Room-service breakfast FTW

One of our favorite places to stay: the Fairmont San Francisco

One of our faves: the Fairmont San Francisco

Powerwoman and Baby G are headed out of town next week so my wife can conduct some research at a major university, which means I’ll be flying solo with the big girls for quite a while.

Most of this time will be spent winding down their respective school years here at home. I also have promised L and R we can spent at least part of the time doing something we Villanos do pretty well: Traveling. We won’t go far, just from our home in the northern reaches of Sonoma County down to the big city of San Francisco for a few nights. The only must on our agenda: A visit to the new SF MoMA.

As I started contemplating what to do for the rest of our time away, I decided this time I’d let the girls choose. And so, after snack time, I asked each of them individually to name three activities or experiences she would like to see on our agenda.

Both kids tabbed “room-service breakfast” at No. 1.

On the surface, this was completely shocking in the absolute best way—room-service breakfast is one of my very favorite guilty pleasures when traveling, and I love that my two oldest girls agree.

The more I thought about it, however, the less shocking this selection really was. Whenever Powerwoman and I want to celebrate something special on a family trip, we splurge for room-service breakfast and make a big deal out of it. We reinforce this ritual by talking about how much we love it, even when we’re not, in fact, having room-service breakfast ourselves. The fact that L and R chose this means they’ve learned from our examples and appreciate the choice.

Put differently, it means we’ve taught them well.

Lest you think we’re going to spend the entire time eating omelets and French fries in bed, the other two items on their respective lists were carousel time and the California Academy of Sciences (which they love because of the exhibit where butterflies can land on your head).

Throw in a trip to the sushi boats restaurant for dinner and it sounds like a pretty awesome family getaway to me.

What are your favorite things to do on a family vacation?

Three strategies for mixing travel with homework

New school, new challenges on the road.

New school, new challenges on the road.

Now that L is a Kindergartner, she has Big Girl responsibilities such as homework. When we’re home, Powerwoman and I make it a priority to build the post-school afternoon hours around these tasks. When we’re away, however, working in her assignments can be a little trickier.

At this point, her “assignments” comprise practicing her letters, studying Spanish words and solving rudimentary math problems on a program called iXL. Still, in terms of logistics, getting the kid to do this homework can be difficult, especially when we’re in a new place and/or a fancy hotel and she’d rather be exploring/lounging/playing with her sister/gorging on room service.

We’ve deployed a trio of tactics to keep homework a priority.

  1. Sticking to a schedule. By far, the most successful way to prioritize homework on the road has been to write it in to a schedule—literally. When we travel, we sit down with L to come up with a schedule, write down our plan, and post the resulting calendar on the wall for L to see. Her kindergarten teacher does this every day in class, so she’s used to it. What’s more, if ever she (or one of the rest of us) deviates from the schedule, it’s easy to refer to the plan and get back on track.
  2. Bring it with. Especially on road trips—or when I’m reporting a story—it can be difficult to stick to a plan. On these occasions, we tend to be a bit more flexible with homework time, and allow L to do her work on the go. Sometimes this means impromptu stops at Starbucks and other coffee shops for 30 minutes of math practice. Other times it means some time on a blanket in a park. While this strategy is not optimal (there always are distractions when we’re out and about), it’s better than nothing.
  3. Clustering. The third strategy we’ve implemented to mix travel and homework has been to cluster busy work into multi-hour sessions at the front or back ends of a trip.  The benefit to this approach: We don’t have to scramble to get L homework time every day. The downside: Sometimes (especially with writing, for some reason), it can be hard to get her to focus for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Because L only has been in kindergarten for something like 50 days, I’m guessing this is just the beginning of our efforts to try and match homework and family travel. The bottom line: Both remain a priority for us, and we’ll continue to try new strategies as she gets older (and as we travel more during the school year). If you’ve got additional suggestions, we’re all ears.

What are some of your techniques to get your kids to do homework while traveling?

The ultimate family travel splurge

The pic (from our nanny) that inspired it all.

The pic (from our nanny) that inspired it all.

