Hotel Confidential: For the Kids

Associate editor Susan O’Keefe shares her favorite kid-friendly hotel activities and amenities. Got any she needs to know about?

Anyone who has young ones knows that when traveling with children it’s all about the hotel pool, at least that’s the case with my three children. And, if there is a pool (especially one with slides or waves) you can often leverage some off-property time for exploring the area just as long as you build in plenty of time for swimming. Other amenities like kids’ clubs are hit or miss, depending on what types of activities and programs are offered. Hotels are beginning to heed the parents’ call that one-room kids’ clubs with a few video and board games are not the answer to recreation nor experiential travel, even if it may allow more reading time for mom and dad. We all want to feel good about vacationing and part of that is exposing ourselves to experiences and trying new things. Same goes for the kiddies.

Ritz-Carlton Naples, Florida, has just launched Nature’s Wonders, an environmentally-focused program for guests who want to connect with nature. Off-resort activities include naturalist-led Back Bay walks, mangrove visits, and even a trip to a hospital for recovering sea life. At the heart of the program is the new Nature’s Wonders sanctuary where budding marine biologists can hold turtles and starfish and view aquariums hosting sharks, eel, Florida’s spiny lobsters, and grouper. When I visited, four new baby alligators had just arrived and two iguanas were showing off. A small lab invites kids to explore slides and petri dishes with pint-size microscopes. And a Nature Vision Theater features the finest, ahem, nature flicks from National Geographic and Discovery. Nature’s Wonder charges a daily fee for its programs (full- and half-day), but it hosts a daily open house for guests—adults and kids alike—who want to check out the aquariums and reef life.

Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, located in the country’s northwest Guanacaste province, offers complimentary kids’ adventures through their Kids for All Seasons program. Young guests get to hunt local insects, reptiles, plants, and hermit crabs or make art with treasures collected from the beach. Teens will dig their own hang-out pad called Taunis, outfitted bright-colored furniture and surfboards, where they can dock their iPods or play video games. But the coolest factor by far is in the activities: kids can sign up for hip-hop yoga, hang gliding, and zip-lining through treetops.

Celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, the Hotel del Coronado

is North America’s largest resort on the Pacific Coast and has a rich history of hosting U.S. Presidents and Hollywood celebs—Marilyn Monroe was a fan. Guest from six years old and up can learn the basics of riding a wave with the resort’s surfing lessons ($80 for 90 minutes, including equipment and wet suit).

And for pure fun, Puerto Rico’s El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa

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has just opened the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park, the first ever to sit along the Caribbean Sea and overlook the Atlantic Ocean. Inspired by the resort’s neighboring El Yunque Rain Forest, home to Puerto Rico’s beloved coqui tree frog, the water park delivers extreme water rides (think waterfalls, rapids, and a jungle rope bridge) and a winding lazy river through an exotic, jungle landscape. Just make sure to dry off long enough to get to the real rain forest 11 miles away and get up close to those singing coqui tree frogs.

Photos: Ritz Carlton Naples

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