Awesome amenity for kids who lose teeth on the road

Mmmm, cupcakes

Mmmm, cupcakes

Spend enough time traveling with youngsters and it’s bound to happen sooner or later: Your little one loses a tooth (naturally) away from home.

Of course if your kids believe in the Tooth Fairy, this occurrence puts a burden on mom and dad—how do you perpetuate the rituals you’ve established around celebrating or commemorating these sort of life events at home?

A recent Twitter post from the folks at Four Seasons Orlando answered this question in a fun way. The post, which was accompanied by a picture of adorable cupcakes (see above), read: “Our pastry team created this adorable amenity for little guests who lost a tooth during their stay & await a visit from the tooth fairy!”

In other words, the swanky resort hotel gives sugary cupcakes to kids who just lost teeth.

This is awesome for a number of reasons:

  • CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.
  • It totally takes that aforementioned burden off Mom and Dad, providing a kick-ass option/reward to ascribe to the Tooth Fairy herself (that crafty minx).
  • That little tooth character is bound to make little ones smile, which could come in handy if your kid is like my oldest child and *freaks out* at the sight or thought or idea of blood.
  • DID WE MENTION CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES?

Our little family never has visited this particular property but hope to get there the next time we visit the Walt Disney World Resort. Sure, the place has a bunch of other pretty swanky attractions. But this particularly amenity is one of my faves, and it makes me kind of hope one of the girls loses a tooth (the old-fashioned way; not like this) when we go.

What are the most creative in-room amenities you’ve encountered on your travels?

Best site-tour buddies ever

Checking out Timber Cove

Checking out Timber Cove

Sometimes as a work-at-home parent I’m forced to take my kids with me on professional outings. This explains why I schlepped my 5-year-old and 1-year-old assistants with me this week on a pair of hotel site tours.

Considering these types of activities usually involve wandering around hotel rooms, interviewing general managers, and taking lots of notes, I’d say R and G handled the experience like rock stars.

They also had a bunch of fun.

The first of the tours, at Timber Cove, was more subdued. G crawled around on the lobby floor while R marveled at the crackling fireplace and I chatted with the manager. Later, as we poked around to look at rooms, R took on the job of explorer, and scouted out every feature of every room we entered.

(Her favorites were the loft suites, which feature spiral staircases from the living space to the bedroom; and the oceanfront suites with patios that look out on the raging Pacific.)

There were valuable lessons learned, too. Like when R tossed a half-eaten apple into an empty garbage pail, only to learn the pail was empty because housekeeping already had cleaned the room for its next guests. And when yours truly discovered that yes, in fact, the baby does really like eating toilet paper.

In all, Timber Cove received the Wandering Pod stamp of approval: R asked when we could go back.

The second tour was actually an opening—I dragged the girls (with G in a stroller, no less) to the fancypants ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new resort hotel at Graton Rancheria Casino. Yes, people, you read that right. I’m a 41-year-old father of three, and I took my two younger children to a hotel opening at a casino.

While this particular property was infinitely swankier than the first, the tour itself was far less interactive. The three of us followed a crowd of people to the elevator bank, got on, wandered up to the eighth floor, toured some rooms, then came back down.

Excitement reached a crescendo when we did a walkthrough of the spa and R attempted to dip her feet in the hot tub, then surged again when she poured herself a cup full of snack mix in the lounge area.

I also loved our impromptu chow-down in the lobby bar, during which the three of us grabbed a table in the middle of a room full of casino executives, R ate the aforementioned snack mix, and G wolfed down two pouches from Plum Organics.

Perhaps the highpoint of this experience occurred as we made our way to the exit. One of the servers waltzed by with a tray of taquitos and R decided to give it a try. She loved them. A lot. In fact, my kid liked the taquitos so much that she proceeded to grab a dozen of them, plop cross-legged on the lobby floor and stuff her face right in the middle of the event.

You can picture the scene: A 5-year-old girl, eating taquitos on the lobby floor of a brand-new casino resort hotel. It was classic. It was epic. I don’t ever want to do a site tour without my kids again.

Hawaii + Four Seasons = Malasada awesome

The rooms at Four Seasons Lanai are pretty nice

The rooms at Four Seasons Lanai are pretty nice

Hawaii holds a special place in the history of our pod. It’s where Powerwoman and I got married back in 2004, where L said her first word, where R did her first hike in the trusty child-carrying backpack. It also is where I’ve reported some of the most meaningful features of my time as a freelance writer.

In short, we f-ing love the place.

This is why we make a point of returning at least once a year. We’ve been lucky enough to go 15 times (together) in 12 years of marriage. This year’s iteration starts tomorrow.

We’re doing something different this year, spending the first half of our trip on the island of Lanai. Neither I nor Powerwoman has been back there since we went on our honeymoon. This experience is likely to be VERY different for two reasons: 1) Obviously this time we’ll have three kids in tow, and 2) The resort at which we stayed last time is now closed, and the resort at which we’re staying this time is arguably THE NICEST RESORT IN THE WORLD.

That resort, Four Seasons Lanai, was completely renovated in the last few years and reopened in February. (If you’re interested in learning more, this article provides some good context.)

