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How Family-Friendly Is Your Resort of Choice?

Matt Villano

In the world of luxury resort travel, claiming to be “family-friendly” is sort of like staking a claim to being the “best”—it’s entirely subjective.

In some cases, it might mean the otherwise stuffy hotel offers Disney Junior on the TV. In other cases—the very best ones, of course—the phrase signifies that a hotel has reorganized its entire concept to appeal to its youngest customers.

With this in mind, it behooves us parents to do our homework before we go ahead and book the nxt family vacation at a mega-resort. Here’s a quick guide of what to look for.

Room configurations
Especially as your kids get older, privacy is everything. The most family-friendly resorts are those that offer separate sleeping spaces for kids without significant bumps in per-night price. Some are all suites; others offer one- or two-bedroom “suites” that they dub “family rooms.” Still other properties might offer connecting rooms with the second at half-price. If you don’t see these options on a resort’s Web site, call reservations directly and ask. (And in cases where a resort only offers rooms with two double beds, make the best of it).

Food options
It’s one thing to have a “kids’ menu” with a smattering of standbys such as PB&J, chicken fingers and quesadillas. It’s another thing entirely to have a kids menu as extensive as a menu you might find at a TGI Friday’s. Earlier this month, during the resort portion of our Hawaii adventure, the Fairmont Orchid, on the Big Island, boasted a special Keiki (which means, “kids,” in Hawaiian) menu that included items such as Caterpillar Rolls, a fish bites Bento plate and a Cobb salad minus bleu cheese. The menu is available everywhere in the resort; knowing that made mealtimes a cinch.

Formal programs
In resort environments, where most experiences are so obviously geared toward adults, it’s a big deal when there are programs for kids, too. On the first leg of our trip, at the Travaasa Hana on Maui, this meant that L got to take a lei-making class (and make a beautiful plumeria lei). More recently, at the Fairmont, we could have signed up L for a special, fee-based kids’ club, which offers daily adventures (such as a hike to nearby petroglyphs) and associated arts-and-crafts projects (such as designing personal petroglyphs).

Other ‘amenities’
Pool noodles, sand buckets, ping-pong tables, game rooms and similar youngster-oriented amenities also can help establish a resort as truly family friendly. Once you’ve established that these amenities exist (if the property website isn’t clear, call the concierge for details), double-check the price; some resorts charge a la carte for items such as sand buckets and pool noodles, while a handful of others include them under one-time “resort fees” that can range from $15 to $30 per visit. Thankfully, at some places, these goodies still are free.

It’s also worth noting that a property’s general attitude toward children also is important. If employees seem kind and patient, you’ll love the place always; if they seem stuck-up and/or rude, you’ll never even consider recommending it. This is a hard one to gauge on your own, but checking forums such as TripAdvisor can help. It never hurts to fish for input from friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, either.