London Calling

Last summer, our family finally embarked on a trip to London
that we had talked about taking for years. It was a chance to visit familiar
places together (all three generations of us) and, for the youngest, an
opportunity to experience London
for the first time. Of course, we also hoped for a sighting of the Queen and
the new Duchess of Cambridge (or as one of my daughters kept pestering, “When
will we see Kate?”).

I have traveled to London
on many occasions, and my husband, John, has spent a lot of time there recently
for business, but our individual experiences could not compare to seeing the
city through the eyes of our 8- and 10-year-old daughters and my 17-year-old
niece. Having my mother with us, with her own years of London
travel, gave us each a wonderful appreciation for the city that we would not
have had on our own.

As we planned our visit, I had each family member give me
their list of “London Musts” so we would be sure to accommodate everyone’s
interests. Here are the highlights.

The London Eye

A ride on this iconic ferris wheel, originally intended to
commemorate the Millennium, seemed like the perfect start to our visit and was
my daughter Charlotte’s “must.” A
feat of design and engineering, the Eye offers incredible views of the entire
city—especially the Thames. My mother was initially
nervous about the ride but very happy that she came, as the views were
incredible and the capsules moved nice and slowly. Each capsule holds approximately
25 people for a 25-minute ride above the city. (

Trooping the Colour

Our viewing of the pageantry was unique, as it came just six
weeks after the Royal Wedding and heightened our family’s interest in Kate and
William. But typically this is an annual event held on the second Saturday each
June. It’s called “Trooping the Colour” or the Queen’s Birthday Parade. Anyone
can attend and see the troops of the Royal Guard and the Royal Family in
carriages. The Royal Mall, where most of the public parade activity happens, is
so vast that it was easy to get a clear glimpse of the Royal Family from close
proximity (yes, we did see Kate and the Queen!). The “trooping” ceremony is
performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth Armies, and has been a
tradition since the 17th Century. We saw an impressive 41-gun salute by the
King’s troop, and a Royal Air Force “fly past” at the end as the Royal Family
waved from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Also, there are rehearsals for this big day on each of the two Saturdays
preceding the Queen’s Birthday Parade—great opportunities to view the
pageantry. (

Winston Churchill’s
War Rooms

Updated in 2005, this underground shelter created during
World War II and used by Churchill and his advisors to plan war strategy is not
to be missed! For my niece, Haley, a high school junior, it topped her list. My
husband had visited several years ago and couldn’t believe how vast the changes
were. The rooms now include a state-of-the-art “Lifeline” exhibit, which
features a massive 50-foot interactive table that chronicles the time of
Winston Churchill. Visitors can drill down to each day of Churchill’s life with
technological animations and sounds. (

Charlotte_Mackin__Haley_Hughes_and_Sophie_Mackin_taking_in_the_sights..jpegWestminster Abbey

My mother’s “must” was Westminster Abbey. We spent over two
hours at this site of living history, including many royal occasions from
coronations to weddings and funerals. We hired a Blue Badge Guide who told us
fascinating stories and shared historical anecdotes. Visiting the Abbey was a
great precursor to our tour of the Tower
of London and seeing the Queen’s
Jewels, as many of the stories are interrelated. (

British Museum

Over 250 years old, the Museum has collections ranging from pre-history
to the present day, with some of its most well-known being the Egyptian, Roman
and Greek collections. After learning about the Rosetta Stone this past year,
Sophie, our fifth grader, was desperate to see it in person. It is one of the
Museum’s greatest treasures. (

Hyde Park Gardens

One of my husband’s favorite spots in London,
which he wanted to share with us, was Hyde Park
Gardens, just off Hyde Park Corner.
He discovered it one day on a run. It’s a perfect spot to take your Harrod’s
Food Hall goodies for a picnic lunch and rest between sights. There are
comfortable benches, a charming fountain and beautiful gardens. You can also
rent Barclay’s bikes to ride around the park – they only cost one pound and can
be returned at any Barclays bike stand. Just remember to ride on the left side!

A former marketing
executive, Caroleen Mackin lives on the
Upper East Side
with her husband and two daughters.

TRAVEL HOT & COLD: And For Staying Stateside, Some Of Our Favorite Places To Stay And Play All
Winter Long

Club Med Punta Cana

Club Med Punta Cana is situated on the largest beach on the
island and features 75 acres of breathtaking tropical gardens. This
all-inclusive resort offers programs for children of all ages: Petit Club Med
offers activities, walks and outside play, while Club Med Passworld gives
tweens and teens an exclusive area to meet up and enjoy sports and artistic
activities like dance, DJ lessons and more. For parents, the resort also boasts
an open-air nightclub, trapeze and windsurfing lessons, aqua fitness classes
and much more. (

Disney Cruise

A recent addition to the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the
Disney Dream
TM, will capture the attention of families looking to
take on the high seas this winter. With its classic early 20th-Century design,
the Disney Dream combines inspiration from the golden age of cruising with
state-of-the art technology. Little ones will love the “splashtacular”
AquaDuck, a high-speed water coaster, while parents can enjoy either elegant
adults-only dining or family-friendly magically themed restaurants. (

Hunter Mountain (Hunter, New York)

Nestled in the heart of the northern Catskills, Hunter
Mountain is known for its beautiful
views, luxury spa and slopes that accommodate all ability levels. Hunter is
just over two hours away from the city and has 14 trails tailored to families
and beginners. The resort offers Playcare for those too young to ski, as well
as Explorers and Mountaineers lesson programs for novices of different levels. There’s
also a Burton learn-to-ride program
for little boarders, a snow tubing park and winter break camps. (

Keystone (Keystone, Colorado)

Part of the distinguished Vail Resort chain, Keystone is a
family ski mecca on the value end, with activities like a glow stick parade
down the mountain and disco tubing—not to mention, the ultimate snow fort. The
chain has also just introduced a cool mobile app, EpicMix, to enhance the
on-mountain experience with photos of your ski feats! (

Nickelodeon Suites
Orlando, Florida)

Heading to Florida
for some theme park fun? Consider checking into the Nick Hotel, an
extraordinary getaway featuring Nickelodeon-themed rooms, heated pools, slides
and flumes, interactive water towers, private cabanas and daily poolside shows
with Nick’s signature green slime. There’s a kids-only spa, mall, 4-D movie
theater and tons of Nick Studio Shows. The fam can even hop aboard a journey to
the North Pole on THE POLAR EXPRESS EXPERIENCE. Plus, Walt Disney World,
Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando are just a short shuttle ride
away. (

Smugglers’ Notch
(Smugglers’ Notch,
Smugglers’ Notch takes family recreation to a whole new level with everything
from dog sledding to snowmobiling to zip-line canopy tours of the resort. Kids
can try airboarding, the next generation of snow tubing, and even build their
own sleds. After a full day of family races or personalized ski lessons,
thrill-seekers will be more than ready to wind down with a steaming cup of hot
chocolate. Any extra energy can be burned off at the indoor family recreation
center or state-of-the-art video game room. (