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
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.