Basic kids camps where kids wile away the days making arts and crafts, watching movies and swimming in a pool are on the wane as smart resorts embrace a more complete understanding of just how it is that families travel today.
Not only do families tend to travel further and stay longer than they have in the past, but they also travel in all manner of combinations, including grandparents and extended families. In all cases, travelers put a premium on connecting to the place they are visiting.
On the forefront of this trend is Westin Hotels & Resorts, which earlier this month rolled out Westin Family, an innovative program that spans 200 properties around the world.
It has reinvented the kids' club concept, focusing on enhancing children's natural creativity, guiding them towards discovery of the environment they are visiting. This can take many forms, depending upon location. For instance, at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa the new kids' club is an oasis of Scandinavian refinement, where kids are surrounded by calm, cool colors and lots of interactive opportunities, like a LEGO wall. Children can try an array of locally inspired activities from learning to cast shrimp nets to making oyster shell chimes to taking nighttime astronomy walks on the beach.
And that's the idea: hyper local immersion experiences, ways to tap into the best of what a particular location offers. At Weston's Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa in Cancun, kids can feed the hotel's friendly iguanas Drako and Moika, who sun themselves Scorpions Temple, an ancient Mayan ruin on property. At the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka'anapali, Hawaii kids learn to make leis using flowers grown on the property.
Another key component of Westin Family is helping guest create bespoke experiences that make vacations especially memorable. In Hilton Head, families can take morning yoga classes overlooking the ocean or rent bikes to ride on the packed sand on the beach that fronts the resort. In Hainan, China at the Westin Blue Bay Resort Spa, families can make excursions to a nearby fishing village, where they will meet locals and learn about communal living.
As part of the Westin Family's focus on wellness, a new menu called EatWell is filled with nutrient-rich options, like make-your-own smoothies and steamed edamame snacks. Plus, kids can participate in cook-offs through the SuperChefs program, where they learn to cook from resort chefs using healthy ingredients.
While Westin Family has upped the bar, other hotel groups also offer families ways to create special memories. Here area few of the best:
Loew's Coronado Bay Resort & Spa in San Diego, California, caters to active kids. Here, children ages 4 to 12 can take kickboxing and yoga classes specially designed for them. And families, who want to play together, can sign up for baking classes with the resort's pastry chef and poolside workshops on creating healthy fruit drinks. In Miami Beach, Florida, Loews' SoBe Kids Camp focuses on the very best of the beach with shell finding expeditions, sand castle contests, and a seaside scavenger hunt.
When looking for an extraordinarily beautiful children's camp, it's hard to beat the Four Seasons Lana'I at Manele Bay, Hawaii. Overlooking a waterfall, the facility is tricked out with jungle murals and fluttery butterfly lights. Kids ages 5 to 12 can learn about how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, learn to hula, make leis, play Hawaiian games, and even build their own erupting volcano.
In winter, kids visiting the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming can learn to ski and snowboard. They also have a chance to venture into the pristine woods on a search for moose, eagles and other native species. In the summer the resort's kids' programs focus on environmental awareness programs that involve stargazing, hiking and mountaineering.
The Ritz Carlton
At Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in Puerto Rico the Ambassadors of the Environment program helps kids delve into the culture and natural history of Puerto Rico. They can do a moonlight walk to discover animals that only appear at night, "Become An Archaeologist for A Day," study astronomy, learn about the Taino (indigenous) culture, and take environmentally sound cooking classes using solar ovens.
At the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, the Ambassadors of the Environment program was developed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau's son. Its aim is to show kids how they can be good stewards of the ocean. Some of the highlights include a program called Turtle Tales, which teaches children about all seven species of endangered sea turtle. Older kids, ages 12 and up, can take part in the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, where they feed and track free-roaming iguanas.