Robot toilet overload

Toilet blindfold

Toilet blindfold

Most people who stay at the Four Seasons Lana’i remember the luxurious rooms, the incredible dining options (Nobu! Dean & DeLuca in the minibar! Those amazing malasadas!), the intimate pool, and the picture-perfect sand beach on Hulopo’e Bay.

My kids will remember all of those things. But also, the in-room toilets.

These aren’t just any toilets, mind you. They are what our Big Girl calls, “Robot Toilets.” Toilets with built-in seat warmers. Toilets that open and close and flush automatically. Toilets that sport bidets for those trips to the bathroom you just can’t seem to tidy on your own.

The toilets represent the top-of-the-line product from a company called Toto, a company that makes all different sorts of toilets. The ultra-exclusive fixtures undoubtedly are intended to add to the feeling of luxury—especially since the technology creates this situation that actually obviates the need ever to touch the toilet or toilet seat when you go. (As an aside, they are priced at more than $3,000 apiece.)

But for my Big Girl—a brilliant and creative 7-year-old who suffers from anxiety about foreign toilets in general—they basically were the Devil in porcelain clothes.

At first, before she had to use the toilet in our room, she was fascinated by them, pushing the buttons to watch the lids go up and down. Curiosity quickly turned to fear when she sat down and the toilet unexpectedly started a circulate cycle to make sure none of her “presents” stained the bowl. We quickly figured out to use a (complimentary and posh) kid-sized slipper to “blindfold” the toilet’s electronic eye (which triggers the circulate cycle when you sit down).

For a few days, this plan worked wonders. Her curiosity returned.

Then, drama struck. We refer to it as The Bidet Incident. Completely out of nowhere, while the Big Girl was doing her business on the bowl, the toilet’s bidet feature went rogue and sprayed her bottom with gusto. To say this caught her by surprise would be an understatement. There were many tears. And blood-curdling screams. Then she announced she was “never peeing on Lana’i again.”

Powerwoman and I dried off our daughter’s bottom and did our best to stifle laughter. We spent the rest of the afternoon creating stories about robot toilets gone haywire. Mine evoked the Terminator movies, only with robots that sprayed unsuspecting butts instead of killing people. (The stories worked. She peed again.)

Thankfully, by our last morning on Lana’i, the Big Girl was able to smile about the toilet. She and her 4-year-old sister made up a farewell song. They included the toilets in their recap of their favorite things about the Four Seasons Lana’i. The two of them even figured out how to hold the blindfold slipper without any help from my wife or me.

As we headed for the door, depressed at the thought of leaving this paradise, L ran back to “do something important” and kiss the toilet goodbye.

“I just did it on the top,” she said. “I didn’t want the bidet to shoot me in the mouth.”

Dividing and conquering a San Francisco staycation

Our suite (but not us)

Our suite (but not us)

Most of the time, we Villanos prefer to travel as a complete pod—all for one and one for all, wherever our wanderlust (or my assignment) takes us.

Sometimes, however, we also like to try out different permutations of our family for particular trips.

I did this earlier this month (click here and here) on a weekend in San Francisco with L and R. We’ll be doing it again this coming weekend—only this time L will be with her grandparents and my partners in crime will be Powerwoman, R, and Baby G.

Our plan is simple. We’ll crash at the fabulous Napoleon Suite at the Fairmont San Francisco, one of my favorite family-friendly hotels in town. We’ll ride the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf, where I have to report a story. We’ll meet up with my sister- and brother-in-law for dinner in North Beach. We’ll Uber over to the recently re-opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where I have to report another (and completely unrelated) story. At some point we’ll grab drinks at the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, the iconic hotel-pool-turned-tiki-bar (where it “rains” periodically throughout each night). For the rest of the time, we’ll just hang.

R says she’ll be happy so long as she can have a milkshake every day. G is always happy. As for my wife and me, well, we notched our 12th wedding anniversary this week, so I guarantee we’ll make some time to celebrate that.

While I’m sure we’ll miss L (she’s often the person in our family around whom the action gravitates), it will be fun to experience the dynamic of our two younger daughters on the road; since G was born in November, the two of them haven’t been away together. As always, it also will be a treat to expose our kids to different parts of their “hometown” city.

The more they get to know San Francisco, the more they love it, and the more they love urban life in general. This is just another part of their education. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Babysitter directory that might change your life

Please. Someone. Come watch these maniacs.

Please. Someone. Come watch these maniacs.

I’m not going to lie: Whenever Powerwoman and I take the kids on vacation, we’re hesitant to use sitters we don’t know.

Most of the time, we talk ourselves OUT of it, allowing our overriding lack of familiarity with the sitters in a particular destination (as well as our own neuroses about who is watching the girls) push us into inaction.

Translation: We rarely go out when we travel with the girls. Ever. And the few times we’ve actually used nanny services, we’ve been basket cases the whole time.

Naturally, then, earlier this week, when one of my favorite family travel blogs, Trips + Giggles, launched a brand new hotel babysitter directory, both my wife and I were stoked.

