Saturday, May 14, 2011

Traveling with kids: hotels vs private rentals

What kind of accommodation is best when you're traveling with kids obviously depends a lot on your own kids, you, where you're going, and your financial situation. Two common options are staying in a hotel, or renting a private home, like an apartment or a house.

My comparison between these two options in this post is largely based on two different family vacations. When we traveled to Maui in 2009 with the kids and a lot more family, we stayed in a privately rented condo in Kaanapali Royal, in Kaanapali. Then, on our recent family vacation in Gran Canaria, we stayed in Sunwing Resort Arguineguin, a hotel/resort specifically designed for families. Two sweet places to stay, but also very different.

View of the hotel and pool at Sunwing Resort in Arguineguin, Gran Canaria.
Advantages of staying in a hotel
  • Lots of amenities -  Especially at a resort-type hotel, there's often a gym, and maybe a spa, shops, and a pool too. There could even be several pools: at our hotel in Gran Canaria there was a kids' pool and a baby pool. There was also a playground and a games room for the kids, plus a lot of activities for children as well. All that can definitely make life easier for you when you're traveling with kids.
  • Lots of services - A wide range of services is often available at a hotel, including room service (though I think this is often ridiculously priced), babysitting service, and laundry service (which is also often ridiculously expensive). Another consideration is that the staff at a hotel can often help out with maps, directions and recommendations of where to eat and what to do.
  • Cleaning - Daily cleaning is often a part of the service at a hotel, and this can be very useful when you're vacationing with kids.
  • Restaurants on the premises - Going to a restaurant with kids can sometimes feel like a big job, but if the restaurant is in the hotel, it's a lot easier. If you're traveling with a baby for example, and your child is getting tired or just restless, at least you know your room isn't too far away.
  • Meals included - An all-inclusive package that covers all your meals (sometimes drinks too) can be a great option if you're traveling with kids and don't want to bother with cooking or hunting for restaurants. Even just having breakfast included (which is what we had in Gran Canaria) can be very nice. Personally, I kind of fear the idea of eating all my meals at the same hotel-restaurant, mainly because I dread getting stuck eating bad or so-so food for my entire stay!
  • Charging the room - This was a fantastic feature on our latest trip to Gran Canaria. At our hotel, it was possible to charge all purchases to the room. This included ice cream and drinks from the poolside bar, meals at the restaurant and groceries purchased at the mini-market on the premises. Paying for all of it in one go when we checked out of the hotel was way more convenient than having to lug around a wallet all the time.

View of the lanai and pool area beyond, at Kaanapali Royal in Maui.
Advantages of private rentals
  • More space - Privately rented apartments and (obviously) houses are usually way more spacious than a hotel room: even a good hotel room. This means more space for kids to roam and play, and less sense of being crowded together. For example, having a separate living room away from the bedrooms make it easier for adults to hang out and watch movies even if the kids are asleep. A separate kitchen with an eating area and big table also makes for nicer meals. 
  • More relaxed - More spacious accommodation makes for a more relaxed stay. If you also have access to some outdoor areas, like a patio or lanai (we had this in Maui), or a yard, this can absolutely help you have a better family vacation. Many kids are creatures of habit and staying in a hotel room might just feel to weird and confining for them. Staying in a rented apartment is not exactly like home, but it's at least a little more home-like. 
  • More independence - Most privately rented places come with a full-range of household appliances, including a TV, DVD/Blu-Ray player, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and a full kitchen. No need to use a laundry service or rely on someone else to wash your dishes or cook your meals. Of course, no one really wants to spend their entire holiday cooking and doing laundry and dishes! However, when you're traveling with kids, having access to all the normal appliances and "comforts of home" can actually help you relax: waiting for someone else to do your laundry is way more stressful than just doing it yourself, or at least I think so.
  • Services and amenities can still be included - Depending on where and what kind of accommodation you rent, you could still have access to a pool, and even a gym or a spa. Kaanapali Royal, where we stayed in Maui, had a pool, barbecues, and a front-desk with staff that could help out with directions and recommendations. Daily cleaning was included there too, so even if you're renting a condo, you don't have to be totally on your own.
  • Less "touristy" - Instead of getting stuck in a tourist-trap hotel, a private rental might mean that you end up in a more "normal" part of town. This can mean cheaper grocery stores, more interesting local people to run into, and more exposure to the actual place you're visiting. (Which is usually a good thing!)
  • Cheaper - If you shop around, there's usually some awesome deals on private rentals.

I'll reveal right away that my own preference is renting privately. This preference  is based on that I think you can get a lot more bang for your buck when it comes to location and amenities if you rent privately rather than stay in a hotel.

However, I will say that hotels, especially if they are specifically designed to cater to families with children, can have some pretty big advantages too. Having access to services like a kids' pool, playgrounds, activities, babysitting, a spa, and restaurants right next to your hotel room can make it possible to enjoy your holiday a lot more if you're traveling with kids.

If you're interested in checking out the private rental option, there are a lot of websites available that do this. I used VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) when we traveled to Maui and I think it's an excellent site. Other options are ResortQuest, Sunny Rentals, and VacationSpot. Some agencies specialize in a certain area, like Westbrook vacation rentals in Arizona.

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