The first time you swore you’d never turn into your mother, you were probably on a family vacation. She was handing out sweaty peanut-butter sandwiches from the passenger seat while screaming at Dad to “Take the next exit—no, this exit!” to the next drearily decorated “comfort” lodge on the way to, well, Choose-Your-Own Adventure Park.
The mere memory’s enough to make you hit the Xanax bottle, we know. But panic not—in the new millennium, you’re not your mom (yet). Statistically speaking, you’re having children later, and fewer of them. You’ve sacrificed flat abs and more hours of beauty sleep than you’d care to count, but your stylish life? Not a chance.
“By the time women today have families, they’re used to the good life,” says Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder of the family-travel website ciaobambino.com. “It’s different when you have kids after 30—you’ve already experienced the posh hotels and are used to the freedom of travel. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice style because you have kids.”
With more and more hoteliers getting hip to this shift, it’s out with tacky colour schemes and continental buffets, in with mini bathrobes and milk-and-cookies room service. Luxe lodgings, once the ultimate no-kids-allowed zones, are now welcoming your—ahem—extra luggage.
Case, point: The Pod Hotel in teeming midtown Manhattan, a trendy bach pad with retro-futurist decor, has recently fitted out its five townhouse studio suites with fun extras—trundle beds, hanging bubble chairs and funky murals—for families who want to keep up with the Jetsons. Whisking the fam to Paris? The four-star Hotel de Sers in the eighth greets wee guests with teddy bears on their Missoni pillowcases, then treats them to a special kids’ menu at the hotel’s über-cool resto.
If eco’s more your chic, there’s Element, a new chain by Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Element Las Vegas Summerlin opened last year; Canada’s own lands in Toronto next summer). Suites are outfitted with Energy Star appliances and, at some locations, organic groceries can be delivered to your room. Kids can burn energy with Wii in the lobby or borrow bikes.
Even adventure travel, formerly the domain of unhappy campers, is now better suited to Prada-backpacking moms. For example, journey-makers Abercrombie & Kent will afford you and your crew the polar opposite experience of roughing it. With private air travel and glam digs—even in darkest Peru—you can brave the wildest frontiers without fearing for the safety of your little preciouses.
Yes, it’s a whole new world—one without Disney and, better yet, without all those Disney-loving families. Because, let’s face it, when you’re on vacation, hell is other people’s children.
“My kids don’t bother me,” says ciaobambino.com writer Nancy Solomon. “But it’s when you’re surrounded by so many other kids, you know, and at some point everyone’s kid is just losing it.” Solomon’s solution? Make a home away from home. On a recent jaunt to Turks and Caicos, she and her brood said adios to adjoining rooms with rollaway cots and went for a villa instead—an increasingly popular option for travelling families. Some villas are stand-alone rentals offering privacy with minimal staffing, but Solomon chose the Grace Bay Club resort, which she says has “absolutely five-star service—and that extended to my children as well. It was my daughter’s first birthday, and they brought us a birthday cake and balloons without us asking,” she recalls. “They just took care of it.”
You don’t have to rent a whole villa to get such stellar service, though. If you’re looking for that personal touch, you may find the best family hotel is a family-owned hotel. At least, that’s the philosophy at Opus Hotels, a pair of sleek boutique lodgings—one in downtown Montreal, the other in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown—that promise no child will be left un-pampered. “We go out of our way to take care of families,” says hotel director Katherine Evans. “We’re happy to make a squash puree or heat up a water bottle. It’s all of those little conveniences of home that you need taken care of, and you can’t get that at a standard chain hotel.”
When elegant Toronto mama Victoria Jackman isn’t executive-directing the Hal Jackman Foundation, she’s making chic escapes with her husband and two children, aged four and five. She looks for lodgings with kids-only clubs—designated, supervised play zones that make “Go to your room!” a promise, not a threat. Recently, Jackman and co. travelled to the Four Seasons in Nevis, West Indies. While she decompressed at the hotel’s spa, her kids did arts-and-crafts projects and went on nature walks. “They even learned about endangered West Indian sea turtles!” she says happily.
You don’t have to fly to far-off climes to broaden your family’s horizons, but you do have to think outside the theme park. If you can bring your kids to the hip new art hotel, you can take them to the gallery too. “Our clientele is interested in art and culture,” says Eglantine Hontanx, associate general manager of Montreal’s cosmopolitan Hotel Gault. Despite the loft feel and four-star rating, kids are welcomed with babysitters and cupcakes-to-order. “Parents are used to going to the galleries and museums, and instead of changing, they want their children to follow them,” Hontanx says. And why not? When you’re seeing your favourite destinations through the wide eyes of your wee ones, suddenly everything urbane is thrilling again.
First published in FASHION Magazine May 2009