Child-friendly properties usually have a supervised program for kids
Finding the right vacation to satisfy everyone in the family
Family travel has come a long way since the term was synonymous with Disney or camping. Today, there are as many options for families getting away together as there are for adults. We checked in with some travel specialists to see what agents need to know about sending families off on an escape or an adventure.
Jody Bear of Bear & Bear Travel says an agent needs to zero in on the kind of vacation the family needs. “Some families are looking just for hotels with children’s programs,” she says. “Others are looking for all-inclusives where there are many activities and dining choices and everything is planned for them. Some of the parents work full time and the vacation is an opportunity to spend quality time with their children, so they prefer little or no children’s programs.”
According to Amie O’Shaughnessy, editor of website Ciao Bambino!, family vacations need to be age-appropriate, ensuring kids are safe and happy, and parents have an opportunity to relax and get downtime as well. “Finding accommodations and activities that are optimized for various ages requires specialized information,” she explains. “The most credible resources are those written by parents for parents.” (For the record, CiaoBambino! has a list of family travel websites and a wealth of information on globetrotting with kids of all ages.)
Spanning the Ages
Robin Fox of Pisa Brothers says the most important aspect of planning travel for families is finding places that would hold the interest of people of different ages. “I usually like resort-type hotels that may be in an area where there is also some sightseeing.” She recommends Costa Rica, Hawaii, Mexico or a cruise as good options. The second-most important consideration is that everyone should be independent at some time. “That means kids in a supervised program, teens with a walkie-talkie (if cell phone service is not available), and the ability to sign for drinks and small incidentals. Parents, too, should be able to have time alone for dinner, or to sit by the pool or beach.”
Hotels with kitchenettes allow parents to avoid expensive restaurants when kids need a snack
Likewise, O’Shaughnessy prefers well-known hotel brands when vacationing stateside. “For luxury, the Four Seasons always does a consistently amazing job providing amenities to kids of all ages at their resort properties,” she says. “For value, both Kimpton and Affinia have great options in cities, and Marriott has a huge selection of condo-style resort options.” In Europe, however, she prefers smaller experiential properties where families are close to local culture, kids, and customs.
Bear also likes Four Seasons, and praises The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colorado, which has “many year-round activities for adults and children of all ages.” The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana is an upscale resort with plenty of outdoor options. She also recommends resorts with educational opportunities. “Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos has a children’s cooking class, and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has an environmental program sponsored by Jean-Michel Cousteau.”
Fox likes CuisinArt in Anguilla because of its oversized rooms and walk-in closets that can double as changing areas. They also have a creative kids program, with cooking classes. “In London, I like The Athenaeum,” she says. “They have apartment accommodations, so you have the availability of a kitchenette, with the services of the hotel next door.” Nice bonus: The minibar snacks and ice cream are complimentary. In Cabo San Lucas, she suggests Palmilla, which has a separate area for families, complete with a beach area and pool, or Esperanza. “They have larger accommodations, a separate pool, restaurant and lounge area for families,” she says. “In the main area, there is a low-key sophisticated feeling, with a pool for adults only.”
Apartment accommodations at The Athenaeum in London are ideal for families
Kid-Friendly vs. Kid-Tolerant
Some hotels, though, may be great for grownups, but not for younger guests, and it’s crucial for agents to differentiate between them. “Some clients request hotels that accept children, but are not child-friendly,” Bear says. For example, kids may not be welcome in the main dining room, or they must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Other hotels, she continues, are simply not safe for them—“for example, the hotel is on a cliff or there is no safety fence or gate around the pool. It is our responsibility to advise parents [about] the safety factors.”
Fox says some of the Aman properties, particularly in the U.S. and Caribbean, are not very child-friendly. “They are very sophisticated and discreet,” she says, “but the rooms do not accommodate rollaway beds.”
O’Shaughnessy also warns about hotels that pay marketing “lip service” to multigenerational travel, but ultimately have very little for families. “The category that is the most challenging is boutique hotels that have an adult social scene,” she says. A little education can go a long way in helping pick the right hotel: “The website language and photos are usually very telling,” she says. O’Shaughnessy also recommends hotels with kitchenette facilities for families with young children, so that parents can avoid expensive restaurants (or room service) when the kids need a snack. Likewise, agents and/or parents should confirm before departure whether the hotel has high chairs or booster seats in the room. Details like these can make all the difference.
When sending families with young children on vacation, remember that not all hotels are child-proof. (Think unprotected electrical outlets and balconies with railings just begging to be climbed). O’Shaughnessy notes that some hotel chains with family- focused programs like the Four Seasons will provide baby-proofing supplies on request. If they don’t, parents must be prepared to bring their own outlet covers and child-proof gates.
Ultimately, Bear says, the most important part of planning travel for families is asking as many questions as possible, and making sure all travelers are well-prepared.
“It is crucial to determine whether the vacation is primarily for the children or for their parents,” she says. “Another good tip is to find out if the children have allergies. One of our clients travels with a list of their child’s allergies in the language of the country they are going to.” Fox, on the other hand, has a fun way of getting a family vacation off to a good start: “I always send a gift in advance to the children who are traveling,” she says. “This may include something to keep them busy on the flight, or an art project to remind them of their trip.”