Finding the Perfect Hotel for Your Family
By Hilary Davidson
In the past eight years I’ve written twelve travel guidebooks, but the top question people ask hasn’t changed: “How do I find the right hotel for my family?” It’s a query that’s become increasingly complicated to answer, since many hotels that cater to business travelers or honeymooners have jumped into the mix of family-friendly properties, often using special packages to entice visitors with children. The good news is, since hotels all across the price spectrum offer child-friendly amenities and policies, you usually have lots of choice. Here are the four questions you need to ask to find the right hotel for your next family vacation.
How much time do you want to spend together as a family? This isn’t a trick question – you need to think about what you want your trip to be like. Some family-friendly hotels make a serious effort at entertaining children, from offering special kids’ camps or activities or even babysitting services. This can be a terrific option if you and your partner are looking for some time alone together, but it’s not for everyone. “I think most family hotels are chosen because people want the option of dropping their kids at day camp. We prefer to hang out as a family!” says Sally Golding, a mother of two in Summit, New Jersey. When selecting a hotel, she and her husband look for activities – either on the hotel grounds or nearby – that the whole family can do together.
What are your family’s special needs? Depending on how many children you have and how old they are, you need to assess issues such as mobility (does your hotel have ramps for strollers?), sleeping arrangements (can the hotel provide you with a crib?), and amenities (what are the hotel’s rules about children using its swimming pool?). If you’re hotel is in an urban area, it’s not so important to inquire about what hotel restaurant options there are for your three-year-old, but if you’re staying at a resort with limited access to other properties, that’s an important thing to know. If you’re driving or planning to rent a car, be sure to find out what the hotel’s parking prices are (some urban properties have valet-only lots that cost a bundle), whether you’ll have in-and-out privileges (some properties will charge double if you keep taking your car out) and how far you’ll have to walk for access to the lot. One amenity has universal appeal: suites. “You have more room, and you can make at least some of your own meals,” says Karen Kroll, a Minnesota mother of two. “That way it’s easier to eat healthy, and you don’t need to worry about finding a restaurant that has food and ambience that’s good for kids.”
What is it going to cost to get child-friendly amenities? Hotels have very different policies on what they offer families, and a chain can change its offerings at any time, so never assume that because one hotel in Chicago did something special for kids that its sister property in New York City is going to offer exactly the same thing. Some amenities are seasonal. “My kids loved the Sun Valley resort,” says Ilana Rubel, a mother of three in Boise, Idaho. “It has a pool and a horse-drawn sleigh-ride in winter.” Some hotels offer special packages – for example, many hotels have programs that provide families with museum passes for four, pizza and movies, or some other fun activity. The catch is that these aren’t standard features, so when you’re booking you need to make sure that you’re getting the package you want. Some luxury hotels, such as the Four Seasons, have special kids’ clubs, which provide treats like a bedtime snack or a welcome gift; there is normally no extra charge, but you’re paying a premium for the luxury room in the first place.
What doesn’t appeal to you? In recent years, many hotels have stocked up on things like video games and in-room movies as a way to convince parents to book. However, not all parents are impressed. “I am unimpressed by in-room video games and in-hotels arcades. In fact, I consider in-room Nintendo a negative,” says Ellen Neuborne, a mother of two in New York City, New York. “I’m not on vacation with my kids so they can sit in the hotel room and play Nintendo. We have video games at home.” While such amenities are appealing if there’s a good chance your kids will have to spend a lot of time in the room, when you’re on vacation you want to appreciate the destination, not stay indoors staring at a screen.