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Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
Families | Couples | Seniors
Buenos Aires: Families

Why You Need to Spend Three Days Here

It's a long way from North America to Buenos Aires, difficult for even the most experienced adult traveler; for kids, it can be extremely trying. Once the long trip is actually behind you, though, you have the opportunity to experience one of the greatest cities in the world, and without them knowing it, offer educational opportunities to the children. Before you leave home, run some water in the bathroom sink. Let the kids see which way the water swirls at the drain. When you arrive at your Buenos Aires hotel, do the same. The water swirls in the opposite direction, proving that you are, indeed, in the southern hemisphere; this is an exercise that just delights children of any age. Beyond that, Buenos Aires offers a wealth of cultural opportunities for families to enjoy. Just walking along the streets and boulevards of the city offers a perspective that few young people are likely to forget: Old men walking with their mate cups, couples dancing the tango on the sidewalk, window displays of the firepits surrounded with roasting meats visible in the windows of the parillas (restaurants specializing in these roasted meats) you'll pass along the way.

Fabulous Freebies:

Buenos Aires is filled with parks, so taking the kids to any one of them is an ideal way to allow them to expend energy. Beyond that, walking along the river in the Boca district, or along the pedestrian street Calle Florida will delight them with the never-ending spectacle of mimes and tango dancers.

Home Away From Home:

The cost of hotels has risen with the influx of tourism, but there are some great family friendly options in most price ranges.

Familiar and Family Friendly: Hilton Buenos Aires -- Located in the new and trendy Puerto Madera section of the city, this hotel is a bit remote from the downtown and Recoletta sections but offers everything you need for a family vacation. There's a day camp and playround, children's center and babysitting, kids' menus and other amenities typical in a Hilton hotel.

Sophisticated and Family Friendly: Sofitel Buenos Aires -- Conveniently located near the Retiro train station, just a short walk from the park and Plaza St. Martin, this French chain's hotel is ideal for family stays. Kids are treated well (they even get their own pool), but more than that, it's an elegant and reasonably priced respite for mom and dad, in a superb locale. Babysitting is available.

Family and Budget Friendly: Howard Johnson Plaza Florida Street -- For a really inexpensive alternate also in a terrific area, this hotel is located adjacent to Plaza San Martin and the park, and right on Calle Florida, the pedestrian shopping street. (In fact, when booking, ask for a room at the back; the front facing Calle Florida can get quite noisy.) The hotel offers babysitting, and there's a heated indoor pool.

Day One:

If this is a pre-cruise stay, you're likely going to be tired and jetlagged from the long flights ... and the kids will need a nap. So check into your hotel, do the water in the sink thing, and rest up for a bit. If it's a post-cruise stay, both you and the kids will have more energy.

This is a perfect time to take a walk along Calle Florida, the pedestrian shopping street. Start at the Plaza San Martin and just mosey along; there's plenty to see, including mimes and tango dancers who entertain the people strolling. Stop at any one of the cafes along the street (there's even a McDonalds, if you must...) for lunch or a snack, or walk up Calle Lavalle to El Palacio de la Papa Frita (which means "french fries palace") for a cheap and wonderful Argentine lunch including traditional bife (steak) and lomo (tenderloin). Get the kids the potato souffles; they aren't really souffles at all, just thick-cut french fries injected with air bubbles. Delightful!

This afternoon is a good time to go to the zoo, one of the oldest (dating from 1874) and finest (over 2,500 animals and 350 species) city zoos in the world. It's open until 6 p.m. (closed Mondays) and gives you and the kids something nice to do. It's really inexpensive, too ... about $3 per adult. Take the Subte (subway) green line to the Scalabrini Ortiz exit in Palermo (or take a cab, about $10 from El Centro).

When the zoo closes, or when you've just had enough, take one of the Mateos (decorated horse-drawn carriages) located at the entrance for a little excursion around the gardens in the area. Take the kids out for pizza at the legendary El Cuartito -- a venerable restaurant that is known for its sublime pizza and friendly atmosphere (Subte line D green line exit Tribunales) before heading back to your hotel.

