Can the world’s most luxurious hotels be kid-friendly?
When I mention that many of the world’s most luxurious hotels are kid-friendly, people often look at me like I’m drinking way too much of my own kool-aid.
Seriously, of the things that make a hotel family-friendly, one of the major factors is the attitude of the hotel management and staff. The reality is that hotels with truly exceptional service will make every guest — irrespective of age — feel welcome.
A Weekend at Villa d’Este on Lake Como
We just got back from a weekend at the decadent Villa d’Este on Lake Como in Cennobio, Italy with our 7-year-old. This is one the — if not the — most iconic luxury hotels in Italy and there was not a single moment when any of us felt uncomfortable.
Granted, our son is at an age where he can follow instructions and we got a sitter for our anniversary dinner at their fine dining restaurant, i.e. our stay at a property like this required some behavior modification we wouldn’t have somewhere else, but he was warmly welcomed by ever single staff member from the moment we arrived. We enjoyed this immensely fabulous property as a family.
Hotel welcome preparations and initial impressions at the front desk are an essential part of any luxury family hotel experience. Equally important, however, is how you will feel on the property and this is a much more challenging issue.
How you feel at a luxury hotel is the challenge
We stayed at the Ritz in London a few years ago and although the overall guest experience was phenomenal in an unbeatable location for families overlooking Hyde Park, I could never quite get past feeling that our toddler was less than appreciated by other guests in public areas.
It’s tempting to say, get over it, who cares what other people think (assuming you/your kids are being respectful), but I firmly believe that some hotels should be off limits to kids. When I’m ready for an adult break and choose a venue accordingly, I don’t want to see or hear other’s people’s kids all around me either.
I also believe that it’s up the hotel to define if they want to be kid-friendly, adult-focused, or a bit of both. The latter is the toughest position of all. Villa D’Este runs a kids program over summer months but they limit the number of kids they’d have on the property at any point in time. This approach is key to preserving the experience for everyone.
Luxury hotel fanatics know this answer. There are some hotel experiences you can only get at a luxury property and this can make for a tremendous family experience too. We stayed at the Peninsula Beverly Hills for a night over Spring Break and I can say categorically that we’ve never experienced such a high degree of personalization as we did at that hotel.
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A brief digression to illustrate truly extraordinary service
I’d always heard about Peninsula service but never experienced the brand first hand. At dinner, we told our waiter (not the hotel or restaurant manager) that we like Starbucks coffee in the morning and wanted to know where we could go. He asked us what we liked to drink and we told him 2 venti lattes plus a hot chocolate for our son. He asked us what time we we planned to get up and we said 8:30a. Of course, at 8:30a sharp we got exactly what we “ordered.” On a silver platter no less! The art of coordination and attention is exceptional at this hotel — we all felt pampered.
What if you want your vacation to include a hotel like this? I’m going to be dreaming about the timeless setting at Villa D’Este for months. I can’t replicate exactly what we enjoyed there at any other hotel in Italy.
Tips for researching and booking a luxury family hotel
Despite gargantuan rooms, as a matter of principle, many luxury hotels have strict standards around how many people can sleep in a room. If your budget is unlimited, then this is a non-issue. For those that like nice things but care about value, this can be a deal breaker.
Tip: Make sure you understand all the possible room configurations at the time of the quote. Don’t assume what you’ve been quoted is the best or only option. Be prepared that the luxury hotel of your dreams just may not have rooms that readily support families.
As I said above, just because hotel management welcomes you (after all, families spend more per night than couples with bigger rooms and more food), doesn’t mean the other guests expect or want you to be there. There are always going to be the “odd” guest you can’t control and don’t anticipate, but I do think that there is a consistent, predictable atmosphere and personality at any hotel.
Tip: Check Trip Advisor to get an idea if other families stay at the property you have in mind it it is not recommended by a family travel-focused site or blog. Nothing makes you feel more comfortable with kids than having other kids around too.
Luxury hotels may have rules around kids that are simply too limiting. Not allowing kids in a spa is standard practice. But, if there is only one pool and kids aren’t allowed in it and it’s July, this is a problem. I once had a hotel try to convince me they were kid-friendly but didn’t allow kids to make noise in the garden.
Tip: On Ciao Bambino we list rules of consequence on our Families Should Know section of every hotel review.In the absence of that kind of dedicated list, call or email the hotel for their specific policies.
Young kids need space and a place to run around. The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida has one of the fanciest lobbies I’ve ever seen, but this property still works perfectly for families because there are so many other places to go onsite (playground, beach, kids’ game room to name a few). In city hotel this may mean an adjacent public park, but you need to know where kids can go ahead of time.
Tip: If your kids are young enough to need a place to run around ensure this place is readily available.
You’ll need easy to access kid-friendly dining options. Oftentimes, the main restaurant at a luxury property is not a good place to take young kids.
Tip: Make sure there is a kid-friendly place to eat onsite or within very close distance. It’s no fun (not to mention expensive) to rely on room service.
The presence of a hotel kids’ club may make entertainment easy but this amenity may be more ornamental at a luxury hotel than practical. There may not be enough kids at any one time to run the program consistently. Babysitting may do the trick for those adult dinners but not if there is so much mark up in the rate that it is cost-prohibitive. We always publish average babysitting rates on Ciao Bambino and I always want to laugh (and cry) when a luxury property tells me the average rate is $30 USD an hour. Not an option.
Tip: Understand average babysitting rates ahead of time so no nasty surprises await.
Kid-friendly luxury properties treat kids like royalty. They will find as much joy in a little pampering as you do!
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Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a complimentary night and discounted rate at Villa d’Este. They asked us to express no particular opinion about our stay.