Fifth Avenue shopping sprees. Plush bathrobes. Backstage passes to "The Lion King." When it comes to staying at the country’s top hotels, kids today have as many luxe options as their parents.
Famous hotels—like in Hot Springs, Va., in Colorado Springs, and in Honolulu—as well as luxury chains like and , are catering to families with young children, who are traveling together more than in the past, both to resort destinations and major cities.
“Since September 11, more people are traveling with their families, and they tend to take their children,” says Diane Dober, a leisure consultant with Mansour Travel, a Beverly Hills travel agency whose clientele includes Hollywood’s glitterati.
Dorothy Jordon, publisher and editor in chief of the web site Family Travel Times (relaunching later this spring), has followed family travel trends for over 20 years.
She finds that family travel has become more upscale. “The industry has grown up because the people in charge of marketing and running the recreational programs are becoming parents themselves.”
No detail is too small for the most family-friendly hotels, whose services extend far beyond the baby-sitting and simple activities offered in the past.
Figuring out the guest room configuration is especially important for families, says Kristy Adler, executive vice president of Cruise and Resort, a Virtuoso travel agency in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She finds only some hotels guarantee connecting rooms in advance, while some even impose a surcharge for this service.
in Palm Beach, for example, lets families reserve up to five adjoining rooms; it also allows children under 16 to stay free in the same room as their parents, while ensuring childproof guest rooms for families with children three and younger.
Dining is often kid-friendly: Many Four Seasons hotels offer special kids’ menus both in their restaurants and for room service; dishes include standbys like chicken nuggets and mini-pizzas, as well as more exotic cheese quesadillas and barbecue baby back ribs. Girls with more champagne tastes can join their mothers for lunch at Manhattan’s posh La Grenouille, part of a “Fifth Avenue Fairy Princess” package created by the Peninsula New York; children who participate in this and the hotel’s other kids’ packages receive a Tiffany silver spoon engraved with their initials as a souvenir of their visit.
Activities offered to kids by hotels run the gamut and are often determined by the location. For kids who like to shop (and which ones don’t these days?), the Peninsula New York takes its young guests to FAO Schwarz, where they have access to a personal shopper, and to American Girl Place, while in Stowe, Vt., brings kids to the nearby Vermont Teddy Bear factory, where they can make a bear to take home.
Many resorts in scenic locales offer programs that let kids explore the natural surroundings and local customs. The “Kids Corps of Discovery” program at , a resort in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, features everything from a “Lewis and Clark Day,” for outdoor exploration, to gold panning and fly-fishing in a nearby creek. , in the heart of Arizona’s Red Rock country, offers nature walks where kids learn about local flora and fauna, and teaches them Native American crafts like sand-painting and beading.
Likewise, the “Keiki Club” (keiki is the Hawaiian word for child) at the Kahala Hotel and Resort offers everything from bamboo-pole fishing to crabbing and lei-making. And the Homestead even has a special children’s literary program. Based on the hotel’s extensive children’s library of regional folklore and historic books, this features reading time—sometimes with costumed readers—as well as occasional visits by children’s book authors.
Not every hotel has kids’ activities year-round; many, like Topnotch, offer them only during the summer and holiday periods. The Broadmoor offers its kids’ activities year-round, but requires a two-week advance booking and participation of a minimum of three children in off-peak periods.
Such programmed activity may not necessarily be every kid’s cup of tea, as Adler, the mother of boys age 10 and 12, has experienced. “A lot of parents are concerned about kids’ clubs, but my kids never want to get involved with that at all. They like to be able to move around the hotel, to know that other kids are around. And they love the luxury, they’re into soft beds, the wow factor, and like to be impressed, too,” she says.
Whatever kids’ preferences, Jordon suggests parents pick a hotel that appeals to them personally.
“I ask them where they would go if they didn’t have children—it should be a place that they can look forward to. I tell them to make a list of things that make parenting more pleasurable that they can find at a hotel, like babysitting and restaurants, to help make the right choice,” she advises.
Recommendations for hotels featured in this story and accompanying slideshow come from journalists, travel agents and travel industry executives who specialize in family travel and have visited the properties with kids—the true childproof test.