5 Must-Have Hotel Amenities to Look for When Booking Your Family Vacation
Photos: Britt Reints
As a travel writer, editor for a hotel blog and copywriter for an online travel agent, I have read the amenities list for hundreds - if not thousands - of hotels around the world. As a mother of two and frequent traveler, I've learned that a majority of what hoteliers and tourism marketers think of as "amenities" add little to no actual value to my vacation. (Complimentary newspaper? I have an iPhone, thanks.) I've also learned that some perks actually do make a difference, so much so that I'll pick my accomodations based on whether or not they are offered.
1. In-room coffeemaker
What spells disaster for a family fun day? Mom and Dad having to postpone their morning caffeine fix. All I need is one hot cup to get me going, and I don't want to have to schlep down to your "Starbucks in the lobby!" to get it. Pro tip: many upscale hotels have started hiding their coffeemakers in boxes, drawers or closets. Call the front desk if you can't find it. A few hotels I've visited recently have done away with in-room coffeemakers but will deliver complimentary cups to your room if you call and ask.
2. Free breakfast
A free breakfast buffet, even if it's just a few pieces of fruit and boxes of cereal, can save my family of four a couple hundred dollars over the course of a long weekend. Going out for breakfast means ordering a full meal - even though my 7 year old is guaranteed to only eat half of whatever the waitress brings her - whereas eating at the hotel lets us all eat only as much as our appetites dictate. Another money saving bonus: we always grab a couple of pieces of fruit to stash in Mom's purse for mid-morning sacks.
3. Airport shuttle
The money-saving effect of this perk depends on several factors, including the cost and availability of other transportation options and the length of your stay. Spending an extra $30 per night for a week instead of taking two $5 train or bus rides doesn't make sense. Spending $10 per night for a weekend instead of taking two $35 cab rides, however, is just good budgeting. Other factors to consider are convenience - does the shuttle run every half hour in an area where it's hard to flag down a cab? I adore the ease of an airport shuttle, especially when traveling with kids.
4. Free Wi-Fi
The most puzzling paradox of modern travel is the converse relationship between the quality of a hotel and the likelihood of free Internet. You have a good chance of scoring free Wi-Fi from the Super 8, while a 5-star resort is probably going to ding you $19.99 a day for web access. Keep your pillow mints and let me check my email for free.
Now, one could argue that the availability of cheap Internet is plentiful (Starbucks, local libraries, just to name a few alternative sources) and that family vacation's should be web-free anyway. However, my family often mixes leisure with business travel, and it's much easier to quickly check my email on my phone in the hotel room than to plan a special stop at a coffee shop.
5. Indoor pool
When traveling with kids, any free entertainment option is appreciated. My kids always have more energy than I budgeted for, so I love hotels that have pools, game rooms, outdoor chess boards - anything to keep them busy when my feet and my pocketbook just can't take another tourist attraction. Unless you're traveling to a tropical location, an indoor pool is a must because those free entertainment options are most valuable when it rains during your vacation.
These are the amenities that matter most to my family. An on-site fitness center is nice, but not necessary since we can run just about anywhere and my husband has no problem doing push-ups and sit-ups on the floor of a hotel room. Similarly, a concierge is a nice touch, but I can get reviews and recommendations from fellow consumers on Yelp. I do appreciate a hairdryer and iron in my room because it helps me pack light, but I'm not opposed to ponytails and wrinkles in a crunch. A gourmet restaurant on-site and flat-panel monitor in the lobby that tells me the weather? Couldn't care less.
What do you look for when you're booking a hotel for a family vacation?
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