One of the most challenging parts of planning a family vacation is finding kid-friendly lodging. When you have an infant, toddler or preschooler, kid-friendly hotel amenities are just part of the requirements… you also need a place where they can sleep while the rest of the family is still awake. Things I look for when choosing a hotel are:
- 1. Separate sleeping area (with a closeable door) for my napping/early bedtime child. This is the first thing I look for. If there isn’t a suite available, I find a different hotel. (That doesn’t mean I pay more; for my recommendations of hotels that have affordable suites, keep reading.) This way I can watch tv or, more accurately, write this blog, without disturbing my sleeping child. (Because if the child is not well rested, nobody’s having a good day tomorrow!) Another option here, is to rent a condo or house.
- Mini fridge or kitchenette so I can store snacks, sandwich fixings, a beer or wine for mom and dad, and, in our case, soymilk -which is not readily available in restaurants and theme parks. It’s also handy to stick a juice box in the freezer the night before a trip to the theme park so it acts as an ice-pack for our cooler. If there isn’t a refrigerator in the room already, most hotels will provide one for you, sometimes for free. Using or moving items from the mini-bar will cost you dearly. Luckily, many hotels are doing away with those. Some extended-stay hotels have full kitchens complete with dishes and pots and pans!
- Swimming pool comes in handy on a sunny afternoon when it’s too hot to be walking around the city. Sometimes it’s more fun to take a dip after dinner and call it a ‘bath’. Of course then we ‘rinse the chlorine off’ in the hotel room shower. (He hasn’t caught on yet that he’s still getting a real shower with soap and all, so don’t tell!) Indoor pools are especially fun on a rainy day.
- Free breakfast saves us a lot of money on food throughout the week. This is becoming more and more popular with many hotel chains. I haven’t seen anyone beat Marriott Residence Inn’s offerings, but some are getting close. Be sure to ask, though, because it’s also not uncommon for a $17 fruit plate at resorts and upscale hotels.
- Cribs, high-chairs and rollaways beds. We have been a family-bed family, so have not so far needed these. We always asked the front desk to bring us a high chair when staying at a Residence Inn (they have full kitchens and dining rooms IN the room) and they always happily obliged. When renting a condo or house, you’ll need to ask the owner in advance (before booking your stay) because there is no ‘front desk’. Most hotels will have cribs and roll-away beds. If there’s a restaurant on site, they likely have highchairs.
With our criteria in hand, my first action is to look for a Marriott Residence Inn near where I want to be. It has all of the criteria listed above. I love this chain for family vacations because it’s like renting a condo, with all the benefits of a hotel (including maid service). The chain is an extended stay hotel designed for business travelers, but has become very family friendly- some even allowing pets. Although you may pay a little more (sometimes it’s even cheaper!) per night for the room than at a standard hotel, the food amenities alone will have you coming out way ahead. They have a free hot and cold breakfast menu that rivals a Mother’s Day brunch -every day. They have full-sized kitchens in each room (with ovens) so you can cook and store your own foods (like restaurant leftovers). My favorite part: they have a grocery service! You can place your grocery order and they will deliver it to your door with NO delivery fee. Many of them offer happy hour buffet with free/discounted beer or wine, and they serve kid-friendly food like tacos, spaghetti & meatballs, etc. from 4-6. Some do this 1-2 nights a week, some do this EVERY night. Hands down my favorite family friendly hotel is the Marriott Residence Inn.
Okay, enough with the sales pitch… you have your favorites, I have mine. If there’s no Residence Inn nearby, then I look for other family friendly hotel chains like Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn Suites, AmericInn, Hyatt, Marriott, Westin, Holiday Inn, Homewood Suites, and if I’m feeling flush Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons.
I have friends who have had great luck renting condos or houses, and friends who did not have a good experience. Personally, we travel enough that it really pays to belong to a hotel loyalty program for free and discounted room benefits. Do you have tips to share on kid-friendly hotels? Please add your thoughts and tips to the comments below!!