Sure, it’s swanky. And yes, it’s renowned for its incorporation of technology. I’m sure the service is amazing. I know the restaurants are top-notch. The views are incredible. But the sweet tooth in me is excited about our stay for an entirely different reason: The hotel breakfast has a malasada machine. And I know my kids are going to flip out when they experience it.

You see we’re kind of mad for malasadas. I’ve written about malasadas for a bunch of different clients. What’s more, the sugar-covered dough balls have become a mainstay of our Hawaii trips—when we’re on Maui, we hit up T. Komoda General Store in Makawao; when we’re on Oahu, we go to Leonard’s.

Thursday morning—our first at Four Seasons Lanai—we’re going to stuff our faces with as many of them as we can handle. It will be a great way to kick off what is sure to be another epic Hawaii adventure.

Stay tuned for details.

Indian Springs: family-friendly resort in Wine Country

Bunk beds, Cottage 8.

Bunk beds, Cottage 8.

People assume that because California’s Wine Country is all about wine, it’s not a destination for families. I live here, and let me tell you – this could not be farther from the truth.

My wife and I were reminded of this again this past weekend when we spent a night at Indian Springs Resort & Spa, a Bohemian paradise at the north end of the Napa Valley. The resort dates back to the late 1800s and currently is at the tail end of a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation that basically tripled the size of the place. Another benefit of all the construction: The place now is more family-friendly than ever before.

Our accommodations—Cottage No. 8, for those of you scoring at home—reflected this perfectly. When the cottage was built, in the 1930s, it was a one-bedroom/one-bathroom with a kitchen. Today, the cottage still has the main bedroom (with a queen-sized bed), the bathroom, and a sitting room. But as part of the upgrade, the kitchen was converted into a second bedroom with bunk beds.

The bunks, from Restoration Hardware, were a great design: queen on bottom, twin on top. As part of the rehab, the resort also covered one of the windows with a chalkboard on which kids could draw. (ICYW, the resort provided a little basket of chalk.)

Elsewhere in the cottage, in the main sitting room, we found a mini-fridge, and plates and silverware.

The cottage would have been great for our family of five. Though Powerwoman and I appreciated escaping with Baby G, we lamented that we hadn’t brought our big girls to experience it, as well.

We thought of L and R at other moments during our stay. Near the main pool, which is fed by a natural spring and has waters that are always somewhere between 92 and 102 degrees, the resort has set up two kid-sized picnic tables with cups of colored pencils. Near the main spa building, there’s a Gratitude Tree on which guests of all ages can write down what they’re grateful for and hang the tags on the tree.

The resort also has shuffleboard, ping pong, and bocce. And a restaurant with a killer kids’ menu (and churros flavored by candy-cap mushrooms). For the grown-ups, there’s an amazing spa, and an adults-only pool.

In short, if I were visiting Wine Country with young children, Indian Springs would be one of the first resorts I called upon to inquire about availability. Not only do I recommend the place, but I can’t wait to get back (with big girls in tow). Maybe we’ll see you there.

4 reasons we love Cavallo Point

The view from our room at Cavallo Point.

The view from our room at Cavallo Point.

Because those three weeks in the Pacific Northwest simply weren’t enough, we’re spending the night tonight at Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate.

In case you don’t know it, the lodge is an old fort—named, coincidentally, Cavallo Point—that was renovated back in 2007 into a luxury resort. The place has 142 rooms in all, and the company that owns it is the same company that owns Post Ranch Inn, one of the swankiest resorts in all of California.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder we never want to leave. Here are the things we like best so far:

The room

Renovations to the property turned some old officers’ quarters into new hotel rooms. There are about 70 of these “historic” rooms. To double the size of the resort, owners also built 70 new (they call them, “contemporary”) rooms in 11 standalone buildings. Our room is one of the latter types. On the first floor.

Without question, the best thing about the room is the view—we have an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Little R, who loves the bridge, has been literally staring and smiling at it since we checked in.

The rest of the room is above average. Features are modern and sleek; because the new buildings are LEED-certified, I believe most of the furniture and built-in work is made from recycled bamboo. The bathroom is tremendous and has a deep tub which I’m sure the girls will love. There also is a mini fridge in the room—always a bonus when you bring your own snacks like we do.

The red-carpet treatment for kids

Shortly after we checked in, a bellman knocked on our door with a gift from the concierge. The gift was for the girls. Inside this bag were two coloring books, two sets of crayons, two jump ropes, two chocolate lollipops, and two sticker sheets. I wandered down to the front desk about an hour after the present arrived and asked the concierge if we received the bag because she knew I was a journalist. She explained that every kid who checks in gets a similar set of goodies.

The bar

In addition to room service, the resort has two dining options: Willow Circle, a restaurant, and Farley Bar. At night Willow Circle can be a bit formal and stuffy, so tonight we chose to dine with the girls at Farley Bar.

Original tin ceilings, a built-in wooden bar, roaring fireplaces, and period lighting fixtures set the scene here and made Powerwoman and me feel like we had stepped back in time. Our server, who seated us in a corner booth near a fireplace and indulged the girls by calling them princesses, made us feel like we were the only patrons of the night (trust me, we were not).

