Once upon a time, family travel was a different ballgame. Back in the ‘70s, my brother and I thought splashing in a motel swimming pool was living large, a hallway ice-machine was high-tech, and the children’s menu at Howard Johnson’s was fine dining.
Kiss those days goodbye. Just because you’re vacationing with kids doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a first-class hotel experience. We’ve rounded-up eight hotels around the country guaranteed to captivate guests of all ages. From clay shooting at a Rhode Island retreat to nightly dancing to a live orchestra at Grande Dame resort in Michigan, these VIP hotels offer pampering pleasures for guests of all ages.
Carneros Resort and Spa
Think kids and wine country aren’t compatible? A visit to Carneros Resort may change your mind. Surrounded by rolling vineyards, it’s an oenophile’s dream. There’s a home-away-from-home feel, with 100 standalone accommodations spread among 16 little neighborhoods. Each cottage features amenities such as a front porch, a backyard garden or patio, and an outdoor shower. While kids are not going to be drinking wine, Carneros sees no reason to leave them out of experiencing the perfect pairing. As parents sip Pinot Noir accompanied by charcuterie or cheese, kids are given age-appropriate noshes—like a milk and cookies tasting or a cocoa and marshmallow sampling. In addition to priming young palates, the resort offers kid-friendly yoga classes, a dedicated family pool, a wading pool for small children, and farm-inspired meals. From about $1,000 a night, carnerosresort.com
In the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm is a favorite of high-profile families who crave nature and anonymity but don’t want to skimp on indulgence. It is situated on 4,2000 acres of rolling pasture, with heirloom vegetable gardens, plenty of mushrooms for foraging, assorted livestock, and a windfall of namesake wild blackberries in summer. Rooms, cottages, and sprawling houses are done in rustic-chic design with stone fireplaces, over-stuffed sofas, soaking tubs, and porches with wooden swings. In summer and during holidays, the resort offers supervised Camp Blackberry for children ages 4-10 and a Blackberry Youth Discovery program for tween and teens. Hands-on activities allow kids to soak in Appalachian farm wisdom while foraging in the garden, caring for animals, cooking, and soap-making workshops. The property’s James Beard Award winning restaurant serves seasonal produce grown on its own farm, and three meals a day are included in the rate. From about $845 a night, blackberryfarm.com
The Preserve Sporting Club
Richmond, Rhode Island
You don’t have to fly across an ocean to feel like you’re in a posh British country hotel. The Preserve Sporting Club is a very upscale recreational paradise in Rhode Island, in easy reach of much of the eastern U.S. There’s so much to do at the Preserve, you might as well ask what you can’t do. At its heart, the Preserve is a shooting lodge, where even school-aged guests may learn to take aim at clay pigeons under the tutelage of expert guides. There are ponds for fly fishing, an outdoor rock-climbing wall, ziplining, and miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking. Grass and clay tennis courts, a championship 18-hole golf course, an outdoor pool, and a new equestrian center with indoor and outdoor riding areas are also on tap.
