Can anyone afford to stay in Venice? Read a family's review of various accommodations in this fabulous, but pricey town.
Venice is romantic, beguiling, historic and artsy. And often, crowded, touristy and pricey.
Having been able to strike the right balance during three previous visits, including one with my wife Pat, I looked forward to planning our next journey to Venice en famille. But we agonized over one key matter: where to stay and sleep with youngish kids.
Venice hotels can be hellishly expensive. Youth hostels are generally off limits to our young ones and no longer our cup of tea. And based on previous visits, affordable accommodations in Venice rarely offer the typical amenities of family lodging: extra room and beds, economical restaurants, swimming pools, vending machines and bathrooms large enough to fit all body parts.
So, to get a handle on Venice lodging, we spent our six nights with daughter Maddy (then 13) and son Jamie (then 11) at four different spots: two hotels, a flat and a B&B. Thankfully, we were never disappointed. Value, however, is quite another matter.
Westin Europa & Regina
We’ve never heard anyone crow about the low cost of Venice hotels. The talk, instead, is of convenience, history, architecture and culture. With kids, convenience often rules, and there are few more convenient spots than the beautiful Westin Europa & Regina’s regal perch on the Grand Canal, two blocks from the Santa Maria del Giglio vaporetto stop and a very short stroll to St. Mark’s Square.
When Pat and I stepped into our elegant room, we both immediately said, “I’ve seen this movie.” We flung open the windows to a classic Venice view: the Grand Canal, people-packed vaporetti, graceful gondolas, the massive white marble Santa Maria della Salute cathedral across the canal. Our jaws dropped, and then silly grins slid across our faces. We quickly summoned our kids to share the experience — they took a brief peek and settled into the cushy beds for the Cartoon Network.
The hotel’s five 18th- and 19th-century buildings are connected by a cozy bar and a restaurant that dangles over the Canal. The building has aged gracefully, and guest rooms are bursting with modern niceties, such as marble floors, large bathrooms and the really comfy beds that the Starwood chain champions. Maddy and Jamie enjoyed getting lost in the winding hallways and soaking up the luxe and historic vibe.
A Westin kids program is in the works. In the meantime, there’s a children’s menu in the La Cucina restaurant, cribs for tiny tots and a very friendly and helpful concierge with names of local babysitters and family friendly restaurants. We gave the Europa and Regina high marks for comfort, convenience and service – and for wholly welcoming our kids.
The Bottom Line
Westin Europa & Regina (800/325-3589) Family Package 2008 rates start at €380 for a deluxe double, including an additional bed in the room, breakfast buffet and the option of an adjoining room at 50% off. Rates vary widely depending on season and view (Grand Canal views are premium).
Staying in the heart of Venice is lovely and all, but we wanted to get out of the thick of things and hang with the celebs on Giudecca.
From the moment we stepped onto the Hotel Cipriani’s private launch, heading for the not too distant island seen in every photo from St. Mark’s square, our Venice experience was transformed. No crowds, no noise, no tacky trinkets.
The Cip’s staff graciously escorted us to our garden suite on the edge of the stone, saltwater pool. Prosecco awaited us en suite, along with plush furnishings and a plasma TV that magically arose from a trunk at the foot of bed via remote control. Jamie eyes widened: “This room is beast!” He got that right. We stepped onto our private poolside patio, plopped into our reserved chaise lounges and simply breathed in the Cipriani. Life is good.
The Cip is one of those venerable hotels that continually strives to update itself without losing its soul, and it gloriously succeeds, despite the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” media attention. Sedate and classy, the Cipriani likely is best appreciated by rather mature kids. Younger ones are welcomed and catered to, but I’m not sure they would … ahem … “appreciate” the $25 cheeseburger.
The restaurants and drinking holes on site are gorgeous and pricey. There is an exceptional breakfast buffet overlooking the placid lagoon, mercifully included in the outrageous rates. We treated ourselves twice to the lovely and delicious Cip’s Club on the edge of the Canal overlooking St. Mark’s (the adjoining floating restaurant was closed during our stay). We knew the extravagance would be wasted on our kids, so we picked up some inexpensive carryout for them from a little bar down the canal. They watched movies and chowed down while we dined at a leisurely pace.
When we had dinner at Cip’s on Easter Sunday, the staff presented us with a memorable bonus: a “Buona Pasqua” chocolate egg, nearly as big as a football, complete with a small, regal ring inside. The Cipriani’s most alluring characteristic is its setting: apart from but part of Venice, a civilized water passage from the heart of the city across a storied canal aboard a gleaming wooden launch commanded by a uniformed captain. Aaaaah.
The Bottom Line:
The Cipriani (800/237-1236) The hotel, constantly undergoing renovation and modernization, reportedly has many worn, unattractive rooms alongside the beauty we stayed in, so beware of cheap Internet specials. It’s open from mid-March through mid-November, and rates are about 25% less on the front and back end of the high summer season — a consideration since double room rates start at €640, including full American breakfast, service and taxes. Children under 12 stay for free in their parents’ room.
Locanda Ca del Brocchi
OK, now we’re broke.
The seven room Locanda Ca del Brocchi (booked through laterooms.com) brought us down to earth by providing a queen bed, two cots and a small bathroom in a room large enough for … a queen bed, two cots and a small bathroom. Our “Bridal Suite” — the only room that sleeps four (!!) — allowed us to avoid the expense of two rooms. The Locanda (pictured at left) is clean, quiet and a few blocks from the busy Dorsoduro vaporetto stop.
The continental breakfast served each morning is typical European fare: rolls, cheese, simple spreads, croissants, coffee and juice, enough to get kids and adults going. Although the owners speak very little English (to match our Italian), we got on just fine. Although the cheapest of our lodging, similar locandas often offer the least family amenities and space.
The Bottom Line:
Locanda Ca del Brocchi — booked through www.laterooms.com. Rooms can be booked up to a year in advance (despite the name “laterooms”) . Rates for the bridal suite that snugly slept our family of four begin at €155 including breakfast.
Slightly more expensive but loads more utilitarian was our flat called Cicogna, rented through the very helpful VeniceApartments.org. This is what a family needs: a kitchen, washing machine (no dryer; we used the furniture and open windows), family room with sofas and TV, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, conveniently located near the Dorsoduro stop.
It reminded me of my grandmother’s place without the funky smell. No pretensions, no frills, but perfectly respectable, comfortable and convenient. We could have stayed for weeks and been totally contented.
VeniceApartments.org also provides useful insider info about little local stuff — the best place for espresso or cicchetti, location of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade filming, nearby shops and so on.
The Bottom Line:
Cicogna — rented through www.veniceapartments.org, a very detailed website with photos, virtual tours and descriptions for each apartment. Rates for Cicogna start at €182 euros per night, plus a €40 euro cleaning fee. Some units have a minimum stay.
Survey says …?
Based on our experience (and discounting the POSH factor), the best choice for Venice family vacations is small apartment living. When chosen with care, these flats provide loads of amenities, choice of location and the best value. Still, we do miss the Cipriani.
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