Choosing family-friendly accommodation
Should you go for a family hotel or self-catering? Here’s our guide to helping you choose the right place to stay on your family holiday.
Hotels: what to look out for
- Check out how family-friendly they are and what type of rooms they have available (for example, some hotels have interconnecting rooms, others have family rooms or there may be the option of self-catering suites/apartments).
- Check that there is a bath and not just a shower, as a bath is an essential for many families, especially with younger children.
- Enquire about family eating times, children’s menus or children’s meal times and whether there is a policy of excluding children from the restaurant at certain times. Also ask about special children’s menus, and if your children have any allergies, find out their ability to accommodate these.
- Many hotels in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Dolomites and South Tyrol have excellent childcare facilities, kids clubs, and child-friendly sporting and leisure facilities, with lots of things to see and do with the kids.
- Free offers and child discounts are also a common feature of hotels which welcome families.
Advantages of staying in a hotel:
- Lots of amenities - Particularly with larger hotels, there are good facilities for keeping everyone entertained, such as a gym, pool, spa, playground or games room and organised entertainment.
- Family-friendly – There are many excellent hotels in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Dolomites and South Tyrol which have really stepped up their ‘family-friendly’ features in recent years, offering a number of services designed to make the holiday a breeze for parents. These can include a crèche/nanny service, ski schools (in season), activity clubs, early dinner sittings, swimming lessons and soft play facilities. Many such hotels will offer all-inclusive packages – even including a certain number of hours in childcare.
- Kids’ activities – Family-friendly hotels very often have age-specific, organised activities and entertainment for children. This can really enhance the whole holiday experience for the adults in the party – you get a break while someone else entertains the children for a bit!
- Additional services – Room service, laundry and babysitting are offered at most hotels, helping to make your stay even easier. Hotel staff can also often help out with maps, directions and can recommend things to see and do.
- Cleaning - Having your room(s) cleaned daily can be a godsend when you’re on holiday with children.
- Restaurants on site - Dining at your hotel is far easier than going out when you have kids. If you have a small baby, or your little ones are starting to get tired or restless, you can feel reassured that your room is just a few paces away.
- All-inclusive - Having the decision-making about where to eat removed can, in many ways, make your holiday easier. Even just having breakfast included means there is less messing about at the start of your day – giving you more time for your outings.
- Billing the room – At most hotels, you can bill everything back to your room, including food and drinks, ice creams and snacks. Paying for everything in one go and not having to carry cash everywhere is very convenient.
- More English is spoken – more often than not, hotel staff speak a good level of English, which can help you feel much more supported as you plan your activities. Menus and other important sources of information are also more likely to be available in English language.
Disadvantages of Hotels:
- Limited space – Naturally, a hotel room won’t afford quite the same level of living space as a private rental, with less room for the kids to roam.
- Pricey services – Some of a hotel’s additional services can be quite harsh on the wallet, especially things like laundry.
Self-Catering Holiday Rentals
Advantages of self-catering
- More space - Privately rented apartments, chalets and houses will normally offer a lot more space than a hotel room. Having a separate living room away from the bedrooms also makes it easier for the adults to hang out of an evening while the kids are asleep.
- More relaxed - Many children appreciate their home comforts, and staying in a holiday rental is infinitely more ‘home-like’.
- More independence - Most holiday rentals will come with everything you need to be self-sufficient, including all the household appliances and home entertainment including TV and DVD player. Naturally, no-one wants to spend the whole holiday cooking and doing chores, but at least all those things are there, as and when you need them.
- Less "touristy" - A private rental is usually a more ‘authentic’ holiday experience as you are more integrated into the daily life of the town or village you choose to stay in.
- Cost-effective - Particularly if you are travelling out of peak season, a private holiday rental will probably work out a more cost-effective option. Plus, making your own meals can save you money on restaurant bills.
- Aparthotels - You can get the best of both worlds – Sometimes it is possible to rent ‘cluster accommodation’, with independent self-catering units all sharing some facilities – and these may include all standard hotel facilities one would expect (i.e. a pool, a restaurant). This type of hotel is very often called an ‘Aparthotel’ (also Apartment-Hotel), which basically is a hotel offering both, self-catering holiday apartments and serviced guestrooms.
Disadvantages of holiday rentals:
- More isolated – Self-catering options can sometimes be better located for those seeking a walking holiday, but if you want the added advantages of being near a town centre, it might be harder to find the right accommodation. Likewise, if you choose to stay in a hotel, the reception staff can really help out with booking you onto local tours and activities and providing lots of information on local transport and other facilities. When you are self-catering there is often no-one close at hand who can assist, and you are very much “left to your own devices”.
- Travel arrangement flexibility – Many hotels have a generous cancellation policy (typically 48 hours prior to arrival), but with private rentals you are normally locked in early as first a deposit - and then often full payment of the balance weeks before arrival - will be required to secure your reservation. This means that last-minute changes can be more costly and problematic than hotel stays.