For the past decade, millennials have fueled the growth in boutique hotels, forcing the major chains to launch their own “boutique” products such as Hilton’s Curio, Hyatt’s Andaz and Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Yet the definition of a boutique hotel is still in flux – 35 years after pioneer Bill Kimpton opened the Clarion Bedford Hotel in San Francisco with a hosted wine reception; and Ian Schrager asked fashion designers to style Morgans in New York. Today, many small hotels would say their quirky style, social lobby spaces and celebrity chef restaurant make them boutiques. Yet demanding millennial families also expect personalized service and access to local experiences. Here are six boutique hotels whose managers get that and more; they deliver an authentic ambiance and unique amenities for an ideal family getaway with kids.
The venerable Hotel Durant opened in 1928, across from the UC Berkeley campus, and was just rebranded the Graduate Berkeley as part of the Graduate Hotels chain, where each boutique hotel’s taste in humor, nostalgia and collegiate aesthetic clicks with local students, parents and alumni. Sales Manager Gary Kohler says the staff does their homework: “We play the Game of Know here, looking up every guest online before arrival so we can greet them with a meaningful personal note.” Field green walls sport varsity plaques dotted with room numbers; art done by alumni and a movie poster from “The Graduate” complement the retro décor. Compact dorm rooms get extra credit for using custom glass bongs as bed lamps. The Durant encourages environmentally conscious guests to swap daily housekeeping for a bottle of California wine or a basket of locally made treats. Their Cal Parents Club loyalty program provides room and bar discounts and exclusive club promotions. Study hard and you can check into Graduate Hotels (“where smart never goes out of style”) in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oxford, Mississippi; Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia; Madison, Wisconsin; Tempe, Arizona; Athens, Georgia; Nebraska and soon, Durham, Minneapolis, Seattle, Bloomington, and Roosevelt Island.
What began as rooms run by Don Hall’s family outside the award-winning Guesthouse Grill have turned into one of the hippest places to stay in the Midwest. The Guest | House Hotel and Conference Center off Interstate 69 maintains the 1980s motel’s original fixtures, lobby furniture and wall treatments, and the next generation of Halls has refreshed 86 rooms and created 35 themed Boutique Suites, many with partner Sweetwater, a leading online retailer of musical equipment. “We’re trying to create more than a hotel room – people want a real experience,” notes manager Tim Hall, whose Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Fabulous 50s, Hit Factory and other music suites accommodate performers and fans who come to town. Décor includes framed album covers, vintage furnishings (Janis Joplin’s portrait and fringed leather dominate the Diva Suite) and, sometimes, instruments. Kids love the indoor and outdoor pools and the on-site Don Hall’s Bakery, so family loft rooms sell well, especially those inspired by the local botanical gardens and zoo, with a treehouse, bunk beds and day bed. “I asked local artists about designing a room,” Hall adds, “so every guest can have a Fort Wayne experience and buy artwork off the walls.” Families can dine and watch visiting bands from high top tables just outside the Grill’s bar zone. Rooms with breakfast range in price from $89 to $225 per night.
Among the New England beach resorts which are summer family getaways, the traditional Inn by the Sea is a standout. A classic clapboard estate on the dunes 7 miles from Portland, Maine; it’s known for its mile of private beach (approached by a secluded nature trail), LEED certified environmental initiatives, spa, heated pool, award-winning wine cellar and fine regional cuisine. For families, the appeal is a luxurious and authentic Maine experience where they can take kids out on a real lobster boat, join guided tours of local food purveyors or microbreweries, garden, kayak or canoe with Audubon guides and watch wildlife in the Audubon sanctuary. On property, notes Rauni Kew, the Inn’s PR & Green Program Manager, “Head Gardener Derrick Daly teaches Bug’s Life classes in which children create bug costumes and learn about local eco systems, predator and prey, from a bug’s vantage point.” She adds, “They view the butterfly gardens, visit bird nests, pick blueberries or hunt down monarch larvae on milkweed plants; plus learn about the rabitat and the Inn’s effort to help the New England Cottontail bunnies struggling to survive in Maine.” To accommodate the many multigenerational guests, construction has just been completed on 12 two-bedroom luxury suites. The Inn’s notion of family is also forward-thinking; it’s so pet-welcoming that dog massage is available and 83 families have adopted the foster dogs that the inn cares for.
