Many people prefer the style, intimate atmosphere, and personalized service of a boutique hotel over a large chain-hotel with several hundred rooms.
I opt for boutique hotels too when excellent options are available; however, it’s much more difficult to identify smaller hotels that are kid-friendly since most have limited amenities and do not have the capacity for a long list of family-centric services. There are an increasing number of exceptions like Kimpton Hotels’ KimptonKids program and Affinia Hotels has My Family programs (Chicago, New York, and DC). We are working on getting more properties from each of these groups on Ciao Bambino.
Warning — boutique hotels may be the local hot spot at night and the scene may be distinctly un-kid-friendly.
I stayed at the Dana Hotel in Chicago this summer (without kids). The website doesn’t scream family-friendly in any way, but kids or no kids, I was intrigued by the flurry of articles and positive user reviews, so I decided to give it a go. In line with the buzz, the rooms are indeed cool and comfortable — kudos to the designers for successfully merging fashion and function. The room configurations and convenient location would work with kids, but when the sun went down, the volume of the music went up in every corner of the hotel. The atmosphere was definitely “party” vs. “social.” It was time to scratch the property off the Ciao Bambino prospect list.
That said, it is possible to have an adult-oriented atmosphere at night in a property that is still kid-friendly. We stayed at L’Auberge Del Mar in the San Diego area a few weeks ago with our 6-year-old. Although the hotel also has a lively local bar scene (particularly during horse racing season), the music wasn’t blaring and the atmosphere was calm enough that we could talk and relax together without feeling like our son’s presence was inappropriate.
When it was bedtime, the lobby and restaurant were packed with adults (no kids), but it was a 30 and 40-something crowd vs. the 20-something crowd — I think that makes a difference. We woke up the next morning and the pool at was filled with kids — clearly, many families are not put off by the active nightlife there (noting, we were there during the hotel’s busiest weekend).
We also stayed at The Four Seasons Aviara during this trip and the hotel was absolutely packed with families at all hours. Does that make the Four Seasons more kid-friendly? Perhaps, but I think it all comes down to the experience you want to have in a destination. It’s hard to beat the laundry list of top-notch amenities and services at The Four Seasons Aviara, but it’s also hard to beat the ocean view, beachside location, and decidedly “San Diego” vibe of L’Auberge. For me, one isn’t better than the other, just different.
If a hotel is not listed in a credible family hotel guides and you want to know if it’s kid-friendly, here’s a list of things to investigate:
1. Do the room configurations support families? Are there rooms with 2 queen beds, connecting rooms, or suites that sleep 4-5 people?
2. Does the hotel have any kid-focused amenities? Even just a children’s menu at the restaurant at least indicates that management has thought about kids.
3. Is there any messaging or photos on the website about kids?
4. Check Trip Advisor and scan through the comments for any mention of kids or, conversely, comments about an intense party scene.
5. Call the hotel and ask them if many families stay with them.
6. Consider the value of the location. Is it so convenient to the attractions you want to see that you are willing to overlook other features that may not be ideal with kids?