The Farley menu was limited—I mean, it *is* a bar—but reliable and good.

The kids’ meals, grilled cheese and chicken strips, came with berries and were $9 apiece, and our server brought them each Arnold Palmers the way they like ‘em, with no ice. Powerwoman ordered a bit of an eclectic meal: soup and macaroni and cheese. My burger was spot-on.

Perhaps most important, we were comfortable. Sometimes dining with kids in a hotel bar can be riddled with dirty glances and uncomfortable feelings. At Farley, we fit right in. In fact, while the kids were enjoying ice cream sundaes for dessert, I looked around and noticed four other families dining in the bar. The takeaway: Families and the Farley coexist nicely, which makes it a place to try.

The parade grounds

Yes, the view from just about anywhere at Cavallo Point is amazing—depending on the angle, you can see both spires of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Alcatraz, the San Francisco Bay, and more.

Still, we liked the Parade Grounds even more. This is the giant open space between the officers’ quarters on the main lawn. Years ago, when the area was an operational fort, the men stationed here would use the greenspace to train, play baseball, hold parades, and more. Because the property has such a colorful past, the name stuck.

Before dinner, L met some other kids climbing a giant old conifer across from the main entrance to the resort. After dinner, L and R ran laps around a flagpole in the very center of the green—a flagpole I’m sure has been there for at least 50 years.

While the girls were running, Powerwoman and I sat on the steps to the bar, drinks in hand, watching from afar. We liked knowing that the girls were safe, that we could just let them run without fear of them being hit by a car or a golf ball. The girls certainly liked it, too—R, after running a grand total of 12 laps, declared she wanted a Parade Grounds at our house. (We’re working on that.)

Of course we also love the hotel’s proximity to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a fantastic children’s museum in more former fort structures right near the Bay. Our plan is to spend most of the day tomorrow down at the museum. Unlike previous visits there, which have started with a 75-minute drive from home, this time we’ll be able to stroll down in five minutes or less. That’s the kind of commute I could get used to.

Kid amenities worth every penny

Happy Birthday R, courtesy of Four Seasons SF.

Happy Birthday R, courtesy of Four Seasons SF.

We Villanos are big fans of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts brand. Yes, the room product is amazing. Yes, the service at these resorts—as a family, we’ve stayed at five of them—is second to none.

Really, however, what we like about Four Seasons is the way they welcome kids.

I’m not talking about greetings and salutations here (though the bellmen always are very nice with those). I’m talking about amenities, presents and an assorted variety of other goodies that Four Seasons properties give kids when families visit.

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco this past weekend as part of R’s birthday celebration (she turned 3 on Monday). This meant the folks at the hotel treated our girls like rock stars, with everything from San Francisco Giants dolls and hats to pre-dinner birthday cake and cookies from room service.

There were other treats, too. Like the “passports” each girl got upon check-in; they loved inserting pictures of themselves and information about personal characteristics such as eye color and hair color.

The “passports” also (could have) doubled as forms of identification when we were out and about.

Another highlight for the girls: the make-your-own sundae option at MKT, the on-site restaurant. We only managed to get to the restaurant for a late lunch, but that didn’t stop us from trying out this incredibly interactive form of dessert. (In case you’re wondering, both girls chose to douse their sundaes with M&M’s.)

On previous visits to Four Seasons hotels all over the world, the kids have enjoyed other amazing amenities, including child-sized robes, kids-only room service menus, in-room game kits, and more.

It might seem odd that a hotel brand popular among luxury and business travelers makes families such a priority. The reality—at least as it seems to me—is that Four Seasons recognizes the benefits of establishing brand loyalty at an early age.

I wouldn’t have noticed this if not for a conversation I had with R earlier today. We were talking about her next birthday, and what she wanted to do. We tossed around ideas of visiting another great monument or a park, or just laying low for a fairy party.

“I want to stay at a Four Seasons, dada,” she said after some pose. Honestly, I don’t blame her one bit.

Another Sighting on HFWT

Little R, watching carolers in Farnham.

Little R, watching carolers in Farnham.

Regular readers of this blog might remember a post I wrote late last year about our amazing Thanksgiving stay at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, England. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. And now, I’ve written about the experience again—this time for “Have Family Will Travel,” the family travel blog from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

The more recent article, titled “Hampshire, England Resort Family Holiday,” published today. It spotlights six of our favorite things about the resort. On the list: the kids’ club, the playground, our afternoon tea, and, of course, Oliver, the resident dog.

(Not on the public list: The hotel’s proximity to Farnham, a market town which we visited by taxi.)

Personally, my favorite part of the HFWT post is the artwork—for the first time in a long while, they published a TON of my photos, including a bunch of L and R.

From a family travel perspective, neither of these blog posts suffers from hyperbole; the Hampshire property really is THAT cool. Considering that you can get there in less than one hour by train from London, definitely consider it for a weekend getaway from the Big City the next time you find yourself in southeast England.

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?

%d bloggers like this: