This blog is sponsored by the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. Call 6450 4827 to book a Family Staycation.
Between booking flights, applying for leave from work and researching sights to see on a tight schedule, planning a family vacation can seem like more trouble than its worth. But perhaps the most headache-inducing task of all is finding the right kind of accommodation for you and your brood – poorly selected lodging can spell the difference between a dream vacation and a holiday from hell.
First and foremost there is the matter of cost. If money is a concern, you’re already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to planning your trip. But tempting as it may be to cut some corners by picking cheaper accommodations,
Hiddenchina.net founder and outdoor adventure guru Christoph Mueller says a little splurging can actually help make things go much smoother in the end. “Don’t be cheap. Get a nice room,” Mueller advises his fellow travelling dads. “When you’re tired after your trip, and you have a few kids that want to run around and play, it’s good to have a room that’s not too small.”
To save time and hassle when looking for a hotel, Mueller also recommends booking family holidays via CTrip’s English site (english.ctrip.com) for its wide selection and ease of use. He also appreciates Ctrip’s bilingual hotline and flexible cancellation policies.
Booking.com is another good platform for family holiday planning. Colin Friedman, CEO and founder of FCGroup, says he likes the fact that users of this US-based site can pay at checkout rather than shell out for booking fees in advance.
Poh Soon Guan, a Singaporean born, Beijing-based father of two, is also a fan of the site, and he adds that hotel.com is an equally valuable accommodations resource because it has a slick App that is very mobile friendly.
If you’re planning a family holiday to Europe, Patrick De Smet, owner of The Tree and founder of Monkey Business Tours, recommends www.lastminute.com. “It’s great to use when you [want to]travel through Europe by car. You can plan the next stop one to two days in advance,” says the Belgian national, adding how loves the fact that you can find last minute deals on the site. “In Andorra I had a four bedroom in a bit of an older four-star hotel for €60 a night. Parking was €18 a night. We slept cheaper per person than [cost of renting]the car!”
Airbnb is yet another popular option – there are indeed good deals to be found on the lodging sharing platform – but since the accommodations offered are all privately-owned and the landlord is usually offsite, you’re often on your own when it comes to food, dealing with shaky WiFi connections and day-to-day tidying up – things that you take for granted in a hotel. For families already dealing with looking after their tired and hungry kids, this kind of arrangement may not always be ideal.
Using apps and websites can certainly make things easier, but the hassles don’t just end there. For one, you have to be very careful to read the fine print when it comes to booking policies. “I prefer hotels with no cancelation fees if there is a change in plans, because when you travel with kids they can easily come down with the flu or a last minute illness,” says Poh, who adds that you should avoid hotels that demand guests book with a debit card in advance, especially here in China. “Fraud is quite common here … so releasing debit card information can make you prone to unnecessary risk … it’s far better to make a reservation with your credit card and then paying at check out.”
De Smet says an equally crucial consideration for family hotel booking is the amenities. “All my kids care about is whether or not the hotel has WiFi,” he says with a laugh, adding how finding a hotel within walking distance of a convenience store is also a must.
Friedman, meanwhile, says fathers should check with the hotel to see if it has features that are suitable for your kids’ age range (i.e. kid-friendly meals, entertainment options for rainy days, a kid’s swimming pool etc.). He also stresses that the hotel should have a few father-friendly features as well, especially “a good bar.”
It’s also important to consider your family’s sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Morgan O’Hara, Managing Partner at The Hutong, suggests parents call the hotel in advance and check if they charge for an extra cot for a child to sleep in – having ample bed space (and quality sleep) for parents and the kids can make all the difference in how your trip goes overall.
In addition to considering how they will sleep, the O’Haras also recommend staying at family-style resorts, which are common in Southeast Asia, because most of them have kid-friendly activities and plenty of other children for his daughter to play with. “It’s great to tour around when you’re in a new city, but your kid probably won’t want to be at a museum – they’d rather be at a pool splashing with other kids. So resorts can be a great way to help a family relax,” says O’Hara. Getting a good idea of where, what and how you and your family will eat is another must.
Crystal Wang, Marketing Manager at the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport, adds that when selecting a family friendly hotel, it’s also important to find out if there are baby sitting services, a play area, kid-sized bathrobes and beds, and also recommends asking if there is a kids menu in the hotel’s restaurants.
On this point Maiker Valdivia would most certainly agree. The Head Chef at Puerta 20 always checks the dining options in and around the hotel in advance to make sure his family eats well throughout the trip. “Sometimes we’ll get dinner in the hotel or nearby, so before booking I take time to check which kind of restaurant is in the hotel and how easy it is to find information about their chef, which I think is very important.”
Lastly, all of the fathers we spoke with warned about the hurdles involved in getting from the airport to the hotel. To avoid hassle, De Smet prefers hotels that offer airport pickup, while Friedman says a good alternative is renting a car. But no matter how you choose to get around, Poh says parents should be prepared for traffic jams and long commutes to the hotel, which can be tough after a long flight. He suggests keeping a coloring book on hand for kids, “so that they can doodle and even write they see on the trip, to keep them occupied … snacks help too.”
“Getting around with children is difficult, they never like having a long time in a bus, taxi or subway,” adds Validivia. “For us, 20 minutes is the perfect amount of time for such commutes, so if we need go a little far from the hotel we try to take a break from the commute every 20 minutes.”
A particularly harrowing ride from the airport to their hotel in Hanoi compelled the O’Hara family to always hire a private car going forward. “We got in a regular taxi to save some money, but the driver was shady and took this really long weird route,” Morgan recalls. “He didn’t seem to know the city that well, and then he tried to charge us extra when we arrived.”
Exhausted and exasperated, the O’Haras ended up not paying after a lot arguing back and forth with the driver. “When you have a kid with you this [kind of situation]is something you want to avoid – it’s better to bite the bullet and have the hotel hire you a private car going forward.”
Family vacations to far-flung places can be wonderful, but when you consider the money and energy you have to spend on transportation, food and sightseeing (and the hassle of finding the right hotel on top of that), it sometimes makes more sense to simply stay put in Beijing while enjoying all of the creature comforts of a five-star hotel stay. “The challenges of traveling with a little one make a staycation more appealing,” says Morgan O’Hara.
The next time you need a break and want a relaxing family getaway, save yourself the hassle of planning an elaborate and exhausting trip and book a Staycation at the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport, where you can enjoy the luxurious rooms, fantastic fitness center and pool, fine dining, kids’ play area and regular themed activities and events. Call 6450 4827 (weekdays) and 156 1197 9131 (weekends) for reservations and more information.
Photos courtesy of the families