Traveling with kids.
My husband and I travel often, and we take the kids with us on 90% of our trips. We have four kids (and we’ve had four kids for 8 years now, so I will go say we are pretty good at knowing how to travel well as a family of six). I love to share vacation photos online, and those photos always lead to the same questions:
Which hotel is the best in XYZ?
How do you travel with all four and still have fun?
Let me start with the latter. We travel with all four and still have fun because we know our limits. Believe me when I say it’s much easier now than it was when we had four little kids…also more fun. For a long time, we took a grandparent or two on most of our vacations so that we could send them to our room during the twins and/or Ava’s naptime and still enjoy time with Addy or with Addy and Ava (and so we could sneak out after bedtime for a quick date night downstairs). 2022 brings with it kids turning 14, 11, and 8, and I cannot tell you how much easier it is to travel with the kids now that they are these ages. They’re so much more fun, they all enjoy similar things, and everyone is capable of having fun all day long without tiring out. However, we know our kids, we know what they want, and we know how to keep them stimulated all day long when we are not at home.
Now I’ll tackle the first question. There are two hotels our family loves and frequents in Florida. There are more than that, of course, but these are the two we love the most. One we’ve been frequenting several times a year since we found it in 2006. The other we found only last year over summer vacation and immediately booked a spring break trip to return. I’m talking about the Omni ChampionsGate Resort in Orlando (which I’ve written about before right here) and the JW Marriott Turnberry Resort in Miami. Here’s why we love these two and why both work so well for our family.
The number one thing we look at when choosing a hotel is the pool. Our kids are spoiled. They’re not going to have fun in a basic pool – they have a pool, everyone they know has a pool. They want more than a body of water. Case in point – we went with our kids and our best friends and their kids to the Margaritaville Resort in Orlando over Labor Day weekend last year. We had high hopes for it (it wasn’t bad but it’s very touristy tacky, if that makes sense) and our kids were bored within 10 minutes of arrival. “Is this it? Where’s the rest of it?” All 7 kids were asking. The pool area is your traditional zero-entry – and it’s massive – but that is literally it. No slides, no lazy river, no wave pool, no surfing situation, nothing. The kids were tremendously unimpressed. Our kids need to be kept entertained by the pool. We need at least a zero-entry and a lazy river.
The Omni has a lazy river, a wave pool, a zero entry, a kiddie pool that’s only 2 feet deep and has cute little slides, two water slides, and their pool bar, Croc’s, has the best food and service imaginable. The Omni is also great about offering music, activities, and a lot of fun by the pools, so the kids and adults always have the best time.
The JW Turnberry has its own private water park. Now – I will be honest. I dislike a water park, but this one is great. It has multiple slides fun for the whole family, a children’s play area for smaller kids, a surfing simulator area, a lazy river, zero-entry pool, and a bar that boasts the fastest food and beverage service imaginable. Because we are Bonvoy members, we also get to get into the water park at 8 am before it opens at 9 to choose our seats, have towels delivered, and to be sure we get to sit where we want for the day (under an umbrella and in front of the slides).
Our kids will eat anywhere, so this one is all about my husband and myself. We require at least one restaurant in our hotel that has a spectacular wine list, amazing ambiance, and wonderful food. We adore a good dining experience, and it’s important to us that our children also do. Our oldest is a very picky eater, but our three youngest love a stellar dining experience. Our son is just like daddy in that he needs to find a great filet, and he’s always looking for a good salad. Our middle daughter is the same way – she likes a good restaurant with a great salad and a chef who knows how to make broccoli how she likes it.
The Omni has a few restaurants, but it’s David’s Club that we frequent. It’s the lobby bar and restaurant with classic American fare and a steakhouse feel. The ambiance is lovely, the service is always top-notch, and the food is always amazing. Case in point, we were there for spring break last year with our family, our oldest daughter’s friend, and our friends and their three kids. While dining there on Friday evening, I mentioned to our waiter that I was unable to book a table for the 12 of us for Saturday evening. Not only did he find us a table for 12, he asked if we’d like to watch the fireworks that night, and when we said yes, he gave us a time that allowed us to eat, enjoy a bottle of wine, and still make it out onto the terrace in time for the kids to catch the fireworks – our waitress even made it a point to have us served and out the door in time to watch (and she gave all 8 kids their own s’mores kit to use down by the fire pit). Service like that is paramount.
