A Safe Gamble: Picking the Right Place to Stay - Page 2

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4. The Theory of the Half-Mile Radius
All great family accommodations should have exactly what you need within a half-mile radius. Because, let's face it, this will be the outer limit of the orbit for most of your stay. Last year, my son spent most daylight hours throwing rocks from the jetty five meters from the door of our Cape Cod rental cottage. This year he made it to the pool of our condo in Birch Bay, Washington, and occasionally to the beach across the road, but only if his little legs were feeling sprightly. So make sure you have at least two from the following list within easy reach: pool, playground, beach, lake, river, convenience store, and café or casual restaurant. Basically, anything you can do to prevent mutiny among your little conscripts on account of tiredness or hunger is the best strategy. (Anonymous parental aside: "Plus easy access to a beer. This is important with or without kids.")

5. It's the Little Things
If only kids knew the painstaking details that go into making their lives so carefree. The effort, of course, is amplified when you leave your home's comfort zone, like an advancing army outreaching its supply lines. So, like any good logistical endeavor, here are a few tidbits to help get you through your mission: if you don't have a kitchen or kitchenette, make sure you have a small fridge, preferably without mini-bar items, to stash snacks, juices, milk, or fruit; check ahead of time that your hotel has appropriate bedding for your child's age and size (no self-respecting three-year-old wants to sleep in a flimsy pack-and-play); welcome packs and activity guides will help soothe the furrowed brows of cranky, tot-sized travelers; request rooms on the first floor, away from noisy elevators and areas with high foot traffic; rooms with moveable furniture and kid-friendly dining and coffee tables will considerably shorten your base camp settling-in period; and while it might be a chore, access to a washing machine and dryer will be like manna from heaven for parents trying to keep one step ahead of the inevitable mess.

6. Be Prepared for the Worst
We all love it when Mother Nature plays nice and gifts us five unbroken days of bluebird skies and 80-degree weather. If that happens, it's very likely that your choice of accommodation will be a pleasant afterthought. During our June jaunt to Cape Cod last year, we figured we were being smart by beating the crowds and high-season prices. We didn't count on the foul nor'easter that slammed our quaint bayside cottage for two straight days. It was ugly. Indoors was no place for a hyperactive toddler (or his fraught parents), nor did the local area offer much in the way of wet-weather respite. So when things go pear-shaped, make sure you have an emergency plan, whether that's a ready supply of favorite DVDs and board games, or an indoor pool, game room, or in-house movie theater at your hotel.

7. And Don't Forget: It's Your Vacation, Too
Make sure you carve out some adult time, whether it's a quick walk on the beach or a half-day trip to those nearby Maya ruins. Many hotels and resorts have kids' clubs that will give everyone a chance to spread their wings. Note, however, that some will have a lower age limit, while others will happily supervise even newborns. Also, research babysitting options ahead of time. Parent Bethany Williams advises looking for "babysitting services by 'real' babysitters, who don't try to rip you off with the rate or minimum hours." Last thing you want, of course, is to feel shortchanged as you head out on that long-awaited romantic date or, worse yet, worried about the quality of the care.

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