Traveling with children can bring its own challenges, from ensuring that they are safe to providing enough activities that parents don’t hear the dreaded moan “I’m bored”. For members at destination clubs the concierge services are there to take care of everyone’s needs, including the younger members of the family. SherpaReport spoke to several destination clubs to find out what they have to offer families and groups traveling with children.
Lots of “Standard Amenities” for Children
Traveling is always easier with a personalized concierge service, and that's exactly what all the destination clubs provide. For those traveling with children, this level of care is even more important. Arriving at a dark home, late at night, having forgotten to stop at a grocery store on the way is not the best start to a stress-free vacation. But with a destination club, a dedicated member of staff makes sure that the lights are on, cribs are provided, the kitchen is stocked and activities are planned. Every program we spoke to offered these as part of their standard service. Karen Connellan, Marketing Strategist with Destination M, says, “It’s easy to overlook the importance of a welcome basket, a stocked refrigerator, and a playset for the little ones, but these things make a big difference upon arrival.”
According to Marie Raymond, VP of Investor Experience and Expedition Programs at Equity Estates, her goal is to help all vacationers enjoy their time away from home. Before a group’s arrival, staff have worked closely with the client, taking care of grocery lists to suit everyone’s appetites, highchairs, diapers, and so on. Safety gates, strollers, and other baby equipment can all be provided as needed. Daily cleaning service is standard and babysitting can be arranged. In other words, everyone can relax, including mom and grandma. And, as Inspirato reminds members, the provision of strollers and other children’s necessities means less luggage to pack.
Equity Residences Partner Relations Manager Taylor Kudell says that roughly half of all investor and renter stays include children under the age of 8. So staff are experienced in catering for any needs that may arise. Properties have more than one of each item available since they realize that many groups may consist of two families or more. And, because many families travel together, each property has two master bedroom suites and a bunkroom for kids. The concierge ensures that everything is set up for their arrival, with activities and toys waiting for the children. All Equity Residences properties get a further official stamp of approval, when company founder John Long takes his family to each destination, to see if his young daughter likes them.
Kathie Waters with the Solstice Collection encourages traveling with children so that everyone can enjoy time together “and create family memories.” She says her staff take extra steps so that “children know they are not an afterthought.” All arrival packages are carefully customized for all members of the group. This may include a bottle of wine for the parents, a cuddly toy for an infant, or an “I Love NY” t-shirt for a toddler on their first trip to the city.
An important consideration for anyone traveling with children is safety. All companies we spoke to went to great lengths to ensure that your child will be in the best of hands, from having water-safety alarm systems in place to careful vetting of babysitters and other staff.
Equity Estates has a safety turtle system, whereby all youngsters and non-swimmers are issued with a special bracelet upon arrival. If the bracelet gets wet, for example, because a child has fallen into the pool, an in-home alarm is triggered. Other clubs have similar safety systems in place.
Popular Kids Destinations
Popular destinations vary depending on the age of the children, but there are certain locations that feature prominently.
Joey Colby-Begovich, VP of Destination Experience with Inspirato, says that beach destinations are always popular, especially for those with young families. He says, “Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina is an active-family paradise. There’s golf, tennis, kayaking, fishing and lots of trails that kids can go explore.”
Kudell says that some beach resorts are popular with all ages. The Equity Residences properties in the Dominican Republic have a wonderful beach club, Hawaii can offer snorkeling and marine life watching, while Costa Rica has “endless activities for kids” and lots to offer teens (a surf camp, wildlife adventures, and much more).
But non-coastal destinations also hold many attractions. Equity Residence’s Northstar Resort at Lake Tahoe has plenty of hiking trails that can be done by all ages. The resort welcomes lots of families. While the adults spend an evening out, they can relax knowing that their children are being kept busy. Northstar concierge Natalie arranges horse riding lessons, family games nights, pool parties, and more.
For Destination M members, Kelowna is a very popular non-coastal destination. Many of the company’s members are based in Calgary and so Kelowna is easily accessible, making it ideal for quick getaways as well as longer stays. Its lakeside location makes it ideal for families to enjoy a host of outdoor activities. Kayaks and paddleboards are provided, and the private dockside patio is ideal for family cookouts. Arizona is also popular among Destination M members, with the Greater Phoenix area combining excellent weather and a huge variety of local attractions for all ages.
All clubs mentioned the popularity of ski resorts such as Aspen or Telluride, and not just in the winter. While they offer opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in winter, in summer kids can enjoy tubing on a river or exploring an old silver mine. Raymond has even organized special expeditions specifically for families, such as an off-grid camp in Yellowstone where parents and youngsters swap phones and tablets, for smores and storytelling around the campfire.
There are also a few popular destinations that might seem a little surprising for families. One of these is the Napa Valley. Although it is often thought of as purely for adults—after all, this is wine country—the area has much more to offer. Family hiking and cycling trips are especially popular. And on-site activities can be arranged to keep children occupied if the adults do want to attend a wine-tasting.
Once children get a little older, it is often easier to travel further, and so European destinations such as London, Paris, and Florence have much to offer. Again, these cities are packed with attractions to suit everyone, but your concierge can often go one step further, organizing something truly memorable. Perhaps your tween would like a ballet lesson in Florence, a tour of a European soccer stadium, or a VIP Harry Potter tour in London.
Need Something Special?
The previous section mentioned just some of the special activities that can be arranged for your children during their vacation. From chatting with each club, it is clear that the staff are dedicated to making your trip memorable.
Waters has arranged everything from bike tours of Paris to private cooking lessons in Florence. She says, “If there is anything that the children are interested in, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”
Birthday parties are a common special request. Karilyn Gilliam, Inspirato’s Destination Planner for South Carolina, recalls planning a unicorn-themed party for one four-year-old guest:
"I went to work gathering party favors, and table settings as well as a special balloon bouquet featuring a Unicorn the size of a four-year-old and a beautiful Unicorn Birthday Cake specially made by a local baker. I had everything set up in the home for them to see right when they walked in."
For any vacation request, Raymond emphasizes the importance of planning: “We understand that the chance to get away and spend time together is precious. We don’t want our investors to waste their valuable vacation time.”
Kudell echoes that anything is possible when it comes to accommodating requests. Long recalls one group who were traveling with children to Siena, Italy. A special truffle-hunting expedition was arranged, which was followed by a cooking lesson and four-course lunch, using the truffles that the children had found earlier.
Investors with Equity Residences hold a portfolio share for a ten-year period, and this allows children to grow up within the company. Kudell says, “We get to know them—their likes and dislikes—as they grow and so we can help them feel as home away from home.” We've heard similar comments from other clubs, that the staff get to know the travel preferences for all the members, young and not so young, and so can provide and even anticipate the members preferences. For more examples of the services that the concierges provide, read the related articles below.
As a reminder, most of the homes that the destination clubs offer are luxurious, spacious – 4-5 bedroom – vacation residences and are very much designed for family and group travel. So there's plenty of room for everybody.