Or, 500 Tacky Tourist Traps it might be better to avoid.
I guess you can tell from my sub title I’m a little underwhelmed with this book. It’s a disappointing offering from Frommer. I’ll cover what I think are the major flaws of the book.
First of all, it’s organised by themes. So chapter one is “awesome vistas’, chapter two is “exploring the scenery” right through “walk with animals” to “budding scientists” to “rides and thrills at the end”. Don’t get me wrong the themes sound great. The problem is that for each theme they then pick one or two highlights from each continent basically. This creates a kind of artificial selection, so that for theme parks we have Lunar Park in Sydney as the major offering (eh?) rather than focusing on the fact that the Gold Coast has a cluster of whizzie woo woo theme parks (and that maybe a park like Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World is more iconic of Australia). There are quite a few choices in the book that felt like this type of token gesture to me. I mean, really did someone pick Lunar Park of wikipedia? I can’t think of any other plausible reason for it’s inclusion.
The other problem with themes is that it isn’t how you actually travel. You travel geographically. While there is a small geographical index at the back, it was almost like an after thought. There were maps provided of all the major countries but while the main cities were marked, none of the actual attractions or destinations were. I’m not sure what purpose they thought these maps were going to serve but they certainly don’t help you to work out where to go.
Let’s take an example of a family visiting New Zealand. You want to know what things you must see. It’s a long way to get to NZ from anywhere, so you don’t want to miss out on anything, right? In the index fro NZ the attractions we have listed are: Fiordlands National Park, Mount Cook (ahem, correct name Aoraki or at the very least Aoraki/Mt Cook), Rotorua, Stewart Island and Wellington Cable Car. If you’ve never been to NZ before, you might well wonder where these things are. Well, don’t use the maps in this book, on NZ it has marked: The North Island, Wellington, The South Island, and Stewart Island. Now we have been to NZ several times. In fact Super Gizmo man had to take Beckham across the ditch just a couple of weeks ago. I did the planning and listed all the places they really should visit depending on where they got flights. In the end they flew in and out of Wellington. Not once, not once did it even cross my mind as a merest flicker that they ‘really should go on the cable car’. If you are in Wellington with kids, the places you should make a bee line for are Te Papa which is the fabulous national museum and the Karori Santuary. If you need a bit of public transport excitement, then Wellington has the only public trolley bus system in Australasia.
Another problematic aspect of the book is it’s US centric focus. Now I am sure that the US is an amazing place to visit but the mere fact that a whole chapter is devoted to “Settling America” is pretty telling. Especially when American places dominate the other categories as well. Maybe a better title would have been “Places American’s should consider taking their kids”.
Compounding the disappointing nature of the places selected is the fact that the selections seem to focus on major cities and traditional tourist destinations. I confirmed this with my flick through of their choices fro France and Italy. D’uh oh! We neglected to go to almost all of the places they mentioned. Give me Pienza any day over Rome for an amazing cultural experience for kids. Famous Bridges selected were the historic choices of the Tower Bridge, London and Le Pont Neuf, Paris. Where is the hair raising Millau Viaduct (France) the tallest vehicular bridge in the world? Or the Forth Railway bridge in Glasgow, the first bridge and major structure in the UK to be built of steel ? Instead the choices are those found in any travel agents brochures. There are no hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Instead this book follows a very paint by numbers approach to exploring the planet. Hard to believe this is published by the same company as the brilliant “with your family” travel series. Save your money for those or the much glossier Travel with Kids by William Gray.