Listen up hotels! I’ve stayed at a lot of you, and some of you are definitely more kid-friendly than others. I’ve written before about things that could be improved at specific hotels (the Sonnenalp in Vail, the Mauna Lani in Hawaii and the Four Seasons Bora Bora), but since readers of this blog have given me feedback as well, I want to create a comprehensive list of everything you need to do in order to be a kid-friendly dream hotel. If you already meet the criteria on this list, please get in touch with me! I will not only make every attempt to book you for an upcoming family vacation, but I will recommend you when people email me asking where to go and stay with kids. I really, really want to find the perfect hotels and resorts for families. And if this list does not represent things that you currently do, on behalf of families everywhere, we would love for you to implement them. Without further ado, my dream hotel checklist:
1) Rooms that can accommodate two parents with two, three or four kids. I don’t expect every room to be able to do this, but it would be great if hotels had at least a few rooms designed for families. And if your rooms can only accommodate four people total, please have connecting rooms! It’s not convenient to split up when we’re on vacation together. And it’s really not convenient when we’re given two rooms two floors apart, as happened at the ACHAT Plaza Zum Hirschen in Salzburg.
2) Easy booking for families of five or more. Go to any hotel website and click on Reservations. Now tell me if it’s clear how many people their rooms can sleep. Still looking for a site that provides that information up-front? So am I. On most hotel sites it’s difficult to find out the maximum number of guests per room, but then they expect you to know that figure before searching for reservations. A lot of hotels have at least some rooms/suites that can accommodate five or six people. But when you go to a website like the Grand Wailea‘s and try to get a room for two adults and four children (an option in their drop-down menus), you immediately get an error message stating that no rooms are available and that 6 guests “may exceed the occupancy limit.” So it’s up to you to guess whether that means that there aren’t any rooms that meet your guest numbers or any rooms available at all. It’s then back to the search screen to try again with multiple rooms and different numbers of adults/kids in each room, now guessing as to how to divide up the family into two rooms.
I would LOVE for hotels to have a note on their booking screens that details the maximum number of people that their rooms can accommodate. As it is, I usually have to search through the room descriptions, and then more often than not I have to email the hotel to see if a “max of four people per room” includes small children. Basically, I want easier booking!
3) A family rate. If you’re going to ask us to split up into two rooms, connecting or not, please offer a discount for the second room. And please, please, please do not tie it to your highest rack rates that are never really charged to guests. I see this all the time. Hotels always have specials: bed and breakfast rates; fourth night free; seasonal promotions. Then sometimes they offer a family rate for a second room, but it’s never a discount off of the other specials. For example, the Four Seasons Bora Bora used to offer a fourth night free (which worked out to 25% off) or a second bungalow at 50% off. But if you chose the 50% off, you no longer received the fourth night free. So while it’s nice that they had a family rate, in actuality it worked out to roughly the same as the other specials, and nowhere near the 50% savings advertised since guests wouldn’t have been paying the full price anyway. (Math: A $1000 bungalow discounted for a free fourth night, assuming you are staying four nights, means an average nightly rate of $750, or a 25% discount. Two $1000 rooms for four nights with 50% off the second room means a total charge of $6000, or, wait for it, $750 a night – the same as the other special. So there’s no real family discount, unless you are staying for a number of nights not divisible by four.)
I get that hotels have an economic incentive to maximize revenue and to only offer one discount per room. But what if you think of it as a marketing expense? If you provide families with better rates, that means happier parents who are more likely to make return visits. And when kids make multiple visits to a hotel growing up (our kids stayed at the Mauna Lani in Hawaii eight straight years), guess where they’re going to want to return with their kids someday?
4) Something at check-in for kids. Colored pencils. Coloring books. Beach balls. Beach toys. Stuffed animals. I’ve seen it all when checking into hotels, and our kids have loved all of it. When they get something at check-in, not only does it give them something to occupy themselves with and enhances the vacation, it also makes them feel welcome and it gives them a connection to the hotel.
