Kim Orlando knows a thing or two about traveling with a brood. The 44-year-old, Greenwich, Conn., wife and mother left her career as a document manager two and a half years ago to devote her time to TravelingMom.com, a Web site that offers vacation advice and ideas to mothers
It hasn't always been easy to come up with interesting travel options for busy parents. "When I first started TravelingMom, I was really motivated to find resorts that don't just have an all-day camp for the kids," says Orlando. "I was often met by blank stares [from travel professionals]. I wanted something more inclusive; activities that the whole family could do together."
The good news for families: Since 2007, many hotels, resorts and airlines have made traveling with kids more fulfilling, and infinitely easier.
For example, kids are a top priority at the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, N.M. Not only do families have access to concierge MaryAnn Ruiz, who is specially trained in planning family activities, kids and parents have an opportunity to take a cooking class with the hotel's executive chef Oliver Ridgeway. The chef helps the entire family create his signature macaroni and cheddar cheese flavored with Dijon mustard.
The kids then decorate sugar cookies with the chef's icing tools. The macaroni dinner is served at the hotel's restaurant on a specially designed plate adorned with your child's name. (Parents can select from the full menu while kids dig into the pasta.)
At bedtime, the decorated cookies are delivered to each child's room with a glass of milk. (A two-night package, including the class and accommodations for two adults and one child, starts at $329.)
This burst of family-friendly amenities, activities and accommodations has a lot to do with demand. While Americans will spend 9.7 percent less on leisure travel in April, May and June 2009 than they did in the same period last year according to Waltham, Mass.-based market research firm IHS Global Insight, those who can still afford to travel are bringing the whole family along, and they expect more for their money than ever before. Indeed, nearly 60 percent of family travelers take advantage of children's services, according to the Travel Industry Association in Washington, D.C.
Even the tiniest of your clan can benefit from extra amenities. The just-launched Baby Butler Service at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort includes a daily diaper delivery, in-room crib, free meals, a baby gift and 10 percent discount on baby rental items such as infant tubs, strollers, highchairs and bouncy seats.
"Families with small children have enough to worry about when packing for a vacation," says Bob Pfeffer, director of sales and marketing at the resort. "We wanted to simplify their packing needs by creating a valuable service." (Packages that include the Baby Butler Service start at $274 per night.)
Some resorts and hotels are taking catering to kids even further, offering accommodations with an adjoining suite dedicated to the little ones. For instance, at the Omni hotels in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Kid's Fantasy Suite includes a separate kids' room stocked with bunk beds, videogames and a fridge filled with yogurt, carrot sticks and candy. What's more, every child receives a backpack after check-in filled with a stuffed animal and five mystery items. (Rates start at $249 per night.)
Some of the most grown-up of vacation activities are now available to kids, such as a trip to the spa. At the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort in Arenal, Costa Rica, the family spa includes chocolate body wraps, back massages and mineral pools, which can be enjoyed by all.
Kim Orlando, the family travel expert, recently took her family there. "While my 10-year-old daughter received a therapeutic chocolate wrap on one therapy table, my 12-year-old son received a back massage on the other table," she says. "Meanwhile, my 8-year-old son, my husband and I relaxed a few steps away in a mineral springs-fed Jacuzzi."