Time is still the ultimate luxury when it comes to travel, and in the case of family holidays, that means making every minute count. But what seems like a golden opportunity for the whole brood to get closer can backfire if not managed well. Families unaccustomed to spending time together can find themselves adrift in unchartered waters when alone on a Maldivian island. And then there are the more obvious risks posed to tranquillity when children grow weary. Or, to quote author Alain de de Botton, “How quickly the advantages of civilisation are wiped out by a tantrum.”
Thankfully, hoteliers are becoming as skilled at planning and managing family time as they are at anticipating the needs of adult guests. As well as immersive, experience-driven kids’ clubs that give parents time and space to reconnect, the best luxury resorts also create cultural and educational activities designed to bring the whole family closer together, promoting communication and collaboration, and forging lasting memories.
In case that all sounds too serious, hospitality companies are also increasingly adept at devising fun, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will challenge kids’ imaginations and blow the socks off their friends back home. Resorts around the world are coming up with innovative ways to entertain, from in-room camping equipment and luxury bathrobes, to prestige electric cars and tailor-made shopping trips.
Travel experts will tell you that kids these days are more intelligent, demanding and curious than they were a generation ago. The proliferation and accessibility of holiday websites and travel planning tools means youngsters play a much more active role in the decision making process when it comes to travel, and older children especially have a greater say in where the family end up for their annual sojourn, with criteria like Instagram potential and schoolyard kudos playing a role.
Youngsters aren’t the only ones demonstrating more demanding behaviour: as the number of trips involving three or even four generations of a family continues to grow, so too does the need for multigenerational travel experiences that bring everyone together and provide entertainment for groups with an age-gap of 60 years or more.
“Travellers of all ages continue to demonstrate a strong appetite for more personalised services and adventures that offer the ‘wow’ factor,” says Simon Casson, president, hotel operations EMEA, Four Seasons. “As the trend towards a more ‘experiential economy’ continues to grow, we anticipate that affluent travellers will seek out fresh ways to enjoy unique experiences together with their families.”
Four Seasons launched its ‘Kids for All Seasons’ programme almost 20 years ago, introducing immersive kids activities to each of its hotels and resorts. The recently launched’ Take Your Time’ campaign takes that a step further, encouraging families to slow down and connect with the world and the people who matter most to them. Cultural and creative activities that require one day, one hour or one minute to complete are being introduced all Four Seasons hotels and resorts, from mindfulness exercises that encourage guests to pause and take stock, to whole-family adventures like truffle hunting in the Tuscan countryside.
Today, wellness and mindfulness are important aspects of a balanced, healthy lifestyle among youngsters as well as grown-ups. Spas have capitalised on the trend with yoga for kids, mindful walks and beach bootcamps, and chefs have created healthy children’s menus and cooking classes that make kids aware of concepts such as provenance and ethical sourcing.
Other grown-up ideas are percolating down to their children. A growing interest in environmental issues and sustainability among younger guests has opened the doors for creative companies to devise activities and tours that shine a light on big picture issues like climate change. Resorts in the Indian Ocean lead kayaking expeditions to teach kids about the threat of plastic waste on the marine environment, for example, and rainforest lodges organise ecologist-led treks to highlight the dangers of deforestation to forest habitats and eco-systems. Think of it like an open-air classroom with howler monkeys and coral reefs instead of bells and flow charts.
By making learning fun and creating goal-based activities for whole families to tackle together, these hoteliers are plugging a gap between education and entertainment, and meeting the needs of discerning kids who demand more from their holiday than ice cream and ping pong. In a world where time is precious, the ability to create unforgettable moments like these is worth its weight in gold.
1. Luxury living in the South of France
Four Seasons Grand-Hotel du Cap Ferrat
There’s five-star fun to be had by all the family at Four Seasons Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, where excursions offer a flavour of Riviera lifestyle. During a trip to the Fragonard perfume factory, kids will learn about the perfume-making process and create their own unique fragrance. Eagle-eyed youngsters can look out for deer and woodpecker in a wildlife park above the charming town of Grasse, or take a morning trip to Nice to pick up supplies for a picnic. Closer to home, aspirational automobile enthusiasts can take a drive around the hotel’s manicured gardens in a mini supercar or vintage convertible, learn to make lemon financiers or ‘pain perdu’ with pastry chef Florent Margaillan, or shake up a mocktail with the bartender.
2. Eco-adventures at Play by COMO Space
You might want to do nothing at all when you arrive at COMO Maalifushi, but for more active families, there’s a raft of options available. The Play by COMO kids’ club offers four daily activities inspired by the Indian Ocean setting for kids from 4-12, including coconut palm weaving, Maldivian drumming or sushi making. A resident marine biologist leads aqua safaris around the coral reef and teaches little ones about the resort’s coral propagation programme during twice-weekly talks.
Surfing specialists from Tropicsurf teach kids how to ride the waves at Turtle Club, and more experienced surfers can tackle 12 different breaks at three nearby atolls on private family excursions. Or, for a unique take on the sunset cruise, kids can jump onto a splash net towed behind the resort’s sleek yacht and look out for dolphins as they sluice through the waters of Thaa Atoll.
