“Travel should be a continuous string of experiences, not a one-time thing,” says Kate Mitchell, a luxury travel consultant and affiliate partner of the Local Foreigner, a New York-based consultancy.
Mitchell should know, given that she has traveled extensively all over the world with her young family. She understands that the reality of traveling with children boils down to this: No one trip is ever going to check all the boxes.
So if that’s the case, it begs the question: How do families even begin to conceptualize planning a luxury trip somewhere new, considering that global travel is at an all-time high?
Mitchell believes it’s about prioritizing things based upon your children’s ages. If you’re traveling with infants and toddlers, there’s one set of stipulations; for school-age kids, there’s another. And when you reach the teenage years, you can most likely take those luxury experiences and excursions to the next level.
“There’s no reason why you need to sacrifice luxury when traveling with your family,” Mitchell said. “From toddlers to teenagers, there is something for everyone out there, and there’s no better way to expose your kids to the world.”
TRAVELING WITH LITTLE ONES
The first thing to do when organizing a trip with infants-through-toddler age is to prioritize the hotel, then the location, Mitchell said. “You may really want to go to this small island in Greece,” she said, “but if they don’t have a proper hotel for kids, it could fall short.
“So, what does a good hotel look like for families? It starts with the room configurations. Do they have connecting rooms and/or family suites? If the answer is no, then they likely aren’t set up to accommodate families, and any attempt at doing so may feel contrived.”
Seek out luxury hotel brands that have kids club options, multiple restaurants on-site with kids menus, babysitting services and the ability to have things like cribs, Pack ’n Plays and bumpers for beds set up before arrival. For hotels with kitchens and kitchenettes, concierge services can organize groceries and food staples to have stocked up to avoid time spent shopping. Another option is to send luggage and any baby or child gear ahead of time to your final destination to avoid lost luggage and carrying bulky items while in transit.
For seaside luxury in the high summer season in the U.S., Gurney’s in Montauk, New York, is calling. The property runs Camp Gurney’s kids club, including activities such as crafting, pool time and movie nights. “The property offers an exclusive experience, with access to our expansive, 2,000-foot private beach with beach games, lifeguards and even sand toys to build castles all day,” said Michael Nenner, executive vice president of Gurney’s Resort.
Urban experiences are another great option for this age group. The Logan Hotel in Philadelphia offers an urban campout package that creates an in-room experience complete with an indoor s’mores-making kit, an assembled tepee tent with children’s sleeping bags, kids “Rocky”-style robes, coloring books, stuffed animals … and a bottle of wine for the adults.
Similarly, Graduate New York has a Loft Suite experience inspired by the 1988 film “Big.” The room has been transformed into a toy-filled suite — just as Tom Hanks’ character, Josh Baskin, does to his New York apartment in the film. The experience can be enhanced with features including an overnight stay in The Loft Suite, a Polaroid camera to use during your stay, a take-home mini Zoltar kit and Skee-Ball set, and nostalgic treats from the iconic Economy Candy store.
Beyond individual experiences, hotel groups such as the family-owned Montage International offer an overall initiative called the “paintbox program” that provides children’s programming and activities throughout all of its properties. The program offers half-or full-day sessions with arts and crafts, group games and outdoor recreational activities.
Montage International’s global creative director, Azadeh Hawkins, explained that the company’s approach to children’s programming is “to create engaging and enriching experiences for our youngest guests. With the paintbox program, children are not only entertained but are able to take part in immersive, educational experiences exclusive to that destination that extend beyond their stay.”
South Carolina’s Montage Palmetto Bluff has a program that offers children the ability to learn about the ecosystem and nature with a Palmetto Bluff Conservancy tour. In Southern California at Montage Laguna Beach, kids can experience watersports such as paddleboarding, surfing and swimming. In both Montage Big Sky in Montana and Montage Deer Valley in Utah, there are offerings such as fly-fishing, horseback riding, hiking and skiing.
Additionally, Montage Kapalua Bay showcases a mermaid academy, where kids learn how to swim like Arial from the “Little Mermaid movie,” not to mention how to play a ukulele and master the art of hula-hooping.
If international travel is on the table at this point, Mitchell suggests Spain, Portugal and Mexico. “The service, food and accommodations make it easy for young families,” she said. “Prices can almost double on popular school breaks, so take advantage of going away at off times while the kids are still young enough to miss some school.”
As children age, locations, destinations and activities will expand.
Mitchell sees this as a perfect opportunity to mix in “more cities or adventure travel to keep everyone engaged. It’s also a cool opportunity to incorporate events like soccer matches, tennis tournaments, concerts. Places in northern Europe, Costa Rica and experiential ranches are a great place to start.”
A great option for European travel with older children is to find a local tour operator that can help curate daylong itineraries. ToursbyLocals, a company run by parents, provides private yet spontaneous experiences. Should the kids need a break for an unscheduled gelato stop or some additional time to locate the perfect souvenir, the tours are designed specifically for family flexibility in mind.
For the culinarily inclined child and family, luxury properties like Wildflower Farms in the Hudson Valley offer sessions where kids are introduced to local farmers to learn about the local plants and explore on-site greenhouses and learn about the benefits of farm-to-table cooking by working side by side with an in-house chef.