Courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach
Ann Shields, Kathryn O'Shea-Evans, Kathryn O'Shea-Evans
August 14, 2009

In the brief months since President Obama was elected, his daughters, Malia and Sasha, have visited the Eiffel Tower and the Kremlin, strolled the beaches of Hawaii with their dad, curtseyed to Queen Elizabeth, and had an audience with the Pope. Why not take a cue from the First Family and plan a vacation that’ll go down in history?

The key, of course, is picking the right hotel, which is why each year, Travel + Leisure asks our readers to choose their favorite family hotels, resorts, and cruise lines—ones that truly excel at pleasing the whole clan.

Judging by the stellar properties that made the 2009 cut, two things are changing in the competitive world of family-friendly hotels: resorts are becoming even savvier about designing activities to engage young guests, and they’re going back to fundamentals in pleasing parents.

To be considered a great hotel for families, it’s not enough to offer a kids’ club or a warm cookie at check-in. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, for example, hosts bubblegum teas—complete with PB&J finger sandwiches and an appearance by the hotel’s two yellow Labradors—for the under-10 set. To appeal to older kids, the Ritz-Carlton Naples designed Vue, a sleek lounge with multiple flat-screen HDTVs, computer stations, and gaming areas with xBox, Playstation, and Wii set-ups.

“Family-friendly,” of course, isn’t all about the kids. Reaching beyond the spa and golf course, these hotels are also getting creative with grown-up perks. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea spent $9 million creating a gorgeous adults-only infinity pool, complete with underwater sound system, bubble loungers, and 360-degree views of mountains and beach. You can even get a massage in an overwater cabana. Mellow has never felt so thrilling.

Families will also appreciate the attention that hotels are paying to their palates. Resort restaurants are recruiting big-name chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten at The Phoenician, in Scottsdale, and Iron Chef’s Cat Cora at Disney World’s Boardwalk Inn and Resort, to meet the demanding standards of sophisticated travelers. Children’s menus are evolving, too: the Four Seasons George V in Paris, for example, offers kid-friendly options with a Parisian accent—kids will never whine for toaster waffles after they’ve said bonjour to sugared crepes.

You won’t be able to settle for the ordinary, either—not after experiencing the food, spas, local culture, and great service at these standout hotels. Like Malia and Sasha Obama and their parents, your family will look forward to the next opportunity to learn about a new place and a new culture—in style. Here’s to taking a trip that will go down in (family) history.

Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Villas

The time: 1940. The place: Walt Disney World's version of the Jersey Shore, complete with a boardwalk, surrey bikes, and saltwater taffy. The rooms: think old-fashioned floral.

The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort

After a five-year, $90 million makeover, The Phoenician—Scottsdale’s grande dame resort—has reemerged triumphant. The 643-room complex’s aesthetic now fuses 19thcentury Europe with a dash of Southwestern flair. Grandmotherly furnishings have been banished from the main lobby; the rooms and suites have been “un-done” in muted earth tones; and guests staying in the secluded, 60-room Canyon Suites have access to an S550 Mercedes Benz and driver. With the hotel’s 2-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio, you can easily forget that you’re sharing three golf courses, nine pools, 11 tennis courts, and seven restaurants with 1,800 other guests.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea

There's a fairy-tale magic emanating through this award-winning Wailea resort, where elegance, opulence, and impeccable service create a sumptuous aura of luxury. After basking poolside in a cream-colored cabana or a 5,500-square-foot suite, you can spring for a soothing massage treatment in the ultra-luxurious spa.

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

As stately and magnificent today as it was in 1939 when it opened just in time for the visit of King George VI, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s grand public spaces—from the lobby to the bar to the ballroom—are filled with classical dazzle and hints of Art Moderne, including marble terrazzo floors and bas-relief moldings. Owing to its vintage, the 556 guest rooms, furnished largely in Chippendale style, come in many shapes and sizes; regardless of room size, the bathrooms are small, with pedestal sinks. Since the hotel has official heritage status, there’s not much Fairmont can do by way of enlarging (it’s limited from altering the exterior structure of the building but can renovate the interior). But with the hotel’s old-school opulence and outstanding location—right in the middle of Downtown’s best shopping and dining—you won’t mind much.

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