A teddy bear, a child-sized red Cabriolet inspired by BMW and a goody bag stuffed with tartlets. These items may not conjure up images of Paris, but if you’re staying at the luxurious yet family-friendly Hôtel Plaza Athénée on chic Avenue Montaigne, they’re among the lavish delights your kids will enjoy while you sip Champagne with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
With a stunning courtyard that turns into a private ice-skating rink in winter, a merry-go round in autumn and a concierge ready to help guests find a reliable baby-sitter, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée has tapped into a coveted market in upscale family travel: the ability to transform an elegant city into a child’s wonderland.
“The area of luxury family travel is experiencing significant growth,” says Nicola Grant, a managing director of Holiday Nanny, a company that provides families traveling abroad with qualified nannies. According to Grant, “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 also observed recent changes in the arena of international family travel. “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.”
According to Stoerr, elite hotels are now providing a broader range of amenities for kids, including “toys specific to the destination, DVD libraries and DVD players in the rooms, children’s menus and programs such as cooking classes and special outings.”
The Athenæum Hotel on Piccadilly in London exemplifies Stoerr’s point, successfully marrying British elegance with modern children’s services. The hotel offers kids age two 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. For guests in their tweens and teens, the Athenæum has iPod docking stations, PlayStations and Xboxes for on-property use. 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 has made 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.
Thanks to the Harry Potter books and films, Scotland has also become a must-see mythical 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. Santa Claus pays visits to younger guests during Christmas, as does the Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday. Michelin-starred Chef Jeff Bland designed the children’s menu.
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, a deluxe Caribbean getaway famously visited by star parents Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The resort boasts seven private beaches as well as an extensive children’s program that includes nature walks, magic shows 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.
Sandra Smith is a partner at Tiny Tots Away, and also a registered nurse with professional experience in caring for families and small children. She says the company was established “as a result of the increase in families traveling abroad with small children under the age of two.” According to Smith, “one of the most common concerns of parents is about the availability of products” when they leave their native country.
“We remember with dread being weighed down with luggage and searching endlessly around foreign supermarkets to find familiar products,” Smith says. “With increasingly tight luggage allowances, increasing costs of excess baggage and no luggage allowance at all for the under-twos,” families can save time and added expense by using Tiny Tots Away’s services, according to Smith.
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.