New norms in kid and family hotel programming
Kids and family hotel programming have come a long way, baby.
To meet the ever-changing expectations of parents, hotel and resort operators continue to think up and provide one-of-a-kind ways of connecting kids to unique experiences -- making vacations more experiential, and giving the entire family unit a fulfilling break from ordinary life.
R&R and yoga go together like PB&J, so why should adults have all the fun? Three years back, Marriott introduced, “Yogi Bugs” at a Texas-based property, and the pilot kids’ yoga class was so well-received, it’s now year-round part of their programming line-up on their green turf lawn.
“The resort is where people go on vacation. Our hope is that kids can walk away with an expanded mind and a chance to explore their uncovered talents,” says Mary Jo Ferrazza, director of resort experience for JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.
The resort administrator took a personal interest in the ancient practice, and collaborated with her twin sister, an expert in childhood development, on the Yogi Bugs curriculum.
More recently, this past March, the luxury property expanded its signature attraction, the River Water Bluff experience. In time for Spring Break 2016, the water park’s expanse, part of a $16 million upgrade, was increased from 6 to 9 acres, and boasts a new gradual slope swimming pool with two body slides, one with a dramatic 47-foot drop, before dropping in to surrounding splash pools.
“It’s amazingly thrilling and takes your breath away,” says Ferrazza. “We’re blessed to have one of a kind experiences that keep guests coming back.”
For tweens and teens, the resort offers an agility boot camp, led by a local expert whose career focus was training young high school athletes, as they entered the professional sports arena, says Ferrazza.
“Physical fitness is important to most of our guests. The agility work offers an opportunity to take a moment to experience something new and to be active,” says the hotel administrator.
Having amassed 30 years in event management, Ferrazza manages 75 people on the water park side of her role alone. With often 3000 guests at times, one key to her success is, “Honing in on the dynamics of an event – understanding the sense of arrival, programming and an ending – how people flow through space,” she says.
At the boutique-sized Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa in Vero Beach, Florida, families can customize their stay through an expert concierge and hotel team, says Amanda Aucoin, director of sales and catering for the hotel, which is owned by celebrity couple, Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
“We’re well-versed in all things Vero Beach and can help folks pre-arrival or once they’re here. This may mean providing Beach Cruiser bikes, for rides to the ice cream shop, or ensuring that there are boogie boards in their hotel room upon arrival, to encourage kids to visit our recreation team. We try to tailor every guest experience,” says AuCoin.
While parents enjoy beach cabanas, “Kids can hop on kayaks and paddle out to the shipwreck for snorkeling,” says Aucoin. “Parents don’t have to engage, but can see it happening.”
Poolside, Chef Demo events are popular, too.
“The chef may create a signature ceviche dish with Cuban flair, inspired by our owners, or guest families can try making it themselves,” says Aucoin. After a full pool area renovation last year, “There’s a fire pit near our Beachside Cabana bar and grill area and S’mores station for kids. Following dinner, parents can grab a night cap, while their kids can help themselves to the fully stocked S’mores bar,” she says.
Kids are kept in mind down to the last bite here, says Aucoin. “Our super family-friendly, build-your-own paella menu item is a favorite. Kids can pick what they want in their dish and experience Cuban inspiration,” she says.
At Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, a Vero Beach-based Kimpton Resort, families seek a more laid back approach to downtime.
“We’re a unique property. A lot of people come here straight out of Disney and Universal Studios for the relaxing part of their vacation,” says Duncan Clements, general manager of the seaside destination.
To occupy youngsters, “Our pool deck offers giant bowling games. There are volleyball and surfing, kayaking and boogie board lessons offered on our beach, too,” says Clements.
From spring through October, “Loggerhead and Greenback sea turtles nest on our beach, which is of great interest to families. We offer night-vision goggles if they care to view them as an evening activity,” says Clements.
Partnerships with kayak providers enable families to tour nearby lagoons.
“It’s so much fun to experience the fantastic little islands here. You can get off the kayak and end up for lunch on one. Guests have spotted manatees and dolphins, and other wildlife,” says Clements.
Chocolate and adventure are the lure of Hersheypark, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but as the renowned adventure park’s official and neighboring resort, The Hotel Hershey aims to create memorable experiences for families and activities they can enjoy together, says Crystal Brandt, recreation director for the hotel.
With attractions primarily geared towards those aged 5-12, each day throughout the Summer season, on-site, this age bracket can take part in tie-dying T-shirts, playing on an 18-hole golf course and Hole-In-One contest, Bingo, Hershey’s Character greets, feeding Koi fish, enjoying indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a sports
complex, says the administrator. Coming soon, “Family Olympic Games will start during the afternoons, so families can compete in a fun way,” says Brandt.
Connecting kids to unique experiences is a priority at Grace Bay Club in Turks & Caicos. The all-suite resort features a native style.
Kids Town Clubhouse and Playground equipped with a miniature rock climbing wall, tree house, arts and crafts playhouse and off-site excursions to visit flamingos on North Caicos Island. Such programming is open to kids ages 5- 12.
“We’ve never been about putting kids in an air-conditioned room full of video games, so providing children full access to the island’s unique ecology, culture and wellness amenities like yoga is something we’ve been doing since 2004,” says Morgan Luker, Kids Town manager.
For example, “Crafts are made from natural and recycled materials found here, such as palm bark for our canvases,” says Luker. “Field trips are made to the world’s only Conch Farm to learn about aqua culture and the lifecycle of our native conch.”
A unique marine bio
logy effort brings families by boat out to the ocean to assist experts with tagging and releasing of green and hawksbill turtles, while snorkeling various sites along the way, says Luker.
A Teen X-Treme program is offered to those aged 9 – 15. Besides watersports activities, social events organized include a weekly sunset reggae cruise, and weekly mocktail party, says Luker.
Nighttime family-friendly activities here include telescoping, bon fires and dinner by the sea.
The eco-friendly, island-oriented programming here, “Aims to get kids away from devices by engaging with their surroundings,” says Luker. “We allow them to experience it in new ways, including snorkeling, stand-up paddlebording, and more.”