You name the hotel mom-travel-hack and I’ve tried it: kept milk cold in an ice bucket, hid in the bathroom until my child went to sleep, fit string cheese packs around tiny bottles of vodka in the mini-bar fridge, and many more. With each new hack I learned what questions to ask before I booked a room.
Here are my top five questions that I think all parents should ask.
One of my biggest hotel disappointments was springing for a room in an all-suites hotel only to discover that the suites were “studios” with open-room plans. The whole point of the suite was to have a separate living area where we could keep a light on (maybe even the TV!) after our toddler went to bed at 7:30.
Hotels are gradually offering better “family rooms” with sleeping alcoves for kids (Kimpton) or living and sleeping areas separated by a partial wall (Hyatt Place) or the bathroom. And some hotels offer real two-room suites. We’ve made all of these schemes work for us, but some work better than others for different families.
If you are paying for more than a standard room, it pays to call the hotel and query your room layout. This way you know exactly what you’re paying for and can ask for alternatives or find a different hotel if the room isn’t what you expected.
I don’t need to explain to any parent why a small fridge in a hotel room is invaluable. You can keep bedtime milk on hand and stash healthy items like yogurt and fruit for snacks.
Sometimes hotels that I assume will have mini-fridges don’t have them. Sometimes they have them but they’re full of little bottles of vodka with no room for my string cheese. Sometimes a hotel will provide a complimentary empty fridge. Sometimes they want to charge you $20 a day for a refrigerator that will store $3 worth of milk.
If it matters to you as much as it did to me when my toddler couldn’t function without morning milk, ask ahead. If they don’t have what you need, book elsewhere and tell they why you’re doing so.
Many hotels claim to have a closet full of car seats, high chairs, toys and other kid essentials so you don’t need to bring yours. Some hotels that claim to have these items actually do, which is really convenient. But some front desk people give you a vague, quizzical look when you show up and ask for these essential items.
If you need a crib or a rollaway bed, call to reserve one. Those notes in your online reservation don’t always make it to the front desk and I’ve had hotels run out of them during school breaks. While you’re on the phone ask if the hotel charges for these items and if they can waive the fee. We were once asked to pay $15 a day for the opportunity to squeeze a rollaway bed into a tiny room. We got that fee waived, but in other places we’ve paid $5 or $10 a day for a crib or extra bed.
If you are really counting on a hotel’s high chair or car seat, call ahead to confirm they have those items and to see if you can reserve them.
Increasingly I’ve been encountering hotel rooms with only shower stalls but no tubs. I’ve come across this in Loews, Kimptons and Wyndhams, as well as some boutique hotels.
With older kids a shower is fine. But most young kids hate showers. If you want to avoid the bath-time meltdown, specify that you want a room with a tub; most hotels have at least a few.
You’d be surprised how often the front desk staff doesn’t know where the closest supermarket, drug store, or playground is. And often a city’s prime tourist area is short on practical amenities like these. I’ve learned to type prospective hotels into Google Maps and use the “nearby” feature to check for supermarkets, parks and pharmacies. If the neighborhood seems devoid of practical amenities I move on to a different one.
What are some of your best hotel tips for families?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
Eileen is a journalist whose work has appeared in the HuffPost, U.S. News, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Parents.com and many other publications. She has traveled on five continents, three of them with her daughter. She calls New York City home. You can read Eileen's blog at Familiesgotravel.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
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