I used to think a hotel room was just a hotel room. A place to sleep, a place to shower, not much difference between them. And like most things I used to think, it all changed once I had kids. We’ve never been into the whole “everyone sleeps together in one happy family” kind of thing. If that works for you, that’s great, but we’ve always gone with the whole “kids sleep in their place” kind of theme. So when it’s time to go on vacation, there’s a bit of a challenge. Sure, most hotel rooms sleep four in theory, but how exactly is the average family supposed to make that work? Even kids who share a room will find it a bit distracting to be suddenly sharing a bed, so do you put one in each bed and then split the parents up as well? Put one in the bed and one on the floor? Call for a cot? And what about bedtime? Everyone just stays up late? Everyone goes to bed when the kids get tired? Is there even the slightest chance that the kids will actually sleep if the parents want to watch TV? Put the kids to bed then hide in the bathroom reading?
We’re fine with doing the regular hotel room thing once in a while. If it’s only for a night or two we just muddle through. But now that we’re starting to take longer trips with the kids, we’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of an all suite hotel. Our current favourite is the Homewood Suites chain. We’ve stayed at Homewood in both Seattle and San Diego and it is my first choice when I do a search for accommodations. For the price of a regular room in most other hotel chains you get a two room suite with a small bedroom, a living room with a pull out couch and a full kitchen with an eating area, large fridge, stovetop, microwave and even a dishwasher. The only thing missing is a second sleep surface for the kids, but we usually travel with an airbed and there’s always plenty of room to set it up in the living area.
Another amazing thing about the Homewood Suites chain is the full hot breakfasts every day and the free hot dinner (yes, free dinner!) offered Mon-Thurs. In Seattle and San Diego this even included free beer and wine! In San Diego we’d come back from a full day of sightseeing and we’d be able to stop by the lobby for a simple, but generous dinner (usually one or two entrees, a few sides and a large salad bar) and then we’d bring a couple glasses of wine back to the suite, tuck the kids into bed, then relax and watch TV for a few hours in the bedroom portion of the suite. In the morning we could take turns sleeping in while the other parent got up early with the kids, put cartoons on in the living room area and made a pot of coffee. And all this for the same cost as most standard, two queen hotel rooms! It’s as close as you can get to relaxing when travelling with preschoolers.
While Homewood Suites is our current favourite, they aren’t in every market. We’ve tried the Embassy Suites chain a couple of times and we like them, but they don’t have the nice full kitchen that Homewood Suites has we’re not as keen on the layout. They also have a “manager’s reception” every evening with free drinks and a few snacks, but it’s not as nice for travelling with kids as you still need to find a proper meal for the kids somewhere else. We recently tried the Springhill Suites chain for our two nights in Calgary after returning from Africa and were extremely impressed with the Calgary location. They also had the full suites, an excellent hot breakfast and free dinner. While there was no free wine and beer, I think that may have more to do with Canadian liquor licensing laws than the actual chain’s policies. I’ve decided that Springhill Suites will definitely be on my list of top choices from now on when I’m looking for accommodations.
It seems like more and more hotels are starting to offer accommodations more suited for families such as all suite properties, kid’s suites with bunk beds, laundry facilities and food offerings. These little extras go a long way towards making travel with kids a lot easier and a lot more fun.