How Hotels Are Making Family Travel Way More Fun
Recently, on a cold, snowy night, my husband and I decided to do a staycation in New York City. Our destination? The Chatwal, a Luxury Collection hotel in the heart of Midtown, and a 2017 World's Best winner, as voted by T+L readers.
Our son, Bobby, now two-and-a-half, came along for the ride — and the Chatwal was ready for him. Our room had a welcome cheese plate for us adults, but where things really got fun was when the three of us saw all the kids gear: a giant rubber duck, waiting by the tub; a Margherita Missoni animal-themed backpack (the Luxury Collection has a partnership with the designer); and best of all, a puppet theater with a chalkboard, which Bobby found endlessly entertaining. It was an especially nice touch, because we could then explain to Bobby that we were staying in the heart of New York's theater district.
The amenities were part of the Chatwal's Family Excursion package, which guests can add on to any room booking. It offers 25 percent off an additional room, free meals for kids under 12, and a Family Movie Night, complete with popcorn and candy. We decided to skip out on the latter in favor of a dinner downstairs at the Lambs Club. The Chatwal welcomes travelers from all over the world, and to that end, they work with a babysitting service that provides professionals who speak multiple languages. After a two-hour dinner downstairs, we came back up the room to find Bobby fast asleep, and then snacked on the chocolate chip cookies that the hotel had left for him. He never even knew they were missing.
This experience, as well as others we've had while traveling with Bobby, from Charleston to the Bahamas, reconfirmed something I've noticed ever since becoming a mom: when it comes to hotel amenities, the kids are becoming stars of the show — not the adults. Hotel brands are going above and beyond to engage their littlest guests, while also making sure they come away with an experience that ties into their environment. Multi-generational travel — one of the hottest trends these days — is here to stay, with the kids (or grandkids, for that matter) often times making the decision on where to go and what to do. For hotels, keeping the kids happy is a smart bet, because the family will be more likely to come back for a second or third visit.
"At One&Only, we recognize that our younger guests want interactive spaces designed just for them, with the latest trends and curated activities," says Phillipe Zuber, President and COO of One&Only. For example, One&Only Hotels & Resorts offers two clubs: KidsOnly, for ages 3-11, and One Tribe, for ages 11-17, at all their properties worldwide. So at the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in Australia, they can learn about bush survival, fossil hunting, and Australian animals, while at One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, they can take Spanish lessons and cooking classes, and even have a "glamping" experience with a Mexican teepee on New Year's Eve. At One&Only The Palm, in Dubai, the kids can even do camel rides, belly dancing, sand sculpturing, henna painting, and more.
Ritz-Carlton has long been known as one of the most family-friendly hotel brands, and they continue to innovate in the space. The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, for example, which is set in a century-old, Neoclassical-style former bank, does an on-site scavenger hunt that highlights artifacts and historic details in the building. In the spring, they will be rolling out a VIK (Very Inportant Kid) package, which will include an indoor campout, complete with fancy linens and feather beds, as well as a teddy bear, coloring book, and special camplight.
"Meaningful children's programming has become an integral part of the luxury hospitality experience," adds Lisa Holladay, the Global Brand Leader for The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Hotels and Resorts. "It is an area we are investing in for both St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton. As more of our guests travel with their families and our brands continue to grow, thoughtful programming is essential. Whether it is an adventure imagined by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Future Society at Ritz-Carlton properties or a playful father and son swim trunk designed by Vilebrequin exclusively for St. Regis, we want to engage our customers."
Don't get me wrong: traveling with kids can still be a challenge, from airplane meltdowns to finicky eating and nap strikes. But these days, it helps for all parents to know that the hotels are actually in their corner. Here, five things that you can count on from a resort to help make traveling smooth.
The hotel can loan you gear.
For new parents, it's especially tempting to throw everything but the kitchen sink in your suitcase. The reality: many hotels and resorts can lighten your load with on-site products. Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and 26 Club Med resorts worldwide have strollers and bottle warmers at the ready. Great Wolf Lodge, which operates 15 hotels and waterparks in North America, will even equip your room with a Diaper Genie. (Speaking of diapers — you can always ship a few boxes to the hotel concierge in advance of their stay.)
Yes, sometimes kids can eat free.
Some family-friendly properties go the extra mile, knowing that those half-eaten $10 grilled cheese sandwiches add up in cost. The Viceroy L'Ermitage Beverly Hills, for example, serves complimentary pureed baby food (because who wants to tote a million little jars?) while at all Four Seasons Resorts, kids under-five eat free when they are accompanied by a parent at one of the dining outlets. (Note: sadly, this does not include room service or lunches by the pool — but the deal is still pretty sweet.) When parents book an adjoining room at the Peninsula Chicago with the Camp Peninsula program, they get 50% off the rate — and the added bonus of free food for the kids if everyone dines together.
Your family may actually learn something.
More and more hotels are offering experiences with a sense of place. The Explorer's Club at Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas immerses kids in native marine life. They'll observe stingrays and nurse sharks, feed tropical fish, and learn about the coral reef system they inhabit. At Domaine de Manville, a 250-acre estate set on olive groves in Provence, children can make homemade jelly from fruit grown on-site, and pick up petanque, a local sport. At the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, teens can take a trip to a local high school to engage with others their age, and then back at the resort, test their hand at spear making.
Kids can experience wellness, too.
Many hotels have been developing mindfulness programming, and some are extending it to children. Niyama resort in the Maldives offers laughing yoga sessions, where young ones chuckle their way through poses on the beach. Six Senses Hotel & Resorts, a pioneer in this space, gets kids involved with nature, a proven stress-reducer, through tree-climbing and trekking. The company also offers music meditation classes, singing bowl sessions, and the Grow With Six Senses program, which will debut later this year with new spa treatments and reflexology for kids.
Your hotel might even get them to turn off their phones.
New for 2018, Wyndham Grand is giving families an incentive to power down their devices with its Reconnected package, which includes a timed lockbox for stashing tech toys. In exchange for going off-the-grid, families will receive a blanket fort kit, backpacks for each kid, including a copy of The Nocturnals, a shadow puppet how-to guide, an Instax camera; and 5% off their total stay.
Content supported by the Chatwal.