre, and on its own Crocodile Island - there is a free shuttle service into town. The hotel's setting on the Nile Bank is absolutely spectacular.

Luxor claims some of the world's greatest antiquities. My son gave the thumbs up to Karnak, though was less keen on the Son et Lumiere performance there on another evening. If you do go, take a cushion and cover up against hungry midges.

I checked out the cost of a week split between Cairo and Luxor, staying at the hotels I mentioned, both in the mid-price range. In February or April next year, Kuoni (01306 743000) could do this for pounds 603 each for you and your husband, and pounds 301.50 for your daughter, for flights, accommodation in a shared room and breakfast - a total of pounds 1,507.50. If you stayed in Luxor and visited Cairo or Aswan from there, it would cost around pounds 500 per adult, and pounds 139 for your daughter, a family total of pounds 1,139 for the flights and accommodation.

Q. My husband has accumulated a number of Air Miles and would like to take our two children, David, 10, and seven-year-old Sarah, to New York for a week. I am less keen on spending so long there - any tips ?

Mary Lively

Peterborough

A. While the older generation might find New York a culture shock, children take to the Big Apple at once. Don't worry that a week is too long - a month wouldn't be enough. So here are some old favourites and "new" sights to kick off with.

First see New York from above - the budget way is either from the Empire State Building (Fifth Avenue, 34th Street) or the Top of the World Observation Deck (World Trade Center). The expensive way is to use Liberty Helicopters (30th Street, 12th Avenue; UK tel: 01753 664406). It only lasts about 15 minutes and costs around pounds 50 a ride but it's a real thrill. For something different, try the brand new, 30-minute, eight-seater seaplane trip that takes off from East River and swoops you over Brooklyn Bridge and up the Hudson River for around $90 (pounds 64) (Sea Air NY, 00 1 212 6845969, East 23rd Street Skyport and Marina).

For a free open-air playground in both summer and winter, Central Park offers a boating lake, ice rink, jugglers and horse-and-carriage rides. If you're looking for culture, the opera houses, art museums and orchestras all have active children's programmes. These are seasonal, so call in advance for programmes. Other world-class attractions for children include The Bronx Zoo (Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Road); the South Street Seaport Museum (12 Fulton Street); the Children's Museum of Manhattan (212 West 83rd Street); the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (Pier 86 at 46th Street and Hudson River) and what is probably the best Natural History Museum in the world (West 79th Street and Central Park West), which opened the Hall of Planet Earth on 12 June.

If you all want to get out of frenetic Manhattan for a day, take a picnic on the child-friendly "Sleepy Hollow Cruise" to Phillipsburg Manor and Sunnyside NY Waterway (Pier 78 at W 38th Street).

And finally, promise a trip to FAO Schwartz (767 5th Avenue), the toyshop that has everything and will let kids play for hours even if they, or you, don't buy.

Many hotels offer "family plan" schemes where kids stay free in parents' rooms which usually have two large double beds. But as you are staying for a week, think about renting an apartment. America as You Like It (0181- 742 8299) can offer a Greenwich Village apartment for a family of four for pounds 145 per night or, a 2,000 square foot loft in the garment district for pounds 171. Bon Voyage (0800 316 0194) also offers apartments to rent.

The New York Travel Advisory Bureau (NYTAB), 295 Park Avenue South, PO Box 1997, New York 10159, USA and in London at 1 Berkeley Street, London, W1X 6BU, publish the useful 2000 NY Pages - a Guide to Essential New York. Contact 0331 40 50 60 (premium rate). Lots of information is also available from the New York Convention and Visitor's Bureau, 810 7th Avenue (3rd floor), New York, 10019. Tel: 212 484 1200. In London they are at 34 Carnaby Street, London, W1V 1PA.

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