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Miami: perfect for club kids - and regular kids, too

A three-year-old hits the beach in style.

Does the thought of being cooped up with the kids for March Break leave you cold? If you're seeking a warm escape that doesn't involve larger-than-life cartoon characters or underdressed twentysomethings, consider Miami.

Sure, the city is best known for adult pursuits: clubbing, high-end shopping, art and dining. But it's also a family-friendly destination with attractions and activities that appeal to kids from toddlers to tweens. And their parents.

For starters, there's Miami Beach's namesake, a 24-kilometre stretch of white sand that is great for surfers, swimmers and sandcastle builders. And beyond it, there's plenty of all-ages fun to be had.

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Taking it in Need to reconcile your eight-year-old's addiction to rides, your preteen's need to I.D. the trendy spots and your own love of sightseeing? Try GoCar, which provides GPS-guided mini-cars to tour South Beach (with a built-in automated tour guide). For $63 (Canadian), two of you can drive a yellow open-air vehicle, taking in a bit of history and trivia at your own pace.

The kids get a ride, parents get the lay of the land and you all get smiles as you putt-putt at a max of 40 kilometres per hour all over South Beach. When you're done, it's easy to figure out which areas you would like to explore more closely, whether it's the high-end shops of Ocean Drive, the historic art deco district, or the cafés and vendors of Espanola Way, a Mediterranean-style thoroughfare built in 1925.

Then there's the Miami Children's Museum, which offers 55,000 square feet of hands-on, interactive fun for the under-5 set, including (appropriately enough) exhibits about sand, money and Miami. Plus, it's a good break from the sun for mom and dad.

Monkeying around If you and the kids want to get up close and personal with humanity's nearest cousins (and, really, who doesn't like monkeys?), then check out Monkey Jungle. This 30-acre reserve features 30 species of primates, including spider monkeys, gibbons, colobus and Javas. Don't miss the "water show" featuring the Javas, which go diving after their food. You'll get to know the Javas fairly quickly as they follow you from the entrance along the top of your caged route. Watch as they stop by little tin bowls on chains, into which the kids can drop raisins and cranberries. The Javas quickly hoist up the dishes, gobble the offering and lower them down for more.

Go gator Getting soaked isn't my idea of a good time, but the kids on our airboat had a blast zooming through the Everglades and spotting alligators along the way. The Everglades Alligator Farm is south Florida's oldest alligator farm, home to about 2,000 of the creatures. You can see dozens of them, stone still, sunning themselves in the fenced in farm. It's also possible to check out "cute" gator babies or enjoy a sample of the grownups - deep-fried, nugget-style - at the take-out trailer. It tastes like chicken. Honest.

Jewel of a jungle For a zoo experience with a difference, consider Jungle Island - a 7.5-hectare theme park with more than 3,000 exotic animals and 2,000 species of plant. Mom and dad will appreciate the shady stroll while the kids will enjoy the tiger show, the parrots, the petting zoo and the Serpentarium.

For something more unusual, try the "Lemur Experience": 45 minutes of quality time with half a dozen fuzzy, friendly lemurs, which jump all over you. And, yes, hand sanitizer is available.

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Play where you stay With a number of luxury properties just opened in this sagging economy, there are deals everywhere. The newly renovated Fontainebleau - once the hotel of choice for the likes of Frank Sinatra - is promoting its new era with a family package, including connected multiple rooms, two-bed choices and larger suites so there's room for all of you. The hotel also has specially priced kids menus and kids programming.

The Hilton in downtown Miami, meanwhile, is offering a 20-per-cent discount for families who book 14 days in advance until March 31.

But for some quality downtime, consider the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Parents will appreciate the old-world charm of this Spanish-style estate - not to mention the spa, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and well-appointed rooms finished with European feather beds. The kids will love the 23,000-square-foot pool and a nightly cookies and milk delivery.


Getting there Air Canada and American Airlines offer direct flights from Canadian airports to Miami International.

What to do GoCar Tours 1661 James Ave., Miami; 888-462-2755; Monkey Jungle 14805 SW 216th St., Miami; 305-235-1611; Everglades Alligator Farm 40351 SW 192 Ave., Florida City; 305-247-2628; Jungle Island 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami; 305-400-7000; Miami Children's Museum 980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami; 305-373-5437;

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Where to stay Biltmore Hotel 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 800-945-1926; Spring Break at the Biltmore rates from $457 in March. Fontainebleau Miami Beach 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-538-2000; Rates from $462. Hilton Miami Downtown 1601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-374-0000. With advance discount, a room with two queen-size beds starts at $292.

The writer was a guest of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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