Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Hotels And Children: Seven Top Tips

Do you remember those days when you'd see an enticing lastminute.com email pop into your inbox on a Thursday evening for a chi chi little boutique hotel at 70% off and you and the other half would be checking in blithely the next evening?

Okay, I don't really either; I've never been that organised.  But the point I'm trying to make is that once there are three or more, finding a place to stay becomes significantly more of an ordeal.  Thankfully for me, I have a husband who should include 'masquerading as travel agent' under his list of hobbies.  Over the years I've been taking notes as he sources perfect family hotels around the globe.  And since we're married and all, I figure he won't be too upset if I pass some of this off as my own...  Here are seven top tips for making a hotel work for you and your family.

1. You can't beat word of mouth.  You will get the best idea of a hotel's suitability from asking around.  If another family recommends it, it's probably a winner.  And sites like Trip Advisor are brilliant for frank, honest reviews.  Obviously read reviews written by people travelling with kids, rather than honeymoon couples...

2. Location, location, location.  Sometimes you won't have a choice in this matter, but if you do, do a little bit of homework.  Top destinations will have decent attractions nearby, open spaces in easy walking distance (parks, beaches, forests), supermarkets not too far away and a few restaurants that look okay within a few minutes.  If you have those essentials, you can't go too far wrong.

3. Facilities.  This is a big one.  Visit the hotel website and read reviews.  Does your hotel have a pool? Does the pool have a wading area for the little ones?  Are there gardens or other spaces to run around (playing hide and seek in hotel rooms gets really old really fast)?  Is there a program of free activities for the kids to get involved with, or family activities such as table tennis, board games or outdoor activities?  What about food?  A lot of hotels have 'kids eat free' deals or at least decent kids' menus.  Don't forget babies' meals.  Many hotels will help you out with some mushed up vegies if you ask nicely.  Is there a kids' club?  What sort of a kids' club?  Can you drop kids off or do parents need to supervise?

Kids in the pool?  Good.

4. Rooms: Where will your little one sleep?  I've never bothered with a travel cot as I've yet to find a hotel that wouldn't provide one.  That said, we've found that in some parts of the world cot hire is chargeable!  Check first.  And you might want to bring your own baby blanket or sleeping bag.  I've lost count of the number of times I've been offered a towel, or worse yet, a double bed quilt as bedding for a baby.

If you have older children, make sure that the hotel can provide a roll-away bed in your room.  Some rooms will have a little sofa bed or if you're clever, a sofa that you yourself can convert into a bed.  There are sometimes charges to bringing an extra bed in.

When you're booking the room, speak directly to the hotel and ask if they have any quieter rooms, or roomier rooms.  Explain that you have small children who need space.  Sometimes you can even score yourself an upgrade this way.  Corner rooms are sometimes more spacious and quieter.  Find out too about lift access.  It's a nightmare having to lug little ones up and down long flights of stairs and it can happen in older hotels (think boutique hotels and any place with the word 'restored' in the title).

When in the room, ask housekeeping for some extra towels.  Hotels often forget that babies need to be dried too!

5. Save money: All of the above is great, but not if it's going to cost you an arm and a leg.  There are some good ways to shave $$ off the room bill:

* If you can be flexible with dates, you'll save bucket loads.  Obviously, school holidays are restrictive but if you can work outside them it's a huge advantage.  In fact, if you can, phone the hotel you like and ask them when they have lower rates.  Book your time off once you've established this.

* Do you or your other half work for a big company?  Phone up the reservations desk and ask if they offer a corporate discount.  You'd be surprised what's on offer sometimes.

* Join a loyalty club.  Some of the chains will offer you lots of perks, like free breakfasts or discount rates if you sign up to their (free) loyalty club before you book.  It's well worth the five minutes the online application will take.

* Hunt around.  And if you find a good price with one service provider, phone up a competitor and ask them to beat it.  'I'll book with you right now if you can beat that offer' sometimes works a treat.

* Ask for an upgrade.  Speak to the hotel direct (even if you book with an outside provider) and politely explain why you would be a good candidate for an upgrade.  Things like having young children and needing space, a birthday or anniversary, or just because you are reallllly nice do sometimes work!

6. Come prepared.  I won't get into a long packing list here (I'll save that for another rainy day) but there are a few staples that no hotel on earth is going to provide.  Do not forget to bring:

* Nappy bags!  I've yet to find a hotel with a nice hygienic nappy disposal system, so do yourself a favour and wrap up those icky nappies before you have to throw them in the tiny bin next to your suitcases.

* A small bag of washing powder.  It would be totally understandable if you don't want to fork out the $10 to have your toddler's favourite (very dirty) jeans washed and laundered by the hotel.  Just bring a little sachet of powder and sort if out yourself in about five minutes in the bathroom sink.

* A small bottle of detergent and a cloth.  If your little one spends all day sucking on a beloved water bottle, you'll want to be keeping it clean.  Unless you have a self-catering apartment, your hotel is unlikely to have thought of this, so bring detergent yourself.

Kids in the minibar?  Not good.

7. Secure the room!  I don't want to scare you (and I do realise the point of a holiday is that somewhere, somehow you get a little bit of time to relax) but I don't think I've ever found a hotel room that has been totally child-proofed.  Here are some things to look out for and rectify:

* The phone!  Hotel phones with their shiny buttons are like magnets to small people.  You are going to want to move it sharpish, before your little chatterbox starts running up all sorts of bills.

* Power points.  If there are things like lamps that are plugged in to floor-level power points, you might want to put something in front of them to prevent curious fingers playing around.

* Balcony doors.  Make sure you can lock these from inside and that your little one is never alone out there.

* Bathroom doors.  Make a policy of keeping the bathroom door shut all the time.  And on that note you might want to move the little packets of soap, cotton buds and razors that the hotel provide.  Take away the sewing kit before you little one discovers the pretty colourful threads.

* The minibar.  You really don't want to be forking out for overpriced minibar drinks...unless you actually had the pleasure of consuming them yourself.  We often put the suitcase in front of the minibar door for this reason.

* Glasses, bottle openers, cups and saucers.  Not smart to leave them on the little shelf below the TV...which seems to be the standard location across the globe.

* Irons, hairdryers, kettles.  Put these in a shelf high up somewhere.

And if there's anything else that's dangerous or just not working for you, don't be afraid to phone housekeeping.  It's what they are there for.

And now, let the holiday begin!

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