Kids Play Major Role in Millennium Celebrations

For the first New Year's Eve in years, Louly (cq) Williams plans to be awake at midnight, toasting the new millennium at a fancy hotel party. She just hopes her 8- and 4-year-olds can stay awake, too.

``One day my kids won't want to spend New Year's Eve with me, so I want to be with them while they do -- especially this year,'' explained Williams, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Besides her husband and two children, she'll be joined at the Mohonk Mountain House, the sprawling Catskills resort in New Paltz, N.Y., by her divorced parents, her brother and his wife. ``I want to be with my family,'' said Williams firmly. ``No one I know wants to go away over New Year's without their kids.''

Ski areas, tropical resorts and cruise ships have begun to get that message loud and clear from Baby Boomers. This New Year's Eve may turn out to be memorable not only because of the new millennium but because it's the first in memory when baby sitters aren't at a premium.

``People want a little less glitz and glamour than we originally thought and more touchy-feelly family time,'' acknowledged Ritz-Carlton spokesman Vivian Deuschl. ``They want their kids to be able to tell their grandkids how everyone celebrated the arrival of the new century together.''

As a result, there are a fast-growing number of kid-friendly millennium celebrations being planned from the Caribbean to Orlando, Vermont, Colorado and Hawaii with everything from lavish family buffets to lazer tag, dances, slope-side children's torchlight parades, magicians and crab races -- activities for families to share and for kids and teens to do on their own.

But skittish about Y2K glitches that could disrupt travel plans and reluctant to pay premium-plus rates, families haven't been booking millennium trips at the clip the travel industry expected. Many families have opted for Thanksgiving or spring break trips, instead. As the millennium draws closer, that reality has also helped spur the rush of family-friendly packages at more realistic (but still high) prices.

Ritz hotels, for one, retooled their lavish over-the-top millennium packages to offer more for families, from a glow-in-the-dark pool party and movie marathon at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island in Florida to a New Year's Eve ball at the Ritz in Laguna Niguel, Calif. (Call 800-241-3333 or www.ritzcarlton.com.)

The Hotel Hershey will dish up more chocolate than any pint-sized chocolate lover could eat and is transforming Hersheypark into a winter wonderland. (Call 800-533-3131 or www.Hersheypa.com.)

Universal's new Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando is touting a four-day family package for just under $5,000 that includes all the time you want at the two theme parks plus a VIP tour of the park (no lines!), welcome gifts for the kids and spa treatments for the grown-ups. (Call 1-800-UESCAPE or www.uescape.com.)

Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are even planning the Millennium Great Embrace around the Dead Sea, complete with multimedia show and hot air balloon rides that is expected to draw more than 100,000 parents and kids.

And the Buccaneer Resort in St. Croix will ferry families to the beach at Point Udall, the easternmost point of the United States, so they can see the sun rise for the first time in the Western Hemisphere as they sip champagne or juice. (Call 800-255-3881 or www.thebuccaneer.com.)

Many places are getting the local community involved. Crested Butte, Colo., one of my favorite ski haunts, is inviting junior skiers and visiting teens to a chaperoned bash at a local school while younger skiers join a glowstick-lighted parade down the slope. Maui is hosting an all-day and evening Ohana Festival (Ohana means family in Hawaiian) at Lahaina, complete with a food fest and hula performances by local kids.

Boston's non-alcoholic city-wide First Night party, meanwhile, has become so popular it's been expanded to a three-day festival and is expected to draw three million people, many with kids in tow and some opting to spend the night in city hotels. Other First Night celebrations are set for some 220 small towns and big cities. ``This is all for families,'' said Zeren Earls, happily, who helped found Boston's First Night 24 years ago and now heads First Night International. (Check www.firstnightintl.org to find a First Night near you.)

There are a few bargains, too -- even at Aspen. Buy your ski passes by Dec. 1 and get a 30 percent break from last year's prices at Aspen's four mountains. Kids snowboard or ski for $30 a day; parents for $39. Many of the millennium-week festivities are free for families at Snowmass, from the 10-foot-square millennium cake to the Millennium Eve dance. (Call 800-262-7736 or www.skiaspen.com.)

Many celebrations are slated to last longer than just one night. Disney World's party on land and at sea will last more than a year; Smugglers' Notch Resort in Vermont the entire month of December, with bargains for those families who fete the millennium a few weeks early. (Call 800-451-8752 or www.smuggs.com.)

That's especially true for cruises because larger cabins that could hold a third or fourth passenger at reduced rates are already gone, explained Donna Esposito, president of the National Association of Cruise-Oriented (travel) Agencies.

(Check out Carnival's new kids-cruise-free packages this fall and winter that are available Christmas week, but not over the millennium. Call World Wide Cruises at 800-882-9000 or www.wwcruises.com.)

Jeff Mink wasn't looking for a bargain or a hot party when he booked his millennium getaway for his family and in-laws -- just a lot of family memories.

``It's once in a lifetime,'' the Long Island business owner said. ``The kids have got to be there. It wouldn't feel right otherwise.''

(c) 1999, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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