Let’s face it. Travelling as a family of five or more in an accommodation world built for four can be challenging. I know this all too well.
When my kids were small, it was possible—though never preferable—to cajole the wee three into one bed. Now that the oldest tops me in height, not so much.
Over the years, we’ve gotten creative (renting RVs to road trip) and lucked out (finding family rooms in a hotel chain in Scotland.) But what else? I went looking for options to have everyone under the same roof.
“One of my favourite things are vacation homes,” says Blair Jerrett, senior director of marketing at Maritime Travel.
“Vacation homes, townhomes, condos, anything self-catering can offer great cost savings,” he says. “You’re not dependent on restaurants for every meal. You’re also controlling the quality of the food.”
Vacation homes offer great value, especially if you score affordable direct non-stop flights, and come with cool amenities, often including your own private pool.
“Vacation homes in Orlando are popular, and we’re getting more requests for larger homes that can accommodate up to 16 people,” says Mr Jerrett, whose company does a tremendous amount of group travel from multi-generational families to weddings, family reunions to sports teams.
I know the appeal. We rented a three-bedroom premium vacation home in Kissimmee and were wowed when it came with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a swimming pool, hot tub and a pool table in the garage.
Mr Jerrett says townhomes can be a good option too. They’re two levels, great for parents, and while they don’t tend to come with a private pool, they are set up like a resort and offer communal amenities like pools and movie theatre, making it a good option especially for kids who like to socialize.
Room at the resort
Looking for a sunny Caribbean getaway? Mr Jerrett advises asking travel agents about family recommended resorts they like and why. Many resorts can accommodate five or more, and a good counsellor will be able to find one that meets your needs.
It’s helpful to be specific about the type of family programming you want and choose a place according to the ages of your children and their needs, be it baby friendly or teen clubs.
The good news is that offerings for larger families are on the upswing. “There are more emerging than there were five years ago,” he says.
Cruise and tour
Cruise ships can be a good choice too and they have upped their game, including some with family suites and excellent kids programming.
“Royal Caribbean is really great in terms of being family-friendly and trained professionals,” he says, “and Disney Cruise Line would be great for that. That’s what they’re designed for, the family vacation.” More and more, it seems businesses are getting in the family game.
“More options are emerging for family travel that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he says, noting that companies like Trafalgar and Globus are offering more tour options for families, and even river cruising is starting to add some family options. Mr Jerrett says it’s worth looking around as there are often promotions in the market that pop up from time to time that can help with the cost such as kids stay and eat free or kids fly free. “Counsellors are aware. Find a counsellor that’s knowledgeable in booking families.”
Paris can be a great getaway for families, and while it can be pricey, don’t rule out a city stay. There are options. One that I’m looking forward to trying is an apartment-style hotel, Villa Daubenton in the Latin Quarter, one of the more popular neighbourhoods in the City of Light. It offers 17 big apartments, all equipped with a kitchen so that guests can cook their own meals, in three styles: a studio for two people, an apartment for four, and the biggest, a 75 square metre apartment that accommodates six people.
Particularly appealing to me is the fact Villa Daubenton offers the best of both worlds—a staffed hotel reception and the autonomy of staying in an apartment, complete with included Netflix! Another perk is that it’s part of the Happy Culture hotel family, meaning guests can stop into other Happy Culture locations across the city to charge a device, grab an umbrella or refuel with coffee.
Then there’s the staff’s friendly, can-do attitude.
“Here at the Villa Daubenton we believe that it is extremely important that the guests can feel like at home and enjoy a pleasant and unforgettable stay in Paris,” they tell me. The whole team is here to help to ensure a wonderful and perfect stay, they say.
Tipis, tents and lodges
Another good option, one we’ve returned to time and time again, is a Parks Canada vacation. Why? Their roster of accommodations are priced right, easily fit larger families, showcase culture and nature, and are just plain fun.
We’ve snoozed in period accommodations at Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Site, bringing to life 1744 New France on Cape Breton Island, and have stretched out in their signature oTENTiks, the popular part-tent, part-cabin style accommodations numbering about 400 across Canada.
“We also offer unique accommodations such as tipis or lodges that can be part of an incredible experience for your family,” says Ed Jager, Director Visitor Experience at Parks Canada.
In addition to oTENTiks, and 15 yurts found in Bruce Peninsula and Fundy National Park, some nifty roofed Parks accommodations include the Métis Trapper Tents, Tipis and Trapline Cabins at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site in Alberta, where the camping fee ($58.50 for tipi and tents and $120 for cabins) includes a kit with items like bison hide, period cooking kit, bannock mix and trapper’s tea, helping immerse guests in the fur trade lifestyle, while sleeping up to five in the tents, eight in the tipis and six in the cabins.
In Saskatchewan, families can bed down in a Sioux tipi to experience a night on the prairies at Grasslands National Park. The tipis, at $45 per night, sleep five people with cots and up to eight with sleeping mats. While in Quebec, at La Mauricie National Park, it’s possible to bunk in at Le Chalet Wabenaki and La Maison Andrew, which used to be part of the Laurentian Club, the prestigious hunting and fishing club once frequented by rich Americans, including the Kennedys.
PEI cottage stay
When families return to a place year after year, you know something good is going on, and that something is the ease of a Prince Edward Island cottage vacation. On PEI, cottages come in all sizes, so yes, you can take a big family and the grandparents too. I have! The economical value of renting a cottage for a week or two warms my heart. Most cottages have full kitchens so a stop at a grocery store, farmer’s market or seafood shop easily makes a BBQ or lobster boil happen right at your cottage picnic table. But that’s only the start. Unpack once and watch the kids happily ping-pong around the property, many in former farm fields and many overlooking the sea, a brilliant tonic come evening as you watch the sun sink over the island’s red shores while the kids make one last run to the pool or to an evening bonfire.
PEI Tourism offers a terrific accommodation search engine that allows you to key in specifics in your search for the perfect cottage.
Canada’s largest hotel, the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, knows a thing or two about family fun. (“Best hotel ever,” my youngest proclaimed minutes after entering the centrally located hotel—a short stroll from Yonge and Dundas Square and the Eaton Centre—after being high-fived by Spiderman and chatted up by a robot.) Their Family Fun Suites are roomy with two bedrooms, one with queen bed and the other with a twin and double Murphy bed. There’s also a queen pullout couch, a full kitchen and a Kid’s Corner with XBOX and DVD player.
Writes one guest: “We chose this hotel for three reasons: 1. Location 2. It accommodated our family with our three sons in one room, which was uncommon in the city of Toronto. 3. It appeared to have an outstanding pool area, with a water slide, which appealed greatly to our boys. Their family suite is a reasonable option for those with more than two children.” Indeed. Plus the hotel has kid cred—with its own food truck and a Family Fun Zone with perhaps the coolest feature of all, the ‘corkscrew’ water slide.
A Scottish fling
The U.K. is not exactly known for its family-friendly accommodations, but a tip from a colleague led me to the Premier Inn, which helped save some megabucks on a countrywide Highland fling. Megabucks that we spent shopping at the nearby shops. You can see the entrance to the big Buchanan Galleries shopping centre and to John Lewis Department store. This Premier Inn location is ideal, close walking distance to bus and rail service.
We booked the family room in the chain’s locations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness and found each to be economical, clean, staffed by super friendly folk, and centrally located to tourist attractions and train and bus stations.