Suite Success: Family Travelers Need Buffer Zones

hotel room

The best accessory I ever had on a family vacation was a door. Not just any door, but the one separating my childrens’ hotel room from my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. But the last time we all stayed in one room there were traffic jams to the bathroom and nightly games of musical beds. We had to negotiate an Olympic-caliber obstacle course consisting of two double beds, one cot, two children, a half-dozen assorted suitcases, innumerable room-service trays, and approximately 5.2 stuffed animals per child. My heart goes out to housekeeping: we practically had to bushwhack our way to the bathroom.

And absolutely nobody slept.

Some families may have mastered the art of communal living, but my gang is not among them. We are a family that needs the buffer zone, if not for sleep, then to recharge for the next day.

Separate-but-Equal Options

Until recently, options for separate-but-equal vacations were limited. Connecting rooms would fit the bill, but the cost of getting two accommodations is twice the price, except during low seasons, when some hotels offer “buy one room, get the second half off” deals.

Happily, some hotels are now offering families multi-room setups without bankrupting them.

Family Suites

One of the most promising options is the new line of Holiday Inn Family Suites. The inaugural — and only — one (more are planned) is in Orlando (phone: 407/387-KIDS). The hotel has 800 suites, all of which have kitchenettes as well as separate sleeping areas for parents and children.

“That seems to be the thing families want most,” says Brian Shanle, general manager of the hotel. The pool has tons of water toys, and there are enough playthings in the rooms (Nintendo 64, a game table) to entertain the average kid on a rainy day. The 400 designated “family suites” have bunk beds and TVs in all rooms. The suites have high-speed Internet access for in-room surfing.

Rates, which include breakfast for all (kids eat free the other two meals), depending on the season and are slightly higher at Easter and Christmas.

All Suite Hotels

Don’t write off all-suite hotel chains just because they seem to cater to a more corporate clientele. Sure, their decor may be less playful than the Holiday Inn’s, but they’re crisp and clean — and you still get that all-important door.

Wyndham’s line of Summerfield Suites offers spacious one- and two-bedroom accommodations at reasonable rates. The price you’ll pay may reflect your location. For example, the Los Angeles area Summerfield (phone: 310/725-0100) is actually located near the airport, about midpoint between many of the area’s famous landmarks. But the central location makes the hotel a nice home base. And since Los Angeles is so spread out, you’ll have to drive to most attractions anyway. The hotel will stock your fridge before you get there (you’ll have to pay for the groceries) and will provide free breakfast every day.

Before You Book

Before booking your family into any dwelling, take note:

“Adjoining” and “connecting” are not one and the same. In hotel speak, adjoining refers to rooms next to each other; connecting rooms have an actual door between them. If you book connecting rooms, ensure you can guarantee them; the reservations agents at many lodgings (such as Disney hotels) will only put in a “request.” You may discover on check-in that the request cannot be met.

Be flexible. Corporate hotels (such as the Summerfield Suites) are often discounted on weekends, making Fridays and Saturdays a good time to visit.

Know that two rooms won’t wreck your budget. Two rooms in a budget property often cost less than one in an ultra-deluxe hotel. True, you won’t get all the luxury; but those shiny perks will lose their luster if you’re looking at them through sleep-deprived eyes.

The price difference between a one-bedroom (where mom and dad share the sofa bed in the living room while the kids lavish in the master bedroom) and a two-bedroom (where everyone gets a real bed) is often less than you might think. For instance, during one weekend at Summerfield, the difference was a mere $20.

Don’t be sheepish about asking questions. A number of chains have begun incorporating family suites into their hotels, and such accommodations are often significantly cheaper than traditional luxury suites. But specify your requirements: some so-called suites have only a partition (versus a full wall) between sleeping areas; others may be no more than an L-shaped room. You won’t know unless you ask.

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