Day Two:

You'll be well-rested today, so it's a great opportunity for an adventurous day trip.

Tigre, located on the Parana Delta just 19 miles north of Buenos Aires, is a world away from the bustle of Buenos Aires. The city is dotted with little islands that can be accessed via boat (rentals with drivers available, or you can paddle in your own kayaks), and has a flourishing handicraft market, a naval museum and best of all, a huge amusement park -- Parque de la Costa -- with roller coasters, water attractions, food courts and the like. Entry is less than $10 USD each. If you want to for-go the excitement of the amusement park (the largest in South America), you can make a day out of wandering through the leafy little islands in this river delta, where the Tigre, Lujan and Reconquista rivers meet to flow into the Rio de la Plata, the river on which Buenos Aires is built.

You can purchase a tour from a tour operator (your hotel will have information on that) for a cost of about $40 per person, but you can easily -- and more economically -- do it on your own. There are two ways to get to Tigre, both starting at the Retiro train station. The most direct way (and you'll want to go back this way with tired children) is to purchase a ticket on the Mitre line directly to the Tigre station; it costs under $1 and takes about 45 minutes. Or, to start the day with a little more excitement, take the train to the Olivos exit and change there for the Tren de la Costa (coastal train), which adds about half an hour to the trip but is much more scenic. You can avoid the transfer by taking the Tren de la Costa directly from the Maipu station as well; the exit is Delta.

In the summer months (December through March) Parque de la Costa stays open until 11 p.m. or later; if you have teens and want to stay out that late, a cab back to your hotel will cost around $30, still a bargain.

Day Three:

For post-cruise stays, most flights back to the States or Europe leave late in the evening, so you really have a whole day to mess around. And even if you're on a pre-cruise mini-break, you have a good portion of the morning to get out there and do something. Your hotel bellman will be happy to keep your luggage for you in any event.

Almost all hotels in Buenos Aires include breakfast, but your stay in the city just wouldn't be complete without a typical cafe breakfast. Find any small cafe, ask for coffee with hot milk (cafe con leche), and you'll get, for about $2, a steaming mug of fabulous Argentine coffee, three "media lunas" (croissants) with butter, and a glass of orange juice. Share with the kids, or order extra pastries and juice for them. If you're reading a newspaper while you sip, you'll look just like the average porteno out for the morning.

Then set out for La Boca, a small section of the city that edges the river. Similar in feel to Venice, California (without the sandy beach), or Greenwich Village, it's a great place to stroll along with other families amidst the colorful homes, shops and artist stalls. The area was settled by Italian immigrant dockworkers who built their homes with corregated metal and paint they got from the ships; the colorful environment began attracting artists, sculptors and even tango dancers when the dance was prohibited in Argentina during the 1920's.

Today La Boca is a thriving, charming village where Italian tradition is meshed with Argentine culture. Many of the restaurants and cafes offer tango shows along with the tarantella, artists along Calle Camanito work out in the open, and tango dancers come, especially on weekends, to practice their art and compete with each other for the attention of tourists.

For those staying on for late flights, if it's a Saturday or Sunday, grab a cab to La Recoleta, the famous park/cemetery where Eva Peron is entombed ... No, I am not recommending that you take the children to see her crypt; on weekends the park is lined with the most amazing local artisan stalls, a perfect spot for last-minute shopping. You can purchase handcrafted wind chimes, handmade mate cups and bombillas, and all sorts of items knitted from Patagonian wool. Afterwards have a tea, coffee or lemonade at one of the Parisian-style cafes which surround the outer edges of the park, like La Biela. If it isn't a Saturday or Sunday, go to one of the leafy parks in the Palermo district instead; many of them have playgrounds and it's a nice way to end your Buenos Aires sojourn with the family.

--by San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.
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