The ABCs of Family Vacations

So, you've decided to plan a family vacation. If this is your first time traveling with the kids, you probably have a list of questions running through your head. What equipment will we need to pack? How will we fit everything on the plane? Will we be confined to our hotel room once bedtime rolls around? And how will we ever squeeze into one room for so many days?  Look for activities that the whole family can enjoy together, like the watersports offered at Beaches Resorts

If your concerns seem to be taking over the excitement you once had planning this vacation, never fear. We consulted some veteran family travelers to help you narrow down the must-haves at a hotel or resort that can make traveling three, four or even five times more memorable—as opposed to a scene out of National Lampoon's Vacation.

Topping almost every list of our family experts is having a second room. Whether it's a connecting bedroom or a suite, parents say the extra space and sleeping quarters is vital to a pleasurable vacation. If you are forced to share a room with your kids, chances are you'll be going to sleep when your children do. If you have a second room, you can hire a babysitter and not worry that you'll have to tiptoe in the dark when you return from dinner. You'll even have space to spread out, especially if there is a living room area. Some parents we spoke with said they would even pay more for a resort where they could be guaranteed two rooms or a suite. Ritz-Carlton offers kids the chance to kayak as part of its Ambassadors of the Environment program

Having a kitchen or kitchenette is also a must-have for most moms and dads who need to store snacks and bottles for ever-hungry toddlers. It also gives kids the option of having breakfast in their pajamas, which also can cut down on the cost of having to pay for a breakfast buffet or restaurant. A couple of moms we spoke with said they also look for properties with complimentary breakfasts. This allows the parents to grab a quick cup of coffee and gives the kids an energy boost first thing in the morning before starting the day's activities. Of course, there's also the added convenience of simply hopping in the elevator or walking down the hall for some French toast or pancakes. Resorts with water parks, like Beaches Turks and Caicos, are ideal for kids

Plan to Stay Active

If you're planning a resort getaway, you'll also want to choose a property with an innovative and enticing children's program. Some resorts, such as Club Med, offer programs for all ages—from four-month-old babies to teens. At all-inclusive resorts, kids clubs may be included in the daily rate, so be sure to inquire. Also find out the minimum age, whether you'll need advance reservations and if there are any restrictions (e.g., some programs require tod-dlers to be toilet trained). While programs like these give parents some alone time as well as much-needed rest and relaxation, you might want to research whether there are kid-friendly activities you can participate in as a family, such as a nearby nature hike or water park.

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando,Grande Lakes, for example, has a family golf package this summer that includes three or nine holes of golf, one hour of instruction, caddie service and club rentals for one adult and one child.

For city breaks, try to locate a property with an indoor pool, which parents say can make any hotel feel like a resort. Additionally, having a welcome amenity or welcome pack for kids at check in goes a long way to make young guests feel special. Some hotels have snacks for its youngest guests, coloring books or a menu of the activities at the property. At Four Seasons resorts, kids will receive an amenity along with a child-sized robe for use during their stay. Select properties, such as the Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn, even have designated check-in desks for kids.

As you narrow down your choices of hotels and resorts for your vacation, don't forget the extended-stay chains. While these may be top of mind for business travelers and those who are relocating, these spacious accommodations offer facilities and amenities that can be a perfect match for families, with such perks as complimentary breakfasts, indoor pools, kitchens or kitchenettes in rooms, free fitness facilities and laundry rooms.


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