The Hilltop Lodge’s new guest suites have fireplaces and a kitchen that puts my New York City apartment’s kitchen to shame. Hearty fare is served at the restaurant but dinner at one of the private Hobbit Houses—inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkein— is worth the additional splurge. It’s a fantasy immersion that will have the kids speaking elvish by the time dessert is served. From about $600 a night, preservesportingclub.com
New York City, New York
Since 1907, this iconic New York hotel has been welcoming well-heeled families to its world of Italian marble, gilded mirrors and massive crystal chandeliers. Guest rooms feature 24-karat gold-plated bathroom fixtures and intricate mosaic accents. White-gloved butlers provide blue-chip service without blinking an eye at childish behavior. Fans of the Eloise book series already know that this fictional heroine lived at the hotel. In 2011, the Plaza debuted its Eloise Suite, whose décor is taken straight from the book. The bed has a sparkly pink headboard and a pink bathroom. Extras such as an Eloise-themed tea for two at The Palm Court and pink lemonade, round out the experience. Or just skip across the street to Central Park, where the zoo, playgrounds, lakes, ice skating rinks, and swimming pools are a wonderland for kids and kids at heart. theplazany.com
If you’re looking for a country hideaway with luxurious amenities that somehow manages to remain non-pretentious, Winvian is a winner. Whimsically decorated guest cottages are spread across this rambling Connecticut property, giving kids space to run. There are no traditional hotel rooms here; each cottage is an adventure. Treehouse Cottage is suspended 35 feet above the forest floor. Camping Cottage has a tented bed, forest murals, and arched ceilings. Beaver Lodge is a rustic fantasy with a spiral staircase that winds around a tree trunk. All cottages have heated floors, fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and complimentary bicycles. There’s no drop-off children’s camp at Winvian, but there’s plenty to do. Chef offers kid’s cooking classes, including pasta making workshops. Hiking and swimming in the heated outdoor pool are popular options. In winter, there’s snowshoeing. Be sure to meander in the prolific garden, where no one will mind if the kids nibble a ripe strawberry or pluck a tomato off the vine. From $699 a night, winvian.com
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the Broadmoor is the longest-running Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond property. It has some stuffier elements like ballroom dancing events, dress codes, and manners lessons for families, but the resort knows how to have fun, too. The seemingly endless list of activities includes swimming in multiple pools, golfing at the two championship courses, hiking and mountain biking on miles of trails, tennis, pickleball, and boating on Cheyenne Lake. Adventure-seekers may enjoy a high-flying zipline excursion in secluded South Cheyenne Canyon. In inclement weather, guests can enjoy the bowling alley, movie theater, and a host of additional games like shuffleboard, a pool table, foosball, Xbox, and PlayStation. If the adults are hankering for some grown-up time, send the kids to the camp staffed by trained counselors. Arts and crafts, falconry, storytelling, outdoor recreation, and field trips to the zoo are some of the activities. Children are divided into two groups, Bee Bunch for ages 3-7 and Mason Bees for ages 8-12. Half-day, full-day, and evening camps are available daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as during select holiday periods. From about $300 a night, broadmoor.com
Palm Beach, Florida
It may surprise some travelers that this palatial oceanfront hotel built by Henry Morrison Flagler at the turn of the last century has big-time family appeal. Even with its opulent Italian Renaissance design and seaside glamour, the hotel welcomes children of all ages. The beach is a draw, but there are also four pools, including one specifically for families with zero-depth entry. Tennis, golf, nature walks, catamaran cruises, kayaking, snorkeling, banana boat rides, and a basketball court are active offerings. There’s a spacious playground featuring slides, tunnels, and bridges, and few kids will be able to resist the Family Entertainment Center, which has an arcade and a video game lounge. All 10 of the resort’s dining spots welcome families, nine with special children’s menus that include healthy options. Extras like child-proofed guest rooms, strollers, bottle warmers and nursing accessories are available upon request. While several favorite family amenities are currently on hold, in normal times families can take advantage of Camp Breakers, a seven-day-a-week drop-off program. And the family-friendly Italian Restaurant has a glass-enclosed playroom, so you can keep an eye on the kids while enjoying a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. From $725 a night, thebreakers.com
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Grand Hotel feels like a nostalgic time warp. Almost all guests arrive by ferry, and there are no cars on the island, giving the place a yesteryear quality from the get-go. Traditions include dressing for dinner for all guests over age 12 and a fancy afternoon tea that would please Queen Elizabeth. Antique horse-drawn carriage rides, old-school lawn games like croquet and bocce, and nightly dancing to a live orchestra help to explain why it’s so popular with multi-generational families. The property is anything but dowdy. The show-stopping Esther Williams Swimming Pool, named after the aquatic movie star who filmed here in the 1940s, has a new family-friendly area with a waterjet play area and waterslide. Biking trails, a golf course, tennis, and strolling the Secret Garden are fresh-air activities. The front porch claims to be the longest in the world, filled with comfy rocking-chairs with views of the Mackinac Straits, so leave time to simply enjoy the scenery. From about $500 a night, grandhotel.com