I recently gave the kids a list of all the hotels we’ve stayed at for the past couple of years and asked them to rank them based on how much they enjoyed them. Since I’ve never done this, I went back a few years. Next time I’ll keep it more recent. A couple of things stood out to me as they explained to me what makes a good hotel (for them):
- A Pool. What kid doesn’t love a good pool? If the pool has a swim up bar, even better!
- Activities. Our kids love spending time at the pool, but they need more to keep them entertained. A hotel that offers on site activities keeps them engaged (kayaking, horseback riding, boogie boards, stand up paddle boards, games, kids clubs & movies, s’mores, etc). If those activities are included in our room rate then that’s a big win for me!
- Outdoor Space. We hate being confined to our hotel room. We love having a room or residence where the kids can open a door and run outside, have grounds to explore, play soccer on a lawn, find a playground or lawn games. Nearby trails and paths for all of us to explore are great too.
- Big Room. I can’t blame them for not wanting to stay in a hotel room where we’re tripping over each other. Being a family of five can make staying in a hotel room a bit tricky. A room with two queens can’t accommodate us and if the hotel is able to roll in a cot then it gets cramped pretty quickly. Sometimes we get adjoining rooms in a hotel and other times we get a house, villa or hotel residence. We don’t spend a ton of time in our room, but if we have space to relax and hang out it definitely makes for a better experience.
- Animals. Iguanas on the path outside our room, monkeys in the trees, horses, condors, sea lions, whales, tropical fish, resident dogs. Kids love animals and any location or hotel with an abundance of on site or nearby animals and wildlife tends to increase their enjoyment.
#11 – Galapagos Safari Camp, Ecuador
Galapagos Safari Camp was a perfect home base for our land-based Galapagos stay. We had two tents right next to each other (one for the kids and one for us) with bathrooms, a coffee maker, and all the comforts I would expect in a regular hotel room…plus amazing views of the Pacific Ocean from the deck. There was also a 3-bedroom family suite (non-tent) which would be a great option for families with younger children who weren’t comfortable in separate tents. The staff planned each daily excursion for our entire weeklong stay so we just had to show up when they told us to. Each morning at breakfast they would review the night’s 4-course dinner menu and make any alterations based on the kids’ likings. In the main gathering area, there were games and books where the kids could play while we enjoyed a cocktail before dinner. There was a pool, a large trampoline, a craft room, and staff who were on hand just to watch the kids during the evening.
#10 – Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador
Hacienda Zuleta is located in the Andes Mountains north of Quito. Likely built in the second half of the 16th century, staying here was like taking a step back in time. The Hacienda itself belongs to the Lasso Family and used to be their vacation home, but was converted into a hotel and is now run by the family. The grounds are expansive with plenty to explore and do – hiking, biking, horseback riding, visiting a condor sanctuary, touring the gardens and on site cheese factory, milking cows, and taking a cooking class. In each of the family rooms around the hacienda there were nightly hors d’oeuvres and drinks around a fire and each multi-course meal was served around a large dining room table with the other hotel guests. Our kids loved being able to run around the property and play with all the resident dogs!
#9 – Sheen Falls Lodge, Kenmare, Ireland
Located in beautiful County Kerry Ireland, Sheen Falls Lodge was so much fun for the kids. We had a fabulously large family room with enough beds for everyone and lots of space. And despite the fancy dining room, they had plenty of options for the kids and they loved the breakfast buffet (they are still talking about it 2 years later). There were plenty of walking trails, an equestrian center, clay pigeon shooting, an indoor pool which is great in Ireland because of the cool temps, fishing, falconry, kayaking, and it’s a short drive to the adorable town of Kenmare.
#8 – Grand Velas, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
I was skeptical about staying at an all-inclusive hotel, but everything I had heard about the Grand Velas was that it wasn’t your typical all-inclusive. We had a personal concierge, great service, delicious meals, and yes, alcohol was included. We had two adjoining rooms and both were quite spacious – combined we had more than enough room for the five of us and the view from our balcony (above) was perfect. The kids loved the pool with three separate levels overlooking the ocean. There was a swim up bar where they took the liberty of ordering endless drinks, a kids’ club, a movie showing for kids one night with tons of snacks, and lots of Christmas entertainment and activities as we were there the week before Christmas. The Grand Velas has other properties in Mexico – I heard one in Riviera Maya is even better than Riviera Nayarit where we were.
#7 – Kukui’ula, Kauai
We have been to Kauai many times, but this was our first time staying at Kukui’ula. Kukui’ula is not a hotel, but rather a community of homes with a common clubhouse, restaurants, pools, golf, a farm, and spa. I had just heard that they were starting to rent out some of the houses so I contacted the Parrish Collection which manages the rentals and booked a home. We loved it! It was a 5 minute walk from our home to the clubhouse, restaurants and pools. The clubhouse had a hang out area for kids with complimentary snacks, ice cream, and drinks which our kids thought was amazing! There were several pools, but the star was a salt water pool with lots of waterfalls, a sand bottom, manmade beach and even a waterslide! At the concierge, we could borrow all sorts of gear and equipment. We pulled up our jeep and loaded an ice chest, beach umbrellas, chairs, boogie boards, snorkel gear and sand toys and then headed to the beach for the day. Everyone that worked there was so friendly and greeted us by name. They told us, once we stayed there we’d never want to stay anywhere else on Kauai….I think they were right.
