|Some luxury resorts, including One&Only Palmilla, have special programs designed just for children. // (c) 2011 One&Only Palmilla|
This article originally appeared in Taking the Kids on June 23, 2011
Ready to stretch like a tiger or stand tall like a warrior?
The half-dozen barefoot kids certainly are, as they stand with their legs wide (like a warrior) and arch their backs (like a tiger) in the huge shaded sandbox outside the historic villa that houses the One&Only Palmilla Resort's colorfully decorated kids' club here in Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico.
"A lot of children come here and are already familiar with the yoga poses," observes spa director Kerensa Langitan. "What we are trying to teach them is that spa is not only about indulgence, it is renewal and total relaxation."
Junior yoga is just one piece of the extensive "wellness" program for kids Langitan developed at this ultra deluxe (rooms here can be more than $3,000 a night) resort, which was once a Mexican family's private hacienda, complete with a chapel that's still used today.
There are junior spa treatments (a Wish Upon a Star facial for $40), an entire array of "family sanctuary" treatments in the spa's individual casitas, contests on eating healthy (get points for eating veggies and fruit!), aromatherapy (how do you feel when you smell peppermint?), reflexology complete with special kid-size socks that show you exactly where to apply pressure on toes and feet.
"We love, love, love it here," says Crystal Lourd, a Los Angeles mom of three, who arrives in time to do a few yoga stretches with her crew. She's been here with her family at least a dozen times in the last eight years. "My kids beg to come here," she said.
If you are on a budget and can't spend $19 for a margarita or more than $100 for breakfast for your gang, you shouldn't be here. But if you can afford the freight, you'll love the resort, which sits on one of Cabo's few swimmable beaches, and its attention to detail -- and to the kids -- from the home-baked cookies and toys waiting for the kids in their room, the manicured gardens (some 49 gardeners on staff), the pillows for your feet, as well as your head on the beach lounge chairs, the beautiful Mexican tile work and most important, the always agreeable staff. I love that the kids' club and many of the kids' activities are complimentary -- not often the case at upscale resorts.
"The staff at the kids' club is so special I wish I could take them home with us," said Californian Elizabeth Callager who has been here several times with her family.
The kids' club director even makes a point to be on hand to greet arriving kids. "A very nice touch," said Elise Vickers, who had just arrived from London with her husband and two young daughters. "The rooms are stunning; the pools are stunning, but what really makes this special is the service," she said, as she watched her 2- and 4-year-old play with the resort-supplied pool toys at the zero-entry pool, under the watchful eye of a lifeguard. At the pool, there are kid-size lounge chairs and umbrellas along with a resident iguana sunning himself. Let's not forget the drop-dead view of crashing waves in the Sea of Cortez.
Message to adults vacationing without kids: There is a separate adult pool and families typically stay on one side of the 172-room resort. For those with truly unlimited budgets ($10,000 a night), there is a drop-dead gorgeous four-bedroom villa with its own staff where Jennifer Aniston recently celebrated her birthday. (Think private beach, private pool, private gym and spa facility and private screening room. Perfect, I'm told, for kids' movie night.)
Clearly, well-heeled parents don't want to compromise the way they travel because they "would never leave the kids home," said Leslie Boehm, here from suburban Chicago with her husband, two young sons and her brother-in-law's family. And they shouldn't have to.
"We want to be with the kids but this is our holiday too," said Elise Vickers.
That's exactly why a growing number of ultra deluxe resorts around the world, which once never saw kids or barely tolerated their presence, have changed their tune as more wealthy parents are bringing their kids along. "People want to spend money on a memorable experience vs. stuff before the kids are too old," says Katrina Garnett, founder of www.mylittleswans.com , an online travel-planning site, which caters to upscale families.
The One&Only Ocean Club, less than a mile from Atlantis in the Bahamas and owned by the same parent company, added a kids pool and will take your kids to the waterslides or the teen club while you play golf or hit the spa. Check in to Aspen's Little Nell and kids can take special fly-fishing clinics or go with you on an overnight horse pack trip with someone else to set up the tents, cook for you and, of course, show you the best spot to fish for trout.
Check in to the Plaza Athenee in Paris, with room rates starting at $1,095) and book the connecting Barbie or Hot Wheels room. Think pink rugs, heart-shaped wall art, custom car-shaped beds, even a Hot Wheels racetrack.
At the Winvian in rural Litchfield Hills, Conn., where rates can be several thousand dollars a night for a family, one of the individually designed cottages was built around a real Coast Guard helicopter where kids can eat, sleep and presumably "drive" the copter before heading off on a bike ride (kids' bikes and helmets provided) or on a balloon ride over the bucolic countryside.
Amy O'Shaugnessy, of www.ciaobambino.com notes that even in Florence, hotels like the Villa La Massa -- known to be extraordinarily upscale and romantic -- is now catering to kids with a playground and kids' cooking classes.
In London, spread out at the Taj Suites, 51 Buckingham Gate ($810 a night), and get a special welcome hamper from the iconic Hamleys toy store and a special personal shopping excursion.
Kids can learn Arabic at the Royal Mansour Marrakech, located within the medina walls of the old city, and stay in individual riads and the staff will even arrange camel rides.
The good news for those of us without unlimited resources: Choose your dates wisely and you may be able to vacation like the rich and famous. For example, at Palmilla, the "Summer Retreat" offers room rates this summer with a fourth night free that ends up costing less than $400 a night, plus resort and spa credits -- less than half what you'd pay in winter. (Look for equally good deals at the One&Only Ocean Club). Stay at the Little Nell starting at $340 a night and at The Montage Deer Valley for $345 a night -- 60 percent less than winter. Here kids can either mountain bike or take part in an arts program, along with other activities.
At One&Only Palmilla, I didn't meet one unhappy family over a recent weekend stay -- no kids whining, no parents griping -- and that's unusual whether at a deluxe resort or a bargain motel. One New Jersey mom traveling without her kids to celebrate her 40th birthday initially told me she'd never bring hers to such an upscale place but left talking about a family trip next time.
"They really nail it for families," said Crystal Lourd. "It's expensive but you get what you pay for."
"The key is the kids' happiness," added Elise Vickers, perched on one of the kid-size beach chairs, as she watches her daughters. "If they don't have a good holiday, we won't either."
(Read more about Eileen's trip to Cabo San Lucas in her trip diaries at www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com , where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)