I’m looking out of the window at a grey Autumn day and nursing a cold I probably caught after helping out on a school trip in the pouring rain earlier this week. So to cheer myself up and banish the ‘it’ll-soon-be-winter’ blues, I’ve been thinking about holidays – specifically the ones we’ve taken since my son was born in the spring of 2005.
I have a list of the hotels we have stayed in with him over the last seven years, and he’s certainly a well-travelled little boy as we have reached a total so far of 17 hotels in the UK and abroad. Some have been holidays, of course, while some have been hotels we stayed in while visiting family or going to a wedding… and there was also one night in a local motel after our household carbon monoxide alarms went off one cold Saturday in December, the gas men shut the supply off until it could be checked out the next day and we decided to spend the night somewhere warm!
So, in no particular order (well, I do save the best till last), here are the five best hotels we’ve stayed in with our son, ones I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone travelling with children (or without!). Please note we have paid to stay at all these hotels as regular guests (no freebies!).
New Hall Hotel Sutton Coldfield
When my son was four, he was obsessed with Thomas The Tank Engine, and thanks to the numerous ads on kids TV, knew there was something called Thomas Land at the Drayton Manor adventure park. Trying to make the trip a teeny bit more appealing for me, I found this hotel a short drive from Drayton Manor, and from the moment we drove up the winding drive to the front of the 800 year old hotel we knew we had found something special. A new wing has been built in keeping with the older buildings, and it is stunning. While the hotel restaurant looks very grown up, they were happy to cater for a picky infant, and the breakfast kept me going even when a certain son had a mega-meltdown in the middle of Thomas Land’s soft play centre.
The Oakley Court Windsor
Wanting a place to stay close to Windsor (this is five minutes by car to the town centre) so we could visit the castle and – grudgingly on my part – get to Legoland as it opened the next day, I booked us into this beautiful country house set in pretty gardens by the Thames. When we got there and saw film posters on a hallway wall, we discovered before it was a hotel it had been the location for some Hammer Horror movies (it’s just down the road from Bray Studios) and was Frank-N-Furter’s home in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a surprise treat for a film critic like me! The rooms are lovely, many with views of the river, and if I wasn’t already married I’d want to have my wedding here as it’s so picturesque. The staff were helpful, and it really is extremely handy for Windsor, Ascot and Legoland, too.
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Orlando
This Easter we went to Orlando, to visit the Disney theme parks and Kennedy Space Center (and, if I was lucky, maybe make a side trip to a shopping mall). I didn’t want to stay in an official Disney themed hotel – they’re expensive, huge, and often the extra ‘magic hours’ in the parks you are given as guests are late at night which isn’t much of a bonus when you have a seven-year-old in tow. Plus, I didn’t like the idea of waking up in the middle of the night to have a Mickey Mouse lampshade staring down at me. So we went for the Hyatt, as it looked like a pretty resort with lots to do (pools, gardens, pitch and putt) on the days we felt like a rest from the parks. After I booked, I looked on a certain well-known holiday review website and began to worry as quite a few reviews complained about rude staff, loud building work and a long walk from the hotel car park to your room. Well, the car park walk was about five minutes through landscaped grounds, I didn’t hear any construction, and the staff were some of the nicest I’ve ever encountered (especially a waiter in the bistro who refused to bill us for a burger my son only had a few bites of, and the lovely server Marcela who sent milk and cookies to our room one day just because she liked our son!) It’s a beautiful place to stay, and a serene oasis away from the madness that is Disneyworld!
The Lucerne Hotel New York
Because I have family in New Jersey, my son has been lucky enough to visit New York (where he says he will one day live) a few times. He’d tell you his favourite hotel is the Milburn on 76th Street (http://www.milburnhotel.com), a great budget hotel where all the studios (how they describe rooms) and suites have little kitchenettes with microwaves, fridges, sinks and dinnerware, but I like The Lucerne a tiny bit more. It’s a bit grander, has more character, and when we stayed there when my son was little, the lovely doormen would always carry his pushchair up the few stairs to the main entrance. While the rooms don’t have kitchenettes, all the suites do, handy when you need food to hand with little ones around. Both The Lucerne and the Milburn are a stone’s throw away from the Fairway supermarket too, and the 72nd Street subway station. And while many travel brochures suggest the ‘family’ hotels around Times Square (why would you want to stay near the busiest, loudest bit of the city with kids?), both of these are on the lovely, residential Upper West Side, five minutes walk from Central Park and surrounded by great family-friendly restaurants.
AND THE ONE THAT’S SIMPLY THE BEST…
Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
The British press mainly concentrate of the Atlantis’s newer sibling in Dubai, but this original is just as great. If you think big, brash, Las Vegas-style resorts are tacky, you probably won’t like it, but if you’re looking for a beach holiday with loads to do, stunning scenery, friendly staff and an extra something special, this is the place. Less than an hour’s flight from Miami so you can combine it with a mainland US visit, Atlantis is my son’s number one choice, too. It may be because there’s a water park on site, or because there is a glass tunnel called Predator Lagoon through the massive hotel aquarium so you can see fish and shark swimming around you. It could be because of The Dig, an impressive marine exhibit where you can touch some of the aquatic residents (we had to walk through it every evening just so he could marvel at the different fish), or for the choice of family-friendly restaurants around the resort. Maybe his favourite thing is the pool that has a playground and slides in the middle of it and a massive bucket that dumps down water from on high onto the swimmers, or the beach where you can look at the endless ocean. I think, however, it’s probably Dolphin Cay where he and I got to meet and touch a dolphin named Malachi and meet the dolphins the Atlantis housed after they were rescued from Hurricane Katrina. An amazing place that we love so much we’re hoping to go again next year!