With the service, Juliana Shallcross, my buddy who runs the site, created a list of babysitting agencies in more than 20 cities across the United States. Her list comprises sitters who are often recommended by luxury hotels; she actually worked with luxury hotels to screen candidates and grow the list. The sitters on there now are people with whom she would trust her two girls (who are roughly the same ages as L and R).

Which puts my mind at ease.

In her announcement post, Juliana was careful to lay out parameters of the service. She notes that, because of liability concerns, most hotels cannot make the sitter reservation for you, so it’s up to you to call the agency and find out their pertinent info. She hipped readers to what rates and cancellation policies they can expect ($20-$25 per hour, 24 hours’ notice, respectively).

She even went so far as to recommend that travelers call the babysitting agencies themselves, at least two weeks in advance, and find out as much as possible about the sitters. A direct quote from her site: “Agency directors understand how nerve-wracking it can be for parents to hire sitters, so a good agency director will take the time to answer all of your questions. All of them.”

The catch (if you want to call it that) to all of this: In order to gain access to the directory, you have to sign up to become a member of Trips + Giggles (which, by the way, is free).

On the fence about joining? I’m a member, and I’ll tell you this: If being a part of the Trips + Giggles community brings you peace of mind the next time you and your partner want to have a date night on a family trip, I say it’s worthwhile. I know we’ll be using the directory the next time the four of us travel together.

Six Ingredients for a Truly Family-Friendly Resort

chickens

These chickens provided entertainment, and eggs.

We’re three-quarters of the way through a Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Four Seasons Hampshire, a luxury resort about one hour southwest of London, in a town called Dogmersfield. To put it simply, this place is the most family-friendly luxury resort we’ve ever experienced, hands down.

What makes it so perfect for adults traveling with young kids? What sorts of stuff should other resorts incorporate into their family-friendly programs? Here, in no particular order, is a rundown.

  1. On-site playground. Yes, you read that right. This is a Four Seasons resort. AND IT HAS A PLAYGROUND. A new-ish one at that. With tunnels. And rock walls. And slides. And swings. Before this trip, we’ve spent portions of just about every vacation searching for play structures close to our respective hotels. At this place, we haven’t even have to think about finding a place to let the kids climb and jump – the playground is a short walk from just about any room at the property.
  2. Resort pet. A growing number of resorts have adopted dogs and/or cats as unofficial mascots, and this resort is one of the bunch. The Dog of the Hour here is a 2-year-old black lab named Oliver. He’s great with kids—he has let mine tug and pull on him and hasn’t really barked or gotten nervous like other doggies might. He also has a cushy doggie bed in the main lobby near the check-in desk, meaning it’s almost impossible to enter or leave the property without at least saying hello. (Also, out back, there are chickens. Lots of chickens.)
  3. Open space. This property comprises 500 acres. To put that in perspective, my family of four could be hiking for the entire time we’re slated to be here and we STILL wouldn’t or couldn’t cover all that space. To this point in the visit, we have taken full advantage of this resource. We’ve hiked (even at night). We’ve biked. We’ve just wandered. Some of the girls’ favorite places to visit have been the equestrian stables, the pond and the canal on the edge of the property. As I write this, they are itching to head out and feed some ducks.
  4. Kid-specific menus. When you’re a kid, grown-up food is boring. That’s why kid-specific menus, with items such as PB&J, penne pasta with butter, and grilled cheese sandwiches are such a hit among the pint-sized set. They have one of those kid-only menus here, and the girls are obsessed. Every meal off the kids’ menu has been served on a special tray with images of Oliver and other resort critters. An added bonus: At least at this resort, kids under the age of 5 eat free.
  5. Kids’ club. Despite what people might tell you, some kids’ clubs definitively are better than others. In the one at Hampshire (named Kids for all Seasons), Powerwoman and I were able to linger and watch as L and R painted and made Christmas ornaments with a special bead set. The teachers were kind, friendly and (most important) patient. We didn’t take advantage of the facility as a childcare option, but I’m sure the kids’ club is a great place to drop the kids for a few hours while you get in a workout or a spa treatment, too. (It also likely is a good option for distracting the kids while Mom and Dad take care of some other business.)
  6. Stuff to make kids feel special. When we checked in on Thursday, the girls got to pick presents out of a treasure chest. When we got to the room, there was a special amenity (in this case, cake pops) waiting for them (literally) with their names on it. These are the kinds of tiny steps that go a long way to making kids feel like rock-stars in a fancy place. Two other treats I have loved seeing here at the resort: kid-sized robes and kid-sized slippers.

There have been other amenities that have made this place great for youngsters: Kid-friendly silverware, child-oriented activities (such as egg-harvesting from that on-site chicken coop), a reliable babysitting service, and eco-conscious soaps and shampoos designed specifically for use in the tub. None of these made my Top 6, but, together, they are perks that have not gone unnoticed.

Next time you’re traveling with the kids, demand this kind of excellence from your resort. If Four Seasons can offer these types of kid-friendly extras, anyone can. And they enhance the experience for everyone involved.

What are some of the most family-friendly resort amenities you’ve experienced over the years?

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