My two-and-a-half year old daughter is a hotel veteran, having slept at numerous properties around the world -- from five stars to no stars and everything in between. But with the arrival of my second daughter, traveling and finding the right accommodation to suit our needs has become slightly more challenging.
Not all of us can afford to travel with nannies (I wish) so sharing your room with a toddler and an infant makes your choice of hotel extremely important when planning a trip -- whether it is overseas or a few hours from home. Hopefully my personal experiences -- good and bad -- may be useful.
Position, Position, Position
Staying at a central location is always desirable, with or without kids. But when one or more strollers and car seats are involved, where you lay your head becomes all the more significant. For a beach vacation, you literally have to be on the beach, otherwise you'll be lugging igloos, tents, umbrellas, inflatable toys, shovels and pales and having to cope with not having enough hands to hold your children. If in doubt, pay more and reap the benefits.
For a city-based getaway, a good position really depends on what activities you have planned. I always suggest staying somewhere close to where you want to be at night, rather than during the day. By day, you are more willing to walk, drive or take public transport, but at night, you need to be close to restaurants or the event you may be attending. It becomes especially helpful when your child falls asleep half way through a meal or you forget his or her favorite toy.
I'm not too sure who coined this phrase, but many so called "kid friendly" hotels are barely more than an adult institution with possible baby sitters on hand or a few small-portion items on the menu. I recently stayed at a rather expensive beachfront Holiday Inn in Ocean City, Maryland and despite billing itself as a family friendly hotel, the place was like a frat house (and no, it wasn't spring break) complete with security people proofing guests on entry to the pool area and giving them wrist bands to wear. The pool was full of cocktail sipping and beer chugging party-goers with a live band playing each afternoon. I could handle it by day, but when these same people yelled and screamed outside our room at 3am, 4am and 5am each morning, I realized that perhaps I had made the wrong choice. In their favor though, the rooms were spacious and comfortable
Size Does Matter
A large hotel room is preferable. By the time you set up a crib and possibly an area for your toddler to play, you may find a standard room quite cramped. Having a suite, or a space with a sofa and table, helps keep your small ones off your bed and feeling more like they are at home.
One amenity that I think is absolutely necessary is the ability to be able to prepare meals (or formula) for your young children. Even the smallest kitchen is desirable, so you can stock up on their favorites at the local supermarket and ensure they have decent meals or snacks. Another nice feature is the availability of lots of towels. I know this may sound petty, but having six towels in your room when you arrive is a breath of fresh air when traveling with small children. Not having to ask for extra ones is a nice touch too. Obviously there are many other child friendly add-ons, like a swimming pool, an activities room, even in house videos and cable TV can be god sends. If in doubt, call the hotel. Ask them if they have a DVD player in the room and bring along your child's favorite (educational) video. Calling the hotel can also help you to ensure that you receive a room with the correct bed configuration -- like two double beds, or a crib when required. Strangely I have founds that several hotels do not provide bedding for cribs -- apart from a bottom sheet -- so if in doubt, bring your own from home.
The Right Room
I recently had an experience at a Club Med in Thailand where I specified that I wanted a room that was accessible for strollers so we could avoid hauling things up and down stairs. I thought that when they gave us a ground floor room, that would be perfect -- access to the pool, the beach, restaurants etc. Unfortunately ground floor does not always mean simplicity. It turned out that we needed to go up and down several flights of stairs to reach any of the afore mentioned facilities and after a tiresome day of sunning ourselves on the beach and building countless sand castles, those giant staircases were not an attractive site. Also a room right next to the nightclub, or backing on to the elevators is not an ideal scenario, so speak to a person who works at the property -- not someone in the central customer service area who may be located in a different city, state or even country.
Twinkle, Twinkle - How Many Stars?
Star ratings given to hotels are done so to distinguish properties with superior amenities, comforts and customer service. Sometimes the best hotel to suit your needs may not necessarily be the one with the highest star rating, but great customer service is particularly vital when you are traveling with very young children. Although a bed and breakfast may be a quaint choice, many don't accept children for the very reasons that you may like staying at them -- peace, tranquility, easily breakable antiques etc. You want to stay somewhere that if you have an emergency, need a doctor or just want to know where to buy formula at 3am, the staff will take care of you. The 24-hour room service that most often comes with four and five-star hotels can also come in handy when you realize that it is 11pm, you've just put the kids to bed but you didn't manage to eat dinner yourself. Even if you are on a tight budget, weigh up what is important to you and choose accordingly.
Usually I am not a big fan of the family marketed resorts but it really depends on the type of vacation you are after. Some that offer kids' clubs and activities may be the perfect scenario if you and your significant other want some alone time -- or if you are traveling solo with your kids. Wth very small children and infants, check on the age requirements for access to these amenities. These resorts may also offer quality child care and nanny services which can be a welcome extra, but costs will always be additional.
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