The Omni also features Trevi’s, which is Italian and one of the best breakfast’s in the area. There is also Zen, a sushi restaurant, a golf course restaurant, and Croc’s the pool bar that has the most amazing menu and they will make what you ask for even if it’s not on the menu. It’s stellar.
The JW Turnberry has several amazing restaurants. The kids are HUGE fans of Corsair (and so are we). Again, the staff at every restaurant is superb, as is each menu. Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina is fabulous – and our kids adore it. It’s also wonderful for a date night. The Surf House is the pool bar, and their food and drinks are wonderful. There’s a Starbucks on property, too. Finally, the Lobby Lounge, Soff’s, has a great wine list. It’s elegant with a casual air, and we love to sneak out for a quick drink while the little ones are winding down before bed and our oldest is in charge.
Perhaps the single most important feature in any good family hotel – for us – is the room situation. We are a family of six. We need either two connecting rooms or a suite. We prefer a suite, and both hotels have them and they deliver. The Omni has numerous suites that are great, and we’ll book what they have available, but we always choose the Executive Guest Room if it’s available. It’s 700-square feet, so it’s not as large as the Florida Suite, which has 1,200-square feet, but it has a much larger bathroom. For me, a large bathroom in a hotel room is a must. The bathroom in the Executive Guest Room is massive, and the room is perfect. We have a king bed for ourselves, our big girls share the sofa bed, and we have ample space to throw the twins on a queen air mattress and let them ‘camp’ out. It has a large living space, so their mattress doesn’t get in the way, and we have ample room for luggage and space to get around. But, it’s the oversize jacuzzi tub, separate shower, and the massive sink that does it for me and our kids since it’s a much more functional bathroom thanks to its generous size.
One thing we never do at the Omni is the villas. They’re older, they’re far away, and they’re inconvenient. They are nowhere near as well-appointed as the hotel guest rooms. The Sunset Lodge rooms are nothing we’d recommend either. The building is not near the main hotel, so you have to drive back and forth to your room and the hotel. No, thank you.
As for the room at the JW Turnberry, we book the Junior Suite with two beds. We have 700-square feet, two queen beds, and a living room area with a sofa bed for the twins. We also have a beautiful balcony, and there is a generous desk area and living space. The bathrooms here are a MAJOR win for me. A separate standing shower, oversize tub, massive vanity, and its own water closet with a bidet always wins for us. Bathroom space is so important when there are six people getting ready at the same time. I also prefer a suite to two connecting rooms, too, because we kind of love the ‘slumber party’ feel we have the with the kids on vacation. There is a lot of giggling, and a lot of quality time, and everyone has the best time. All four kids always love these trips so much, and I love how close it makes us feel as a family. We make so many amazing memories.
I prefer lovely grounds. Lush landscaping, a tropical feel, cleanliness, and the overall appearance is so important to me. The Omni is always lovely. Elegant and classic. The Turnberry reminds me so much of the Hotel Bel Air with its gorgeous flowering plants, the tree-lined walkways filled with flowers, and its old-world elegance. It is so easy to forget for a moment that we are in Florida and not in southern California.
When the staff of a hotel remembers you during your visits, that is so important. Even during our first stay at the JW last year, the doormen, the concierge, and the front desk staff called us by name each time we entered the lobby. They chatted with the kids, told jokes, asked how they can make their day better or more special, and befriended them. When you’re paying for an experience, this is what you’re paying for.
There are many beautiful hotels in and around Florida we love to visit with the kids, but these are the only two we can book an extended stay longer than a night or two. The Omni is going to be the more affordable of the two, but it doesn’t matter. You absolutely get what you pay for, and you get more than a wonderful stay at both of these resorts – you get family memories that last a lifetime and an experience. We can’t wait for our upcoming trip to the JW Marriott Turnberry – the kids are counting the days!