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WEEKENDER: TRAVEL: Ferry good fun; IAIN MAYHEW HAS A TOP FAMILY ATTRACTION IN EVERY PORT.

Byline: IAIN MAYHEW

KICKING off your holiday with a ferry crossing can be great fun for kids. Many have games rooms and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.

And once you're back on dry land there's always a top family attraction within a short drive of the ferry port.

A new family travel section on ferry travel website, www.sailand drive.com, provides a good guide to 66 attractions in 17 destinations, from Shetland ponies on the island of Unst, to Legoland in Denmark.

Here are a few ideas...

SCOTLAND Argyll & Clyde

GETTING THERE: Caledonian MacBrayne 08705 650 000/ www.calmac.co.uk

WHAT TO DO: Learn to sea-kayak with seals on Cumbrae in Ayrshire, marvel at towering redwoods in the Cowal Peninsula, visit spooky medieval castles on the Isle of Arran and go wild in 300 acres of the grand Victorian mansion of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute.

THE BEST: Brodick Castle and Country Park, Arran (01770 302202) is five minutes from the port.

This National Trust jewel is a turreted 13th Century castle, historically home to the powerful Dukes of Hamilton. Get the adrenaline pumping in the adventure playground and let the kids run wild in the park which has way-marked trails, woodlands, waterfalls, gorges, wildlife ponds, a nature room and wildlife garden.

BELGIUM Zeebrugge

GETTING THERE: P&O Ferries 08705 20 20 20/www.poferries.com

WHAT TO DO: Zeebrugge is just a short hop from medieval Bruges. Kids can scoff waffles sold by street vendors, make sandcastles at the seaside, giggle at the Manneken Pis (pissing boy) in Brussels, enjoy Antwerp's historic zoo and nip round Europe in an afternoon at Mini Europe.

THE BEST: Antwerp Zoo (www.zooantwerpen.be) is one hour's drive from the port.

Antwerp Zoo is one of the world's oldest and most famous zoos, and participates in an international breeding programme for threatened species such as the okapi, the bonobo, the golden lion tamarin and the Congo peacock. Allow half a day to visit the penguins in Freezeland, elephants and giraffes in the Egyptian temple and hippos in their fancy pink villa.FRANCE Brittany - St Malo, Brest, Roscoff

GETTING THERE: Brittany Ferries 08705 360 360/www.brittanyferries.com

WHAT TO DO: Brittany's beaches, such as Saint Malo, Carnac and Perros Guirec, are perfect for bucket and spade holidays, while children will love tucking into sweet and savoury Breton pancakes. Key attractions range from world-class aquariums to the dramatic Fort La Latte.

THE BEST: Oceanopolis (www.ocean opolis.com) is five mins from the port.

This aquarium's futuristic, white domed buildings are in shipbuilding Brest. See sea creatures from the tropics, the Breton coast and all the oceans of the world. An astonishing 3.7 million litres of water is what Oceanopolis' fish call home. Adults will enjoy the decent restaurant and boutique, selling mineral-rich Brittany seaweed and face-masks.

DENMARK Port Esbjerg

GETTING THERE: DFDS Seaways 08705 333 111/www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

WHAT TO DO: This city has a proud maritime history. The number one attraction is Legoland but the kids are sure to love seal feeding time in the Maritime Museum and the chance to walk, cycle or go horse riding in the Marbaek Nature Reserve, just 12km north of the city. There are good beaches, too.

THE BEST: Legoland (www.lego.com/ legoland/billund) is one hour's drive from the port.

Constructed from 45 million Lego bricks, the park will keep the kids amused for days. The park also offers gentle rides for tots and more exciting rides for older children.

NORTHERN GERMANY Port Cuxhaven

GETTING THERE: DFDS Seaways 08705 333 111/www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

WHAT TO DO: Children can meet Thomas The Tank Engine in Miniature Wunderland. Just an hour's drive inland and you are in Hamburg, a proud Hanseatic League harbour town.

THE BEST: Miniature Wunderland (www.miniatur-wunderland.de) is one hour's drive from the port.

This park has models of more than 450 trains and 7,000 cars running around five miles of track. You can push all sorts of buttons to activate the trains and make sound effects.

HOLLAND Hook of Holland

GETTING THERE: Stena Line 08705 74 74 74/www.stenaline.com

WHAT TO DO: Stroll around this fascinating old port or drive to Amsterdam or Rotterdam.

THE BEST: The old Ship Museum (www.scheepvaartmuseum.nl) is near Amsterdam.

The ship Amsterdam set sail in 1749 to bring back tea, and spices from Indonesia. This replica brings to life Amsterdam's heyday. See sailors swabbing the deck and the cook preparing meals in the galley.

FRANCE

Normandy - Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre

GETTING THERE: Brittany Ferries 08705 360 360/ www.brittanyferries.com

WHAT TO DO: This historic region of rolling landscapes, good food and ancient towns is ever-popular with Brits because it is so easy to get to. There's loads for the kids to do, too.

THE BEST: Cite de la Mer (www.lacitedelamer.com) is five minutes' drive from the port of Cherbourg.

Allow a morning to explore the human adventure of underwater exploration at Sea City, set in an art deco jewel - the old Cherbourg maritime terminal.

Travel from the Ocean Pole and Aquarium to the Submarine Pole. Follow the animated mascot of La Cite de la Mer - a playful air bubble that drifts in the ocean and invites children to take part in game-questionnaires.

Caen Memorial Museum for Peace

(www.memorial-caen.fr) is five minutes' drive from Caen, or 45 minutes' from Le Havre.

Around half of the visitors are children at this educational memorial, which brings to life the drama of 20th Century history - from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to the Second World War.

The town of Caen saw some of the fiercest fighting after the D-Day landings and this tastefully put-together museum is partly a memorial to those who died.

Children will enjoy the D-Day film recounting the landings on the June 6, 1944, with a split screen showing the German and Allied preparations. There are plenty of exhibits - even a restored American Typhoon fighter. Ask the museum for information on Normandy beaches tours.

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HISTORIC: Medieval Bruges; BEAUTIFUL: Mont St Michel
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 26, 2005
Words:1030
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