01 April 2009

Choosing a hotel with kids in mind

When we travel with our kids, we want to make sure that the place we are staying will add to our experience, not detract from it. That said, however, we don't really spend much time in our hotel room because we are out sightseeing, so we don't feel that the accommodation has to be particularly fabulous. But there have been a few places we have stayed that thinking back, they make my skin crawl...

So how do you choose a hotel, particularly with kids in mind?

First we consider what we are after:
  • We like budget hotels, that have rooms large enough to hold all four members of our family. On occasions we have had to settle for two separate rooms with no adjoining doors, with one adult and a kid in each room sharing a bed (less than desirable for us, because for one adult, its like sleeping in a washing machine). Where you can have adjoining doors, this is so much better, as it becomes more like a two room apartment - adults in one, kids in the other.

  • We don't need all the mod cons, just a clean, reasonably quiet room, with a functioning and clean bathroom with hot water.

  • On previous trips when our kids were younger, we needed a cot supplied. We don't anymore, and you can always take your small size portacot with you if you prefer (we've done that too!).

  • We like to stay fairly centrally located in a city, so that we can easily walk (or catch trains etc) to a good number of the places that we want to visit. You may choose to stay further out of town for a cheaper price, and travel in each day to see the sights, but we prefer to pay more and travel less.

  • If there's an old town, then often we like to stay there for the atmosphere that it gives. Don't expect the small hotels in these places to have large or interconnecting rooms. The buildings may have been there a very long time, and not be purpose-built as hotels. However, for the ambience of the old towns, we put up with such inconveniences when necessary.

  • Sometimes we like breakfast included, but sometimes that's just a big rip-off! You can usually self-cater breakfast for much cheaper, but when you've just arrived in a town and haven't had time to check out the lay of the land to find somewhere that you'll be able to source some breakfast, there are times when it is easier to just cough up for the in-house breakfast.
We have found hotels in the following ways:
  • through brochures at our travel agents

  • online through sites such as Hotels Combined

  • through our travel agent's online contacts

  • chain hotel websites
Choosing a hotel through online sites can be a bit dicey sometimes. There have been times when there's just been this niggling doubt in my head that perhaps the website is just a front, and the hotel doesn't exist at all? Maybe that's just being paranoid, but it is a thought that has entered my head on occasion. I mean, what could be worse than turning up in a foreign city where you don't speak the language, with kids and luggage in tow, and finding that your accommodation doesn't even exist? Thankfully, that's not been something we've ever needed to deal with!

We did turn up once outside the vacant lot that was supposed to contain our hotel. It turned out though, that someone had gotten the address wrong. On finding the correct address, there was a sizeable hotel there, to our relief!

We have chosen our accommodation solely over the internet, and (gulp!) even prepaid, and arrived to find that the hotel was certainly there, the room was just lovely, it was clean, quiet and functional, and the hotel was well located. A good experience all round, and it was much cheaper than anything that we saw in that city in the travel agent brochures. I found our hotel in Paris, using this method, and it (the search and then also the stay!) was great!

However, when you choose your hotel, don't choose it solely on the basis of the photo in the brochure or on the website. Chances are, the room that they are showing you is one of their best rooms, and you may not be getting one that has been so recently redecorated or even cleaned!

After fruitlessly online searching for a place to stay in the countryside in Portugal, we went grovelling to our travel agent. We had tried online searching using town names from the region, and "accommodation" or "hotel" type terms; we had tried using some of the conglomerate hotel search websites; and had tried chain hotel websites for anything in the region, each with no success. Our travel agent eventually found us a homestay type place (Quinta Princesa do Pinhal), using some of her online contacts (she made no commission on the booking, so it was very good of her to do this for us, but then we had spent a lot of other money with her!). It was a self-catering apartment within a house, and the owner was thrilled to have her first Australian visitors!

When we are looking for a hotel, we generally go for 2 to 3 star establishments. For us, these usually offer us good enough facilities for the money we are paying. In the past we have also looked at hostel accommodation, but for the locations we were looking at, none of the hostels would accept children as young as ours. We would look at this again for future trips, as our children are getting older all the time (aren't we all?).

Before travelling for the first time with our young kids, we did wonder what we would do at night, when they had gone to bed, but we didn't yet want to also be asleep. When you only have one room, lights on for the adults can be a bit distracting for little kids.

We have found a number of ways around this: we once rearranged the room to put some lounge chairs and a lamp in the luggage alcove, so that we could sit and read and write in our diaries after they'd gone to bed. We have also put on only a pale bed lamp so as not to be too distracting. And then, if worst comes to worst, you can always sit in the bathroom - we haven't had to resort to this yet. I seem to remember my brother in law and sister in law once put their young baby in the wardrobe (with door slightly ajar for breathing) at night so that she could sleep in darkness, without them bothering her. There ARE ways around these things - you just have to be creative!

Of course, our most kids-in-mind hotel that we have ever stayed at, would have to be Disneyland's Hollywood Hotel in Hong Kong. It was like one big 24 hour Disney-fest! The rooms were decorated with Disney paraphernalia, and it overlooked the Disneyland Park. The dining room where we had breakfast was completely Mickey and Minnie themed, even down to the waffles, which were Mickey Mouse shaped. The kids had an absolute ball, and were so excited to be staying there. Yes, it cost an arm and a leg, but it was definitely chosen with the kids in mind, as their very own special part of the holiday.

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