Travel Smarts


July 31, 2005

Catering to Kids

Newport mansion tours keep things interesting for young visitors

As tour groups filter through the Breakers in Newport, R.I., the opulent oceanside mansion once used as the Vanderbilt family's summer home, a guide brings a Connecticut family of four into a spectacular room off the main entrance.

The Great Hall is 50 feet high with red-carpeted staircases and a gilded plaster frame that borders a bright blue sky painted on the ceiling.

Tour guide Nell Trainor lets the Chan family take in the view, then turns to the youngest members of the group -- Alissa, 9, and her 14-year-old sister, Queenie.

"It would probably take about 12 of your friends [to reach the top] if we had them stand on shoulders," Trainor says.

She peppers the rest of her presentation with joking asides to the girls, asking about their hobbies and personal collections and sharing stories about the Vanderbilt kin who lived in the 70-room house.

It's all part of a family tour that the Preservation Society of Newport County began offering last year at the Breakers, the 1895 Italian Renaissance-style mansion that is the most popular of Newport's eye-popping palaces. The tour, intended to provide a more family-friendly, educational experience, is one of several specialized visits developed at the mansions in recent years.

Singles can enjoy drinks at a 1920s speak-easy at Astors' Beechwood Mansion. Ladies who lunch can dine on a terrace at the Elms. Fashionistas can check out the designer wardrobe of a wealthy socialite at Rough Point. And the party crowd can check out "Vegas Night" at Belcourt Castle.

The family tours are offered four times a day -- twice in the morning and twice after lunch -- from May to September and are designed for children 4 to 11. Tours typically last for an hour or so, and groups are usually limited to 10 to 12 people.

For more information about specialized mansion tours, contact the Preservation Society of Newport County (401-847-1000; or Newport Restoration Foundation and Rough Point (401-849-7300; www.newport

New bus service links downtown D.C. attractions

A new public bus service called the Downtown Circulator links several of Washington's major activity centers. Privately operated buses and tour mobiles with guides providing interpretive narration cost nearly $20 per passenger compared with the $1 Circulator fare.

The distance between the Kennedy Center and the Capitol is nearly three miles. District officials have identified 38 major attractions between those two points that attract many of the 22 million tourists who visit the city each year. The buses cover a nine-mile round-trip route from Union Station to Georgetown by way of K Street. A second four-mile round-trip route runs from Mount Vernon Square-Convention Center to the D.C. waterfront area.

The service will be available from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.


Tombstone, the famous Old West town in southern Arizona, could lose its status as a National Historic Landmark after decades of violating historic preservation building codes.

The Department of the Interior has put the so-called "town too tough to die" on its threatened list, the highest warning level.

A popular tourist destination, Tombstone's historic integrity has declined into a blend of authentic history and fake Old West ambience, federal and state officials said.

Newer buildings bear false dates from the 1870s to 1880s. Storefronts are painted colors like chartreuse -- not found in Tombstone 125 years ago. Some buildings are made to look older with faux exposed brick or Spanish tiles.

"The buildings have been altered in such a way that it's creating a very inauthentic appearance to the visiting public," said Greg Kendrick, National Park Service manager for the landmark program. Landmark designation could be revoked "if they continue in the direction they're in," he added.

"Tombstone is becoming a Disneyland," complained Sally Alves, owner of Curly Bill's Bed & Breakfast in Tombstone. "The business owners in town want ... everything to be bright and colorful, like Rawhide or someplace that is not a real, authentic Old West city."

Tombstone, population 1,750, gets an estimated 450,000 visitors a year.

Founded in 1879, Tombstone was once bigger than San Francisco. Its mines produced $37 million in silver. After the mines started to close in the late 1880s, its population and fortunes began to slide. The town's historic district became a national landmark in 1962.

Tops on this continent

Travelers' favorite North American cities (with 2004 ranking), from Travel + Leisure's 2005 reader survey:

1. New York (1)

2. San Francisco (2)

3. Santa Fe (5)

4. Chicago (7)

5. Vancouver (6)

6. Charleston, S.C. (4)

7. Quebec City (3)

8. Montreal (10)

9. Victoria, British Columbia (9)

10. New Orleans (8)

-- From wire reports

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