As more vacationers are jet-setting with budding globe-trotters in tow, hotels are coming up with some clever new ways to appeal to travelers of all ages. Parents appreciate lodging where their youngsters will not only be thoughtfully cared for, but also entertained. So hotels are rolling out all the bells and whistles—from educational programs to kid-friendly amenities—tailor-made for families of all types and sizes. But with so many places to choose from, how can trip-planners identify the perfect place for their brood?
That's where we come in: After combing through our 2013 Best Hotels in the USA and Best Hotels in the Caribbean rankings, we've pinpointed a few stand-out properties that cater to both adults and kids. From a Caribbean hideaway that boasts a sea turtle conservation day camp to a Hawaiian resort that houses beloved Disney characters, here are the top hotels for families.
As the destination of American Girl Place's flagship store, Chi-town boasts a variety of hotels with American Girl packages that cater to children and their dolls. But the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, A Four Seasons Hotel trumps the competition with its convenient Water Tower location (American Girl Place is just an elevator ride away) and its myriad of American Girl-themed amenities. Upon check-in, daughters and dolls are greeted with a personalized note, an American Girl doll-size travel bed, turndown service for both daughters and their companions, and free delivery of merchandise purchased at the American Girl store. And while this particular experience may not appeal to all family members, this Ritz outpost boasts a versatile selection of other family-oriented activities, too. Kids can bring the best of the great outdoors (sans bugs and bears) inside with the hotel's Happy Campers amenities, which include a tent, s'mores, and a visit from the traveling Candy Man. Meanwhile, parents can enjoy court-side seats at a Bulls game, or even indulge in a midnight swim.
Upon entering The Plaza's fanciful Eloise Suite, fans of author Kay Thompson's lead female character are transported far away from the bustling city streets below and into their literary fantasy. "The suite is absolutely a favorite among kids, but it offers a very special experience that the entire family can enjoy, a testament to the enduring appeal of Eloise," said The Plaza's Director of Sales and Marketing, Cynthia Scherer. The Betsey Johnson-designed suite features pink pin-stripes, gold-leaf molding, and a zebra-print carpet. But the aesthetics are only one component of the Eloise experience: Upon check-in, guests are encouraged to sign an official guest book and have their photo taken for a framed souvenir. And while the nightly rate of $995 may seem a bit steep, the cost includes a few indulgent extras, like a monogrammed Eloise bathrobe, a $100 gift card to the Eloise shop, and one of many Eloise storybooks. But this landmark hotel doesn't just capture the hearts of youthful literati. With its romantic ambiance, lavish décor, and superb service, this Manhattan mainstay also wins over adults too, earning it the No. 12 spot on our 2013 Best Hotels in New York City ranking list.
Situated on 4,200 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains of Walland, Tenn., Blackberry Farm offers guests a rustic retreat ideal for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. You won't find a single arcade or PlayStation here: Instead, visitors can participate in an "Adventure Series" program, which allows the whole family to get out and soak up the great outdoors together, and a day spent with the Mountain Discovery program will lead to a crash course in wilderness survival. The series teaches participants about plant and wildlife identification and how to protect themselves against dangerous critters. Meanwhile, the Life on the Farm adventure series schools families in sustainability, from gardening and beekeeping to livestock care and farm production. Plus, those looking to get even more intimate with their pastoral surroundings can sign up for Adventure Quests and participate in everything from paddle clinics to rope climbing.
Taking advantage of its secluded perch on Pinney's Beach, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis offers family-friendly activities that not only keep kids busy, but also educate them about the island's precious flora and fauna. "Parents love this idea that we are taking our children not just on a vacation but on a journey and experience that they will remember," said Joe LaBreche, Director of Marketing at the Four Seasons Nevis. "They may be out of school, but they are learning even more about a new culture, a new place, wildlife, and nature that they don't experience at home." At this Four Seasons property, children can hike, horseback ride, or attend the "Kids for All Seasons" turtle education program. Designed by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, this program teaches youngsters between ages of three and nine about protecting endangered sea turtles through activities like beach walks, arts and crafts, games, and drawing contests. Though the cost of the program isn't included in the room rate, the additional fee is used to GPS tag the turtles, allowing kids to track their Nevisian turtle long after they've left the island.
From a Ski Nanny that shuttles kids to the slopes to a rejuvenating youth spa, The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch ensures its ski bunnies-in-training don't miss out on Beaver Creek Mountain. With the popular Ski Nanny program, aspiring powder hounds are escorted to Beaver Creek Village for group lessons. After a day spent shredding powder, kids are taken back to the resort to refuel with hot chocolate, popcorn, and a movie. But the après-ski activities don't stop there: This top-ranking Vail hotel also hosts Kids' Night Out activities—which can be anything from a pizza party to a cupcake decoration session to a carnival–throughout the week. And if the kiddos need a little post-slope pampering, they can retreat to the Bachelor Gulch Youth Spa for facials, massages, and mani-pedis. Younger ones seeking a break from the slopes can also stay resort-side and play with this Ritz's four-legged residents, Bachelor the St. Bernard and Miner the English Cream Golden Retriever. Plus, you can unite with your brood every day at 3 p.m., when a triangle clink announces that it's time to congregate on the Mountainside Terrace for the fire pit lighting ceremony and freshly baked cookies.
Though any property under the Disney umbrella is bound to boast a full menu of kid-centric activities, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu stands out due to its versatile selection of amenities that cater to every age group, including Mom and Dad. And as any parent trying to keep sibling squabbles at bay knows, age-specific activities cut down on unwanted vacation stress. Let's start with the pools. Teens and tweens will likely enjoy plunging down Waikolohe Valley water slides, while toddlers can splash around at the interactive Menehune Bridge. Meanwhile, parents looking for some quiet time can retreat to the Wailana Pool, which offers a palm-shaded reprieve (and a pool bar). And for families seeking a change of scenery, snorkeling equipment is available for rent at Rainbow Reef, the island's only private snorkeling lagoon. But the aquatic offerings are just the beginning. The resort features hula lessons and island excursions, not to mention spa packages for adults and teens. And even though visitors are thousands of miles away from Walt Disney World, they'll still spot some beloved Disney icons at the resort's Character Breakfasts.
While it's easy to spend an entire Caribbean vacation lounging along sugary white sands, that fantasy may be a little harder to achieve when traveling with kids. Luckily, Seven Stars Resort understands that youngsters need to be entertained and keeps them busy by providing an eclectic selection of youth-oriented activities, like their Shooting Stars Kids Camp. While Mom and Dad are catching up on some R&R at the pool, kids can build sandcastles, collect shells along the beach, or even cut loose on the playground. And young adventure-seekers itching to get off property grounds can sign up for sailing lessons, snorkeling expeditions, and more. But according to Seven Stars Resort's General Manager, Ken Patterson, camp isn't just a place to release pent-up energy; it's an eco-educational experience. "We teach our younger guests about the reef that is adjacent to our shore and how it needs to be protected and preserved," he said. And for clans wanting to spend time together, Seven Stars hosts weekly scavenger hunts.
The Cloister at Sea Island's Camp Cloister children's program has been around since the 1960s, so it's safe to say it's a crowd pleaser. College students who are selected based on their leadership skills curate the children's activities, which are divided into distinct age groups. Children ages three to eight are encouraged to get more comfortable with Sea Island's natural landscape through fishing, crabbing, and collecting shells. Meanwhile, the pre-teen set can participate in The Club Sea Island program, which teaches Bear Grylls-caliber wilderness tactics like how to build a fire, tie a knot, and set up a tent. And youngsters who have already mastered the basics can sign up for the Coastal Discoveries program, which focuses on archery and kayaking, among other outdoor pursuits. After spending some time creating adventures on their own, families can come together to participate in fun events, such as the Private Family Horsemanship Experience or tennis lessons.
At the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, the sloping peaks and valleys of the Grand Tetons don't just provide an awe-inspiring background for photos—they're also a proverbial playground for families. Guests can go horseback riding, take a trip to Yellowstone, or opt for the big kahuna: the Four Seasons Wildlife Art and Sleigh Ride trip. This eight-hour excursion not only takes visitors into Grand Teton National Park, but also to the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the National Elk Refuge, which some 7,000 to 10,000 elk call home. After the tour, visitors can relax by the heated outdoor pool and imbibe in some complimentary hot cocoa and s'mores while cozying up in a heated robe. With its versatile array of amenities custom-made for travelers of all ages and preferences, it's easy to see why the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole holds the No. 2 spot on our 2013 Best Jackson Hole Hotels list.
With more than 20,000 acres of rivers, islands, marshes, and maritime forests to explore, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff may be the ultimate getaway for an outdoorsy family. But the location of this Lowcountry retreat isn't its only asset: According to General Manager Marty Wall, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff offers a blank canvas for exploration. From wild boar monitoring and alligator spotting to kayaking and ropes courses, there's little chance parents will hear a dreaded "I'm bored" from their youngsters. "These activities are meant to get kids away from TV and video games and instead interact with wildlife," said Wall. Older kids enjoy participating in the "Teen Adventure Island" program, which takes adventure-seekers to the uninhabited Page Island for Survivor-like team-building activities. Meanwhile, youngsters will get a kick out of "Paint-the-Pony," which allows guests ages three and up to finger-paint a sweet, mild-mannered pony with non-toxic watercolors under the careful eye of an equestrian guide. And while the activities cater to a broad range of age groups, Wall emphasizes that Palmetto Bluff is a place that reunites kids with parents, and kids with kids—whether its older and younger siblings, or even new friends.
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