China: A Wonderland for Kids

There are a multitude of attractions in or near Beijing and other large cities where children will experience China in novel ways.

The days when China was generally thought of as an adult destination are long gone. Today’s China is where families will enjoy everything that makes the destination tower over others—and travelers need not fret as they did in bygone days about finding ways to keep children in check. This huge, puzzling, flavorful country is a colorful mix of ancient cultures standing against a backdrop of magnificent natural beauty that to this day defies time and redefines customs.

From the tropical island of Hainan, rightfully touted as “China’s Hawaii,” to the barren sands of the Gobi Desert—a forlorn expanse that rivals the stark beauty of the Sahara—China draws families who invariably come to see sites found nowhere else.

Aware that China is rapidly becoming one of Asia’s top child-friendly destinations and that a growing number of visitors come with children in tow, the country years ago began plans to make itself more appealing to young travelers.

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That’s right in line with a study conducted by YPartnership, publishers of the authoritative “National Travel Monitors Survey” of travel habits, preferences and intentions of Americans, concluded that, “Family travel continues to grow as more and more parents, particularly those working full-time, view vacations as a way to ‘reunite’ the family, more than [they do] an occasion for rest and relaxation.” Another research paper, “The National Leisure Travel Monitor,” predicts family travel to rise next year, as nearly 40 percent of adults plan to take a vacation with children—up from 32 percent a mere five years ago.

fun to-do’s Children invariably find Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other fabled destinations to be virtual wonderlands. While Hong Kong has a super fun Disneyland with all the legendary amenities of the real McCoy, Beijing offers the super campy Shijingshan Amusement Park, a place that uses the slogan “Disneyland is too far” with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Shijingshan is a fun Disneyland knockoff that perhaps too closely subscribes to the old adage that imitation is the highest form of flattery. It has a Cinderella castle where a Snow White lookalike marches around with seven munchkins, not dwarves, in tow; a Minnie Mouse clone is “a cat with big ears” and fun rides and fake Disney characters make any time spent in the park more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Beijing also offers a large number of other attractions specifically designed with youngsters in mind. Two of the megacity’s most vibrant family destinations include an aquarium regarded as one of the finest in Asia, and LeCool, a gigantic indoor skating rink that draws increasing record numbers of visitors every year.

The most interesting and unique setting that never fails to captivate, however, is the Beijing World Park, a vast theme park that presents a “chance to see the world without leaving Beijing.”

More than two million visitors pass through its gates every year, a testimony of its wide appeal. Within it, one finds miniature replicas of practically every significant world landmark. The pyramids at Giza, Moscow’s Red Square, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower are all there. The park astounds by the attention to detail paid while replicating these landmarks. More than a quarter million white marble tiles were used to build the pyramids, while Red Square used a numbing five million thumb-sized red tiles.

book it Travel agents booking family-oriented tours to China will find the list of tour operators aiming their sights to that highly profitable aspect of the industry growing by leaps and bounds.

Next summer, Thomson Family Adventures, for instance, will feature three departures for families. The tour stops at some of China’s most iconic spots like the Great Wall, Guilin and, of course, includes a Giant Panda Tour to Chengdu’s panda sanctuary.

According to Pamela Bracken, marketing director, the adventure starts during the early stages of planning the trip when young Western clients are introduced to a Chinese pen pal in order to facilitate understanding and local mores. The pen pals have the opportunity to meet face-to-face during the tour. The trip, she explains, is essentially a wide variety of activities that is sure make a lifelong impression.