#6 – Four Seasons, Orlando
We are not a big Disney family, but none of us had ever been to Disneyworld so we decided to stop there on our way to the Caribbean last summer. I would go back to Disneyworld just to stay at the Four Seasons Orlando again. Given it’s location, this hotel is obviously extremely kid friendly. The kids received gifts at checkin, there were kids’ menus at all the restaurants, an ice cream shop, a Disney concierge to help with tickets etc, a shuttle that went to all the parks, and the most amazing water park area. Each morning we would arrive at Disney when it opened and then head back to the hotel for a swim break with every intention of returning to Disney in the evening. That never happened. Our kids had no desire to leave the Four Seasons’ water park which had waterslides, a splash pad, and the best lazy river we’ve ever seen! There was also a hang out area with bean bags and xboxes, a ping pong table and other games. And we could even see all the nightly fireworks from the balcony in our room.
#5 – Ho’olei at Grand Wailea, Maui
The Grand Wailea is a huge hotel right on the water (you can see it above – the large pink building). We stayed at the Ho’olei across the street which has access to all the facilities at the Grand Wailea, but we had our own residence. The Grand Wailea has an amazing pool area with a lazy river, Tarzan swing, water elevator, swim up bars and hot tubs. We were there at Thanksgiving and it was absolutely crazy and crowded. We should have rented a cabana for the week (but we just didn’t know!) as we had a hard time finding a place to sit most days. The kids didn’t mind at all though and thought it was so fun. Because we were staying at the Ho’olei, we had access to their pool as well which was large, had a hot tub, a big waterfall, and no crowds at all! We love having access to all the amenities of a large hotel, but prefer to have the additional space that a residence offers. Both the Ho’olei and the Grand Wailea are a short walk from the Shops at Wailea where there are many restaurants and fun shops. My own personal note with this pick is that even though the kids loved it and want to go back, I think I’d rather try a different hotel as there are just so many fantastic ones in Maui. Maybe we stayed at the absolute worst time and the Grand Wailea deserves another chance, but this one was just too crowded for me to fully enjoy. So, is the Grand Wailea kid friendly? Definitely. Adult friendly? Maybe not. I’d suggest staying at the Ho’olei to have the great pool at the Grand Wailea with a quieter place to retreat.
#4 – Ashford Castle, Ireland
Have you ever planned an entire vacation around one hotel? We did. Our trip to Ireland was planned around staying in a real castle and it was the highlight of our two weeks. Chess in the lobby, regal resident Irish Wolfhounds, Falconry, equestrian center, tennis, hiking, exceptional dining, on site cinema, clay shooting, swimming, lake cruising…..we couldn’t fit it all in during our 2-night stay. Staying at Ashford Castle was truly an amazing experience that we will never forget. When we checked out, the clerk asked me if they’d see us again. I made a comment about how far it was for us, to which she replied, “but isn’t it worth it?” Yes, it was absolutely worth it! And the next time we’re in Ireland we will absolutely stay there again!
#3 – Esperanza, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
We stayed in one of the private residences at Esperanza in Cabo which was about a 5 minute walk to the main hotel. Our residence was located on the property and we had access to all of the facilities (pools, restaurants, spa, fitness centers, daily housekeeping, etc) plus a private hot tub and a golf cart for getting around! Our ground-level residence overlooked this pool and this was as crowded as we saw it all week. Our kids loved the swim up bar where they racked up quite a bill ordering virgin pina coladas. There was another pool right next to this one and a third pool across a lawn, several hot tubs, large grass areas with play structures, soccer goals, and one day they brought out hamster balls to run across the water and a waterslide jumpy house. We also arranged for babysitting one night so we could enjoy a kid free dinner at Cocina del Mar built out on a cliff overlooking the Pacific which serves amazing food and the best ginger margarita!
#2 – Palmetto Bluff (Montage), South Carolina
This was originally not on the list I gave the kids because we stayed in a residence via Inspirato and not in a hotel. But each kid independently asked me why it wasn’t on the list and wanted to vote for it. Even though we stayed at a residence, there is a Montage in Palmetto Bluff and we frequented the property to walk around and eat at the restaurants and use the spa. I will write up a separate post about Palmetto Bluff because all five of us fell in love with this quaint community. The Montage was beautiful, but when we go again we’ll stay in another house as it was a great way to feel a part of the community. The gorgeous Montage and most homes are a modern farmhouse style (our favorite!), there’s a golf course, pools, restaurants, nightly s’mores around the fire pits, afternoon “porching” (it’s a thing), an equestrian center, amazing tree houses, summer concerts in the park, and it’s built along the May River with river dolphins and lots of water activities (kayaking, tubing, water skiing, crabbing). Instead of driving around Palmetto Bluff, we rented bikes and only used our car for day trips to Savannah and Hilton Head Island (both 30 minutes away). We compared Palmetto Bluff to Mayberry and everyone told us we weren’t the first to say that. For a slow, relaxing stay with plenty of Southern hospitality, Palmetto Bluff is fabulous.
#1 – Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
We stayed at the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo 3 years ago so I was a little surprised that the kids remembered this hotel so well, but two of them ranked it #1 and the third ranked it #2. We have stayed at quite a few Four Seasons properties with our kids because they are consistently nice in terms of amenities, room quality and service, and very kid friendly. As I mentioned here, this property underwent a major renovation after we left and I can only imagine it’s even better than when we stayed there.
We loved: the Kids’ club with fun activities and even a night-time dive in movie so parents can enjoy dinner without kids! There were lots of activities on the property as well as a great pool, two beautiful beaches with sand toys, games, standup paddle boards, and kayaks. Our kids also loved seeing animals everywhere: iguanas along the paths, monkeys in the trees (and that was just at the hotel!) – plus tucans, alligators, howler & spider monkeys, bats, and many more.
They consistently ask to go back to Costa Rica so we are returning in February with Thomson Family Adventures to explore more of the country!