Why a Family Beach Vacation Over the Holidays Is the Only Way to Go
On a three-night beach vacation at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, T+L’s editor in chief, Jacqui Gifford, was able to rest and recharge — and pick up some tips for future family vacations.
Every year, after our son, Bobby, has unwrapped his umpteenth gift and my husband, Rob, and I have thrown out the Christmas tree and swept up all the pine needles from the floor of our New York City apartment, we vow to each other that next year, we will go away for the holidays. And then we don’t. To be clear, part of the reason we haven’t traveled as a family during the festive seasons is that we like being in New York City — seeing all the lights, the department store displays, and decorations in our hometown is pretty great. Another reason? Planning a trip for this time of year takes a little more effort and forethought than normal. It’s next to impossible to decide on a destination — do you want a warm, sunny island like Jamaica? A big city like Paris? An adventure-filled trek through Iceland? — because the stakes are so high. It’s Christmas! It has to be good! Plus, the resorts book up fast, and you’re always one bad snowstorm away from the whole thing going haywire.
This year, we did the tree and the presents again, but then pulled the trigger and left New York, settling on a three-night getaway to the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, post-Christmas. Why here? Firstly, Naples was a known entity, since Rob’s grandparents had lived here for many years. His mom still has a house there, and we have a few favorite places we always go, one of which is the Ritz-Carlton, which has always been a hangout for locals as well as guests. Over the years, it has changed its look; the rooms now have a crisp, bright palette, and their famous Grill steakhouse swapped out the dark wood paneling for soothing gray tones and glittering chandeliers. But the welcoming spirit of the place remains the same.
The resort filled three requirements for me, things that I’m now going to stick to when planning vacations around the holidays. One, it was easy to get to. Under three hours by plane from New York City, to be exact, and I figured even with a flight delay (not uncommon at LaGuardia and JFK in December) our entire beach vacation wouldn’t be derailed. Two, the resort was kid-friendly, with multiple pools and a beach with shallow water that Bobby could easily play in. And three, the resort, as I mentioned before, serves as a community hub. Naples residents come in for afternoon tea at Bites, the lobby lounge, or more famously for potent margaritas at Gumbo Limbo, a lively, open-air, seaside restaurant perched on stilts. It’s one of the few waterfront dining options in Naples, and a gathering spot to watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.
And so, we finally took that first holiday trip. And it was a success because this Ritz-Carlton in particular caters to kids, and has set things up so brilliantly, allowing every family member to find their own corner of peace, fun, or what have you. Here, a few more of my travel tips and requirements for picking the right family-friendly resort for your next vacation.
The more restaurants, and the more varied they are, the better.
Some of the most memorable hotels I’ve ever stayed in, from safari lodges in Botswana to boutique properties in Los Angeles, have had just one place to dine. And that worked just fine for my husband and myself: we liked sitting at the same table and even ordering the same thing every night. With kids, not so much. Options are the name of the game, because you need to mix things up and give them something new to look forward to. The Ritz-Carlton has everything from a cozy lobby lounge to a casual Poolside Café serving burgers to the festive Gumbo Limbo (newly renovated and expanded to accommodate 50 more guests). But the surprise of the trip was Dusk, a stylish sushi restaurant with low-slung couches, TVs, and a dimly-lit bar area. The seating was comfortable and not fussy, and the noise level just loud enough so that we could still talk to one another, but not worry about Bobby bothering anyone. He managed to hang on and play with his trains for 90 minutes while we ate salmon aburi and perfectly crisped vegetable tempura.
The resort should have some surprises up its sleeve.
In-room tents. A book signing with a local children’s book author in the Club Lounge. Chocolate chip cookies with fresh milk, delivered at bedtime. Cornhole games and sand toys and giant chess boards at the beach. These are just a few of the amenities that the Ritz had waiting for us, either in our room or down by the water each day. They were welcome distractions for Bobby, who admittedly has a short attention span and loves stuffed animals. But they were also nice things for parents, too, tired people who don’t want to stress about yet more things to pack to keep their kids entertained. Bobby was a little too young for the Noodle Darts, Tug-of-War, Laser Tag, and Jell-O Eating Contest, but these are all activities included at the resort, as well as Nature's Wonders, the kids program that focuses on the local environment. Kids like schedules. They like routine. And when the resort comes up with fresh things for them to do, it’s a win-win.
There should be enough adults-only activities and spaces to keep the calm.
As much as we love traveling with Bobby, Rob and I always try to get a babysitter one or two nights while we travel so that we can do dinner out or try the spa. This resort has one of the top wellness facilities in Florida, with 35 treatment rooms, an outdoor mineral pool, a health-food café, and newly renovated locker areas, where you can try a complimentary coco-mango scrub before your treatment. (They also sell Mary's, a popular CBD beauty line, and use the oil in massages — very 2019.) We didn’t get a chance to hit up the adults-only pool on this trip, but we have done so on previous visits, and I can attest it’s all the quiet a grown-up really needs. At the Grill, where we ordered thick cuts of Delmonico steak and a Grand Marnier soufflé to share, the only children present were of the well-behaved, older variety.
Still, one of my favorite places combined the best of both worlds, kid and adult. At Club Beach — an extension of the Club Lounge, available only during the holidays, where guests can have a guaranteed beach chair along with complimentary drinks — we were able to take a break from the busy kids pool and find happiness as a trio by jumping in the Gulf. It was all so civilized, that I decided maybe next year, we’ll skip doing Christmas at home and go away for the whole week. Double rooms from $649 in high season; club rooms from $859.