I recently did something parents dream about; I took a vacation. With my kids.

I travel with my children frequently, and I love it, but I categorize most of these as trips rather than rejuvenating getaways. This time, though, I flew to Mexico, checked into the Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, and didn’t leave until it was time to go back to the airport. It was wonderful. I told my travel writer instincts to take a hike, and instead of scoping out every cool hotel, restaurant, or activity within a one-hour radius, we all just relaxed.

While I was there, I realized that this vacation wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t the result of simply staying in one place. The resort knew exactly what families needed, and they took steps, big and small, to make the property a place where parents could really unwind.

In light of that experience, I made a list of family travel commandments. (Hoteliers, listen up. This is the key to keeping us happy.)

1. Thou Shalt Not Charge Me for Wi-Fi

Seriously, it’s 2014. Every cheap hostel and Main Street coffee shop offers good, free Wi-Fi. When a family arrives at a hotel, don’t tell them it’s $25 per day to access a basic convenience they receive everywhere else.

Wi-Fi is essential to a vacation. It allows parents to stay connected to home (Let’s be honest: none of us can totally disconnect these days), and it lets our kids entertain themselves with their Minecraft and SpongeBob while we make a cup of coffee in the morning. Don’t charge us for this small luxury.

2. Thou Shalt Offer Rooms That Fit My Family

Henley's daughter enjoying the resort's swimming pool (Photograph by Henley Vazquez)

Henley’s daughter enjoying the resort’s swimming pool (Photograph by Henley Vazquez)

Depending on the age of children traveling, families have different room needs. Babies require a place–an anteroom, a living room that closes off, a walk-in closet–where sensitive sleepers can snooze without parents having to tiptoe around them for the rest of the night. Now that my kids are a bit older, I don’t mind sharing a room to save money that’s better spent on margaritas.

At the Rosewood, we booked the cheapest room they have and it was still bigger than a New York City apartment, with a bathtub the size of a swimming pool and two terraces. Most families know how they want to spend their vacation cash. I applaud hotels (Rosewood, Solage Calistoga in Napa, among others) that let families make the choice, rather than making it for them.

3. Thou Shalt Offer a Worthy Kids Club

When parents drop their children at a kids’ club, they’re looking for guilt-free grown-up time. And it doesn’t feel guilt-free when kids are plopped in front of a screen until their eyes glaze over. Mayakoba offered activities that were fun–and culturally relevant. A shaman came and taught the kids a song in Mayan; they made piñatas and broke them; they took nature walks on the beach to look for shells.

This kind of dynamic interaction not only makes the children happier than the umpteenth episode of Dora, but it also encourages them to bond with other kids. And a vacation friend is a fantastic upgrade to any trip. Nothing is sweeter than watching bands of newly-formed pals stopping by each other’s pool chairs to say hello.

4. Thou Shalt Not Charge $30 For a Bagel

Travelers understand that hotel food comes with mysteriously high prices. But don’t tell us that the three bites our kids took from the buffet is going to cost the same as what we ate. Smart brands know that parents, even spendy ones, appreciate value.

During our trip, our youngest ate for free while the older one received a discount. That plus a kids’ menu (with options beyond chicken nuggets, please) make a big difference. No one wants to feel nickel-and-dimed when it comes to their children, even if they’re happy to splash out on a pricey bottle of wine or surf and turf from the adult menu.

5. Thou Shalt Offer Non-Parents A Quiet Corner

I get it: this isn’t an option everywhere, particularly not at boutique hotels. But larger resorts are smart to offer guests who didn’t arrive with tots in tow a quiet pool or beach area where the scene is adults only.

Not only does that protect these unencumbered guests, but it puts families in the kid-friendly area at ease. I’m more relaxed about letting my kids really enjoy themselves if I know the nice couple with the good novels have a place they can go to escape us. Note to parents of cannonballers: that doesn’t excuse you. Tell that kid to chill.

New York-based travel writer Henley Vazquez has lived on three continents, but she’s happiest when she’s hitting the road with her husband and two kids. Follow her story on Twitter @HenleyVQ

Comments

  1. Canadian Expat Mom
    France
    March 26, 5:15 am

    We travel often with our kids and I completely agree with all of these! I found myself nodding as I read. If hotels aren’t charging for cable, they shouldn’t be charging for WIFI, it’s 2014! I can also relate to the need to a place for baby to sleep. Nothing worse than having to sit in a dark room in the middle of the afternoon so your baby can have a nap. Well said! :)

    • Henley Vazquez
      March 26, 1:02 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I’ve shoved pack n’ plays into closets to try to create a nap space before, and I’ve had plenty of bottles of wine sitting on the bathtub post bed-time so we didn’t wake the kids. Finding the right hotel but also the right room is key!

  2. Nicola Hilditch-Short
    April 2, 6:57 am

    Speaking as a 20-something who had a childhood of what I would call “boring travel” I would advise people to avoid the resorts and teach your children what real travel is about, relying on yourself and being independent, I can assure you they will be left with better memories, experiences and knowledge of travelling and the world, and also have that wanderlust which it took a college trip to Paris for me to discover.

    I usually stay in hostels as a backpacker and traveller but recently travelled again with my parents for the first time in many years. I wanted them to come and see NYC, which is way out of their beach resort comfort zone but agreed to saying in a hotel seeing as they were paying! This was the midtown Hilton, so it wasn’t cheap to begin with, but having to pay extra for WIFI??!! I would say in recent years 9/10 hostels I have stayed in have had free WIFI in your room or at least in the common room and usually a free PC. It just tells you all you need to know about value for money when travelling.

    http://www.nichilditch-short.co.uk

  3. Henley Vazquez
    April 3, 3:07 pm

    Nicola, I couldn’t agree more–exposing kids to different cultures and cities and experiences is the best way to raise global citizens. Mine had passports before they had neck control. But sometimes we just need an easy trip, and then there’s nothing more frustrating than that feeling of being nickel-and-dimed for basics that, as you say, are free in youth hostels. Here’s to hoping that the more upmarket brands understand the “luxuries” that backpackers have known are crucial for ages.