Novotel Darling Harbour, Sydney: A family staycation breaks the routine

A host of emotions are attached to that evocative word "weekend". There's joy, at the endless opportunities: reading the paper, relaxing with friends, having an afternoon nap. Then disgust, at the annoying obligations: cleaning the house, taxiing the kids around, picking up groceries. Finally, anger sets in: you yell at the kids, they yell back, and the weekend is ruined.

Or maybe this is just our house. It's like the movie Inside Out is on a loop, with each character taking turns to ruin the weekend. Well, why not break this cycle of abuse with a staycation? Sure, it sounds like a marketing term. That's because it is.

But in the past five years, tourism-providers have come up with some pretty impressive products to crowbar families off the couch and into the city. Recently, we road-tested Novotel's offering at Darling Harbour in Sydney. To quote the kids, "Wow. Just, wow."

It started with free Wii consoles in the foyer, continued with hidden toys and movie passes in the room, and ended with the world's best buffet breakfast. While the rooms aren't huge, they have killer views of the harbour, including the ice-skating rink, Ferris wheel and entertainment that were part of the Cool Yule festival.

The IMAX Theatre, Maritime Museum, and Children's Playground are within walking distance; we like to think of a staycation as a holiday on speed: there's limited time, so you have to fill every second.

This would explain why we played tennis, on Sydney's coldest day, wearing ski gloves. As those hardy souls who climb Everest would say, "I did it because it was there!"

We performed a similar feat at the swanky restaurant that evening.  I'm not usually a fan of hotel restaurants, but The Ternary breaks the mould. This is a five-star dining experience, with a wine and cheese bar, charcuterie, Asian and Grill kitchens.

I challenge any child to say, "Nah, I don't feel like anything on the menu". The degustation is, frankly, to die for, featuring betel leaves of smoked salmon with salmon pearls and fried shallots, and pulled peppered beef in crispy pastry and water chestnuts. There's also a kids' menu, with plenty of their favourites.

After they ate, the kids tottered off to play with the Wiis in the foyer, so hubby and I could enjoy some much-needed adult time. Incidentally, the restaurant's name comes from the Latin word ternarius, meaning, "consisting of three things". Our previous weekend was filled with three things: the prospect of joy, the reality of disgust, and the aftertaste of anger.

Now, we've bonded again, thanks to a good ol' staycation. And it doesn't cost a fortune. Many hotels, like the Novotel, offer packages including accommodation, family passes to local attractions, and discounts off interconnecting rooms. There's even a late checkout, of up to 5pm on Sundays.

Perhaps this should become a family tradition.

Tracey Spicer and family were guests of Family & Novotel.