5) Proactive recommendations for kid-friendly things to do. It’s not always easy to find great lists of kid-friendly activities online. I would love to automatically receive from a hotel a sheet or two detailing the nearest parks, playgrounds, aquariums, kid museums, kid-friendly cooking classes and other local things that families have rated highly. It wouldn’t require more than a few hours of work from the concierge to create and maintain the list, and it would enhance the visit of every family. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask the concierge for ideas of local things to do with kids and the concierge directs me to the hotel’s kids club (yes, this has happened more than once).
6) A little extra space in the rooms. Families of young kids may need to set up Pack’n Plays. Most families have extra luggage. And there’s always going to be in-room down time when you don’t want to be crammed into the room with very little extra room. I understand that hotels can’t magically make their rooms larger, and I fully appreciate that historical hotels typically sacrifice space for character. I’m just saying that it’s great to have rooms that are a little more spacious.
7) A kid-friendly pool and hot tub. Obviously this isn’t applicable to all hotels. But if you have a pool and you want to attract families, have a shallow section in the main pool. And have either a separate hot tub for families, or allow kids to use the main hot tub without keeping it way too hot. Basically, look at your pool from the perspective of families and see if it’s somewhere that they would really want to spend a day, and where parents can let their younger kids play in the pool without necessarily being in there with them (but still supervising, of course). And please don’t force us to show armbands or room cards to get towels. At any hotel, big or small, I want to be seen as guests and not as room numbers.
8) A Kids Club that’s open all day with no extra charge. Please don’t make families pay $50-100 a day, and commit to a whole day, for kids club activities. This is one of my favorite elements of Four Seasons and Rosewood resorts. Kids can get out of the sun and stop in and do crafts, play games or watch a movie when they want, or go on excursions around the hotel with club staff. Our kids usually don’t want to be there for more than an hour or two at a time, and we usually don’t know in advance when they’re going to want to do that, so flexibility on the part of the kids club is a must. Hotels can’t think of kids clubs only as places for parents to check their kids in for a full day; club rooms should also be areas for kids of any age to relax out of the sun for a little while.
9) Easy food options for kids. I love when a hotel has a casual restaurant with a great menu and a (for backup) kids menu. Or if there is a nicer restaurant, have a casual section – maybe outside – for families. It’s great when the kids can run around a little while waiting for dinner to come, and always nice to have an option to pick things up and bring them back to the room if you don’t feel like dining out.
10) An easy/inexpensive laundry option. At a lot of hotels the only laundry option is The List. You know The List – it’s in the closet attached to a plastic or canvas sack, and it indicates that the hotel will wash your pants for only $5 and your socks for only $2. That’s not family-friendly! Kids get dirty. Some hotels provide free washers and dryers, which we took advantage of at the Mauna Lani and Four Seasons Bora Bora this year. Others provide coin-operated machines, which is still fine. I’d love for more hotels to provide access to machines, or at least to have an option to have a load of laundry cleaned for a reasonable price – say $15. And knowing that you’ll have access to laundry at your hotel makes packing that much easier.
The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah in Bali has the most family-friendly laundry service that I’ve seen. The hotel will wash six things a day per person for free. Even when we forgot to place dirty clothes in the laundry bag in the morning, we would find them washed and folded for us that evening. How cool is that?
11) Kid-sized things. It’s great when hotels have kid-sized robes for us in the rooms. And it’s also nice to have sinks at a height that’s good for adults but also reachable by kids. At most hotels our five-year-old can reach the sink, even if it’s on tip-toes, to brush her teeth or wash her hands. But we’ve been to some hotels where the kids are forced to (unsafely) turn over trashcans as improvised steps just to reach the sinks.
12) An overall kid-friendly vibe. Last, but not least, I want to feel like our (well-behaved) kids are welcome. You can be the nicest, most formal hotel in the world, and your staff can still treat kids like valued guests and not like potential nuisances. I love when staff members go out of their way to talk to our kids and ask about their vacations, or give suggestions of things to do the next day. This can be housekeepers or managers or pool staff – anyone who comes into contact with the kids. I’ve stayed at large resort hotels where the staff weren’t overly friendly, and at European city hotels where the staff just had great interactions with the kids and which, in turn, made it more fun to return to the hotel in the evenings.
Those are the top twelve things I’m looking for in kid-friendly hotels. What have I missed? What would you include? What hotels have you found that meet all of those criteria?