Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris
Hotel Plaza Athénée
The swanky Hotel Plaza Athénée, located on Paris’ fashionable Avenue Montaigne, blends classical French style with exceptional services for kids. Children will enjoy a merry-go-round in fall, an ice-skating rink in winter, a children's menu for breakfast and child-sized bathrobes and slippers.
updated 2/19/2010 9:03:31 AM ET 2010-02-19T14:03:31

The kids' spring break isn't far away, so it's about time to plan the family vacation. How about one that involves sipping champagne in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower? Not to worry, the kids will be well looked after: They might enjoy themselves out on the hotel's ice rink (if the weather's still cold enough; if not, the merry-go-round will do), or the concierge can arrange for a baby sitter to watch over them while they play with the provided coloring book and teddy bears or dig through the goody bag.

This treatment at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris is just like that at many other luxury hotels and resorts around the world. Upscale family travel has always existed, says Bruce Himelstein, formerly SVP of sales and marketing with Ritz-Carlton, it's just been better emphasized and marketed in the past five years than ever before.

"As times have changed, hotels have kept up with what would add value to a family vacation," says Himelstein, whether that's designing teen lounges or providing a Wii console and games. "They've always had it, they're just evolving with the times and adding amenities that are more relevant for today's families."

It's also an area of travel that's seeing growth, says Nicola Grant, a managing director of Holiday Nanny, a company that provides families traveling abroad with qualified nannies. “Couples are having children at an older age than previously — therefore they are generally coming into parenthood with a lot more disposable income than previous generations. Because they are older, couples have had a chance to enjoy luxury travel prior to having children. Once they become parents they want to continue with this level of travel and don’t want to compromise on their precious holiday time.”

Sonja Stoerr, a travel specialist with private touring company Artisans of Leisure, has observed similar changes.

“The hotels and resorts we use are not like the family resorts of 10 or 20 years ago that were exclusively kid-focused,” Stoerr says. “Our travelers want sophisticated hotels and resorts that feel distinct to the destination and that can meet the needs of all travelers. This means everything from layout to amenities for young and old alike.”

This includes everything from toys to DVD libraries to cooking classes and special outings.

The Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly in London exemplifies Stoerr’s point, successfully marrying British elegance with modern children’s services. The hotel offers kids age 2 to 10 gift boxes filled with age- and gender-specific toys upon arrival, a free DVD lending library and free cookies and milk in the evenings with turndown service. Families can also rent interconnecting apartments at the Athenaeum if the extended family is in tow.

Located on Greece's largest island with suites that feature breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea and a luxury spa, the Porto Elounda De Luxe Resort in Crete blends opulence with to-die-for services for kids. At the Children's Ark, an indoor/outdoor play area surrounded by olive trees and equipped with two shallow pools, children can learn how to grow vegetables, go on a treasure hunt and get their faces painted. Operated by childcare professionals, the area also includes a place for drowsy toddlers to sleep.

The 2008 Olympics helped make China a fresh vacation spot, and children will lead a charmed existence at the architecturally stunning Commune by the Great Wall. The hotel complex is nestled in the lush Shuiguan Mountains just an hour’s drive from Beijing. Adults can unwind in one of the villas while the kids play in a brightly colored children’s facility. Programs for young guests include arts and crafts, cooking classes, storytelling in the children’s bookstore, outdoor swimming in the summer and —  best of all — a nature hike that includes a climb up the Great Wall.

The Athenaeum Hotel, London
The Athenaeum Hotel
Kids under 10 get half-priced breakfast at London’s five-star Athenaeum Hotel, along with a toy box filled with age- and gender-appropriate games. A DVD lending library with children's favorites is available, and cookies and milk are provided with turndown service. For families with children under age 2 the hotel makes available a supply of “baby basics” like disposable diapers, bottle sterilizer, baby wipes and organic baby food that can be bought on demand.
Thanks to the "Harry Potter" books and films, Scotland has also become a must-see destination for kids. The “Five-Star Babies, Kids, and Teens” program at the family-oriented Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh provides everything from bottle warmers and diaper-changing mats for babies to teddy bears and rubber ducks for toddlers; PlayStations and complimentary 15-minute Internet cards are available for teens.

Family travelers looking for low-key luxury without clocking thousands of air miles or dealing with passport requirements can find it at Caneel Bay in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The resort boasts seven private beaches as well as an extensive children’s program that includes nature walks, arts and crafts classes and a nanny service.

And while infants may be too young for historic nature walks or iPods, they are no longer a barrier to families enjoying a relaxing holiday in some of the world’s most exotic locations. British travel-services company Tiny Tots Away allows parents vacationing with newborns and toddlers to order their favorite baby supplies through the company’s Web site and has them delivered directly to hotels, villas and even boats in most countries throughout the world. Affordable family vacations

Sandra Smith, a partner at Tiny Tots Away who is also a registered nurse with experience in caring for small children, says the company was established “as a result of the increase in families traveling abroad with small children under the age of two.” The more luggage and excess-baggage costs go up, the more there's a need for hotels or companies such as hers to provide the comforts of home.

With these otherworldly travel options for kids, it’s no wonder so many families are packing their diaper bags and heading off to explore the world.

© 2012 Forbes.com


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