It’s fun when you’re traveling as a family to indulge in something unusual. For some clans, the splurge might be a larger-than-normal hotel room. For others, it might be pay-per-view movies, a double-wide pushchair, or mani-pedis for everyone.

For us, the biggest indulgence usually is room service.

I’m not entirely sure why this has become our go-to splurge. Maybe it’s because neither my parents nor Powerwoman’s parents ever sprung for it when we were kids. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to justify $20 for a hamburger. Heck, maybe it’s because the whole notion of having a meal delivered to you IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM is so utterly decadent.

Whatever the reason, we *love* rocking the room service. And we do it at least once on every family trip. (Even if the room service isn’t that great.)

Thankfully, the girls don’t take it for granted; instead, they see it as a total treat. On some vacations, they plan their room-service meals days in advance. On others—especially this one, with L—they order stuff they never normally would order during particular meals (example: French fries with breakfast).

L and R also know that if they misbehave while we’re traveling, room service is the first to go.

Two separate incidents this week reminded me about our love of in-room dining. The first: A Twitter chat on behalf of Expedia (the weekly #Expediachat), during which a few listeners and I talked about the wonders of splurging on dinner under the duvet. The second: An Instagram photo from our nanny, who just this week took her 10-year-old daughter away for a) the girl’s first plane trip and b) her first taste of room service.

In short, for us, family travel wouldn’t be family travel without the once-a-trip splurge on room service. In our clan, the ritual is a celebration of the wonders of being away from home. It’s another way in which we attempt to get the kids excited about something new. Most of the time, it works like a charm.

On what do you splurge when you’re traveling with kids?

Building Brand Loyalty at an Early Age

Daughter/Daddy slippers at the Four Seasons, Silicon Valley.

Daughter/Daddy slippers at the Four Seasons, Silicon Valley.

My older daughter always will remember her first visit to a Four Seasons Resort. It’s not because we spotted Bruce Willis in the elevator. It’s not because she got a personal tour of the spring collection at Badgely Mischka. It’s not even because a thoughtful housekeeper had written her name in stickers on the door to the glass shower.

It’s because she got a stuffed giraffe upon check-in. And she got to select it from a red wagon full of stuffed animals—a wagon full of gifts specifically to make younger guests feel like princes and princesses when they arrive.

For many of us grown-ups, this kind of thing is nothing more than a nice touch, a cute amenity about which we might tell our friends over Manhattans at the next neighborhood barbecue.

But for our little ones, it’s HUGE. Because it’s something they don’t experience at other resorts.

L and R got another taste of the Four Seasons treatment this weekend; on assignment for the company’s “Have Family Will Travel” blog, I dragged my family to the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto. We spent the weekend there, reacquainting ourselves with Palo Alto (Powerwoman got her Ph.D. from Stanford) and bumming around the hotel.

In between, our experience was an all-star showing of kid-friendly tricks and treats—bonus treatment that the hotel extends to all of its younger guests (not just the kids of visiting journalists on assignment for the parent company).

Some of the family-oriented amenities the girls liked best:

  • A personalized welcome. When we got up to our room after check-in, housekeepers had written my daughters’ names in sponge letters on the side of the bathtub. Later in the stay, the same housekeepers set out two pairs of kid-sized slippers with sponges representing the girls’ first initials (see photo).
  • A special kid-oriented room-service menu with items such as fresh fruit, house-made rigatoni with butter (or marinara), and pancakes.
  • A DVD movie library with an extensive kid-friendly selection. For our movie time on Saturday, L selected “Tangled” and Rango” (yes, it was a chameleon kind of day). About five minutes after we started the movie (ultimately, she chose “Rango”), room service brought up complimentary buttered popcorn.
  • A cache of floaty noodles and kickboards at the pool.

(Of course perhaps my girls’ favorite “amenity” at the resort was the giant fountain in front of the property, which now is home to at least 75 of our pennies.)

The bottom line: On-site, kid-friendly touches go a long way with the next generation of luxury travelers. When we pulled into the driveway tonight, my Big Girl told her mother: “I’m happy to be home, but I miss the Four Seasons.” I’m not sure I could have said it better myself.

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