Picking Accommodations for Your FamilyFebruary 25, 2011 No Comments
After I know where my family wants to go, the very first thing I do when planning a family vacation is to decide where we’re going to stay. For us, that comes before researching inexpensive air fare or travel routes. Pick a destination, find a good hotel, bed and breakfast, rented apartment or condo, motel or campsite. If there’s nothing that I think will suit us – a rarity – then I’ll pick a different location. Or if the accommodation I select is sold out during the dates I’d initially chosen, I will chose other dates. My point is: when you’re choosing accommodations for your family, remember that where you stay will dictate how you stay – happily or not so happily.
In the past I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve chosen resorts that had family-friendly activities, only to find over crowded pools or kid’s club programs that didn’t fit our schedule. I’ve also picked bed and breakfasts that said they welcomed families, but didn’t welcome them quite as much as we’d imagined. And I’ve picked fascinating, off the beaten track guest houses that included geckos on the ceiling and gecko poop in the beds. You can’t make the perfect choice all the time, but it helps to decide what means the most to you – and find the accommodation that fits most of your travel parameters.
Family friendly accommodations can be expensive, or a budget can be designed specifically for family travelers, such as Disney resorts or cruises, or can be a comfortable stop in a cultural enclave.
The first consideration you should make is the location of your stay. If its important to you to be within walking distance of a main attraction, or a view of a specific landmark is what you want in your room choice, then make sure you figure in distances and views. If you don’t care if you stay outside of town or outside the borders of a national park, then you’ll select a different choice. When we were in San Antonio, after a week long road trip to get there we wanted to be able to leave the car in the garage and stroll the River Walk. We wanted a view of the Alamo. And this drove our hotel selection. When we visited Yellowstone National Park, I wanted inexpensive, modern accommodations. That ruled out the elegant in-park offerings and the camp sites and roughing-it style cabins inside park boundaries. When we visited Las Vegas, we wanted to stroll the Strip and bring the kids back to the hotel pool without missing a beat. That eliminated off- Strip hotels. You get the picture. You may want to spend a week at the beach but not mind driving a mile to park by the sand. Or you may want to just climb out of bed and hit the beach.
Second, you want to consider how much space you’ll need. When it was just me and my toddlers, I needed considerably less space than when it became me, my kids, my kids friends. Even when my children were very small, putting them both in the same bed was often not a great option. Restless sleeper at home? Very restless sleeper in new circumstances. Today we also consider the ability to dine in, in order to save on restaurant bills and stay on a healthy diet, to be very important. So, I may pay more for a suite with a kitchenette, or at least make sure my motel room has a microwave and mini-fridge before I select my accommodation.
Speaking of food, so many chain hotels and motels offer breakfast as a part of the stay. Don’t chose this “cost saving” option until you know what the breakfast actually includes. Is it a donut and a cup of coffee? Not great for the kids, and hardly worth selecting one property over another to obtain. If it’s a full breakfast, are there items your family will actually enjoy? It doesn’t do our primarily vegetarian family much good to have all you can eat bacon and sausage for example.
And when you’re considering space, do you want a room with a roll away or portable crib, or do you need a sleep sofa or extra bed? And, if you’re looking for rooms with a sleeper sofa, make sure the sofa in that condo you’re renting really, truly folds out – and isn’t just a sofa with a quilt. Been there, done that.
If you’re not bringing a portable crib from home and you need one, find out if the hotel you’ve chosen provides what your baby needs. We’ve been offered everything from beautiful antique cribs to playpens with a pillow.
And what about a pool? Well, if it’s cold outside, make sure that pool is indoors. And if there’s a lake or an ocean or a river, do you need a pool at all? Still, pools are a wonderful antidote to a day on the road, or even a day exploring nature or museums or amusement parks. When given an affordable choice, we usually go for the one with a pool. Which brings me to child-friendly activities – do you need them? Will a splash in a pool do? Or do you need water slides and floaties, arts and crafts on the beach, kids exercise classes, snorkeling lessons or kid’s videos screened along with a mac and cheese dinner? Will you be planning a parents’ night out and seeking a babysitting service?
These are all areas to consider when you select where you’ll stay on your family vacation. But here’s one more consideration: a sense of adventure and memory making. Sometimes taking a choice that might not comfortably include all your needs is the best one after all. A favorite memory of ours is a night in a rustic cabin outside Death Valley National Park. Billed as a ‘resort’ – and that’s another story – this cabin was anything but. I could’ve chosen a park-run motel I knew quite well, but I wanted a more economical, and a less pedestrian experience, and I got it. Still, watching the sunset over the desert from our rough hewn porch and playing charades to flash light when the power went out – that was one of the best memories ever, one we could not have had if I’d gone with the “safe” choice.