When this classic 1960s Waikiki hotel was reborn as the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in 2016, the mosaic pool became an Instagram star thanks to the “Wish You Were Here” inscription seen from upper floor guest room lanais. Surfjack’s winning combination of warm Aloha spirit, rattan and denim design and vintage Hawaiian kitsch make it great fun for families who don’t need supervised activities. And while not slavishly devoted to children’s needs, the staff is genuinely friendly and helpful, offering fresh baked cookies at check-in, fat tire bikes, a cozy lobby nook with board games, free poolside cabanas or chairs for Waikiki’s nearby beach, and smart guidance on shopping and special events for all ages. General manager Lynette Eastman notes, “The property’s Director of Experience curates monthly happenings [such as] our Aloha Friday workshops, and surf lessons with special pricing for children.” Another family perk is the lobby level field-to-fork Mahina & Suns (also available with 24-hour room service) from Honolulu celebrity chef Ed Kenney. They run scheduled tours for guests to visit their source farms in the Oahu countryside. More than half of Surfjack’s 112 beach-casual rooms are configured as one- to three-bedroom suites that appeal to multigenerational groups and larger families. “Most of the hotel reviews note Surfjack’s outstanding service,” adds Eastman, “and it’s fairly common that families who are checking out can be found hugging the staff.”
“We see that today’s parents are willing to pay a premium if they get quality,” notes Chitra Stern, co-owner with her husband of the young Martinhal brand. Their four family-friendly luxury resorts in Portugal are all about service, with a baby concierge who reaches out with whatever amenities, organic toiletries and snacks guests need. The unique Martinhal Chiado Family Suites in Lisbon’s hippest downtown district is the first city hotel in the Kinder Europa Hotels portfolio. Each of the 37 homey apartments has a washer dryer, different size potties and a step stool to make parenting easier. Kitchens are stocked with complimentary breakfast supplies; only refills are billed. “We listen to what our guests say, whether it’s among our 135,000 Facebook fans, or on TripAdvisor or Instagram,” Stern adds, “so we can adapt every day.” In addition to a café with play area, Martinhal Chiado has a supervised camp for ages 6 months and older. “Lisbon is a great nightlife city,” Stern adds, “but you can only enjoy it if you know the kids are in good hands.”
Werner Bilgram is managing director of Family Select Hotels, whose strict standards and inspections certify family-friendly luxury hotel members. “As a Family Select Hotel,” he says, “you must offer everything, so that parents have a choice to do what they want at any time.” Brand standards include connecting rooms, expert swim lessons at pools, and family rates at all properties; smiley faces are used to rate children’s facilities and services. Bilgram adds, “Kids animation, activity, and entertainment programs are hyper important so that our guests have the feeling their kids are in good hands.” The Hotels Löwe & Bär in Serfaus, Austria are an example of just how far sophisticated Family Select Hotels go to please young clients. At these four-star mountain resorts known for traditional European spas, children have a menu of a dozen wellness treatments, including a Goat Butter Cream Pack designed to soothe skin allergies. “Both the spa and swimming pools are very important to families, and they want to see that the facilities are adapted to kids use,” notes Bilgram. At Hotels Löwe & Bär, families find indoor waterparks and outdoor heated pools, a sand beach, softplay rooms for toddlers, snowplay slopes, a climbing wall and myriad playgrounds. Websites boast of child safety locks, petite bathrobes, computerized sound monitors, childcare, kid-height toilets and washbasins, afternoon snacks, and a supervised kids’ dining table so parents can have a romantic meal. Guests can use mountain buggies, back carriers and a baby seesaw at no charge during their stay. Alongside Serfaus, the Tyrol resorts of Fiss and Ladis invested in infrastructure for families and, between them, offer three amusement parks, car-free zones, a summer attractions pass and an underground railway for quick movement. The Hotels Löwe & Bär Family Classic Package in summer covers room, meals and activities for two adults and one child, for seven nights, and begins at Euros 1990 (approximately US$2,200.)
Bilgram, who has seen many trends come and go, says today’s families are more interested in healthier food, connecting rooms so that kids have privacy, and city sightseeing, at any price.
“People will pay because they get what they want,” he concludes.
“Families are very demanding.”
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