3. Bespoke services at Little Gems Kids’ Club
Bvlgari Resort Dubai
Discerning children are given the royal treatment at Bvlgari Resort Dubai’s Little Gems Kids’ Club. An activity passport gifted at check-in opens the doors to a world of adventure, from treasure hunts to their own dedicated kids pool, and their bespoke bracelet is the ticket to complimentary ice cream and juices. Little ones will be able to take home a personalised chef’s jacket after their healthy cooking class, and look out for souvenir seashells while exploring the beach.
There are costume parties to look forward to and toy chests for kids to explore, and the Little Gems team will keep a photo scrapbook of their adventures. In the rooms and suites, mini-bathrobes and slippers are provided for ‘very important children’, and the Bvlgari team can set up an in-room camping experience, or a beach movie under the stars with popcorn and candyfloss.
4. Hunting for treasure in Venice
Belmond Hotel Cipriani Venice
While staying at this magnificent palace just across the water from the Church of San Giorgio, younger guests can visit a local atelier and learn about the history of Venice Carnival, then paint their own masquerade mask with the help of an artist. At the hotel’s Smile Club, kids can learn how to make local bags and necklaces, take a drawing class, discover traditional balloon games, or enjoy a splash in the pool.
After meeting in St. Mark’s Square, families will need to solve the clues, chat to locals and take a gondola ride around the city in order to solve the Hotel Cipriani treasure hunt, then set out for a private picnic on one of Venice’s lesser-known islands. Bellissima.
5. Unforgettable moments
with Family by JW
The flagship brand of the Marriott family has joined forces with some of the world’s leading cultural institutions to create Family by JW, a new programme that encourages families to spend quality time together. Based around the core principles of ‘creativity, activeness and culture’, the programme is being rolled out at all 83 JW Marriott hotels around the world, created specifically with kids from 5-12 in mind. Families can practice morning and evening stretches created by members of the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet, or take part in collaborative cooking classes led by JW Marriott’s chefs, who provide an introduction to nutrition and food provenance.
Created in collaboration with The Guggenheim Museum, activity guides issued at check-in will help children explore art and architecture in each JW destination, with practical exercises that can be completed in the comfort of their suite or while visiting local museums.
6. American Girl Place Fifth Avenue Adventure
The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue
Fashion forward junior guests are in for a treat at The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue, which has partnered with the popular American Girl doll series to create an unforgettable experience. Kids receive a welcome package containing a special travel bed, robe and slippers for their American Girl doll, and a copy of the Local Langham Legends walking map of Fifth Avenue.
After exploring the luxury boutiques of Fifth Avenue the next day, guests are introduced to a personal shopper at the flagship American Girl Place New York and given a $25 gift card to spend in store. Back at the hotel, the pastry team will send up pink popcorn to enjoy with an American Girl movie, before milk and cookies and a good night’s sleep.
7. Sail the seven seas
at Sinbad’s Kids Club
Grown-ups will have a hard time convincing kids of all ages to leave Madinat Jumeirah, where a calendar of activities promises to keep teens and tots occupied throughout their stay. Confident swimmers can learn first aid, in-water rescue and CPR training at the Junior Lifeguard Programme, or work on their sporting prowess at Beach Bootcamp. Younger visitors can start the day with yoga and stretching on the beach, or learn the fundamentals of gardening and plant care in the lush grounds. There are morning camel rides and evening film screenings on the beach, and a chance to learn about the resort’s turtle rehabilitation programmes on Wednesdays and Saturdays. With cooking classes, sand artistry, treasure hunts, beach billiards and ice carving available throughout the week, they won’t want to go home.
8. Join the Ambassadors
of the Environment
The Ritz-Carlton teamed up with oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to create Ambassadors of the Environment: a programme designed to raise awareness of ecological issues among younger guests. In the Cayman Islands, a naturalist teaches families about the underwater world during glass-bottomed boat excursions across the reef, and kids can explore mangrove forests and shipwrecks by kayak or snorkel.
In Santa Barbara and Hawaii, 5-12 year olds can join the CSI (Coastal Scene Investigator) team to help solve the disappearance of Salty the Seal by analysing water data and taking coastal samples to understand the region’s ecology, and in Puerto Rico, 4-16 years olds learn about everything from gardening and cooking to nocturnal animals and stellar constellations through games, talks and eco-adventures.
9. Hide away in the Kids Room
The Dolder Grand Zurich
As travellers increasingly combine business trips with leisure time, there’s every chance you might find yourself in Zurich with the children in tow. If so, head for The Dolder Grand, a magnificent fairy-tale castle overlooking the city, where childcare specialists are on hand to look after little ones. The hotel’s dedicated Kids Room is free of charge during weekends, when 3-12 year olds can enjoy a selection of fun and creative activities.
During the rest of the week, a babysitter is always on call if business beckons, and the Kids Room can be made available for an extra fee. Older kids will appreciate the hotel’s impressive art collection, especially Andy Warhol’s 11-metre Big Retrospective Painting in the lobby, and during the winter, The Dolder Grand’s ice rink brings Christmas magic to this urban resort.