Columnist

Film fantasies lead to fantastic vacations with the kids

 
 
  • Urquhart castle perches beside Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, and setting for

    Urquhart castle perches beside Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, and setting for "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep."

  • George Washington's Mount Vernon is part of a pivotal scene in

    George Washington's Mount Vernon is part of a pivotal scene in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

Published: 1/19/200 5:25 PM

I sense how quickly my children have grown and get a little nostalgic recalling the sweetness of young childhood. If there's one thing I am thrilled to have left behind, however, it has to be the years of watching talking animals at the movies: dogs, cats, muskrats, meerkats, mice and pigs.

Film fans can couple a viewing of this winter's most popular family features with a trip that will thrill and fill them with awe (and not a blathering beast among them).

Even though any rational adult has to suspend belief watching the coincidences and feats in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," I liked the facts that my kid had to really focus to keep a handle on the story, the main character is regaled for being brilliant (instead of perceived as a geek) and it starred our nation's capital in all of its historic glory.

Nicolas Cage returns as Benjamin Franklin Gates, treasure hunter extraordinaire, along with other characters whose history-savvy ways help them find a magnificent lost treasure with lots of action and intrigue along the way. Aiming to uncover the truth about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the crew uncovers clues at the Library of Congress, the White House, the University of Maryland and George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

Because so much of the drama unfolds in the nation's capital, the Washington, D.C. Convention & Tourism Corp., or WCTC, launched a promotion to celebrate the city. Book a movie-themed getaway package, then follow Trails to Treasure, a self-guided tour developed by WCTC to highlight sites featured in the film.

Take a look at more than a dozen National Treasure-inspired packages at www.trailstotreasure.com. When you stay at the Melrose Hotel, for example, see if you can recall scenes shot near the Georgetown locale. The Melrose Hotel's movie-themed package starts at $129 per night and includes one complimentary in-room movie per night as well as admission to the International Spy Museum.

Families with younger treasure hunters may want to look into a stay at the Savoy Suites Hotel for family-friendly themed packages. They include one in-room treasure chest per child with pirate's booty, such as treasure maps and eye patches, plus one complimentary breakfast per child per day (two children maximum). The package also includes complimentary parking, Internet, shuttle to Metro and use of the nearby Washington Sports Club, starting at $149 per night (www.savoysuites.com).

Or, lodge at The Fairmont Washington, D.C., where Nicolas Cage holed up during the filming of "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." You'll get overnight accommodations for two, two Tourmobile tickets, a diary to document your own D.C. adventures and a special chocolate turndown amenity of the U.S. Constitution, starting at $259 per night.

All packages come with a printed "treasure map" brochure highlighting the locations and themes featured in the film. Before your visit, have Junior check out the Web site, www.trailstotreasure.com, to see a treasure map, collect historical clues and enter to win a trip for two to the nation's capital.

For more information about visiting Washington D.C., go to www.washington.org.

Called endearing and touching a la "Babe" and "My Dog Skip," "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" is set in Scotland during World War II, so kids get a history lesson along with an enchanting story about a boy and the sea creature of Celtic lore, the Loch Ness Monster.

Based on the children's book by Dick King Smith, the film shares the adventures of a young boy who discovers an egg on the shore of a Scottish loch. The egg hatches and transforms into the legendary creature and the lad takes it to a larger, more fitting environment: the 24-mile long, 740-foot deep Loch Ness.

Experience the verdant Scottish countryside courtesy of Dooley Vacations' Water Horse package. Available through February 2008 and starting at $1,239 per person, the package includes round-trip airfare, six-night bed-and-breakfast accommodation, a Historic Scotland pass (for entry to Urquhart Castle), automatic rental car and 3½-hour tour aboard Jacobite Cruises.

Pick up The Water Horse trail in Edinburgh, home to the 3D Loch Ness Experience tour narrated by a Nessie expert. Then, it's on to Urquhart Castle above the rocky shores of Loch Ness' deepest point (from which many have allegedly sighted the creature) and a cruise aboard a Nessie-watching vessel, equipped with radar, GPS and underwater cameras, just in case.

Nessie sightings in Britain's largest freshwater lake go back to A.D. 565, and tourists visit in droves to catch a glimpse of the elusive Water Horse. Slip in a little geography by explaining to the kids that Loch Ness is large enough to dunk every human being on the face of the earth three times over, and deep enough to gulp a skyscraper such as New York's Chrysler Building.

To book or learn more about the Water Horse package, go to www.dooleyvacations.com/vacations/waterhorse-package or call (877) 331-9301.

For more information about vacationing in Scotland and discovering more about the famed Loch Ness, visit www.cometoscotland.com.