Someone once said that there are two ways to travel: first class and with children.
When it comes to traveling with children (or for many of you, traveling near children), that statement usually takes on an uncomfortable meaning of its own.
I have a friend who insists that the only way he will travel with children is if the kids are heavily sedated before the trip starts.
As you might suspect, my friend doesn't travel very often.
To be sure, traveling with children can be a debilitating experience for the adults as well as the children.
Until recently most airlines, cruise ships and hotels were not equipped to handle childrens' special travel needs and problems. As a result, the rest of us continue to suffer on trips, along with the kids.
Now, however, a growing number of hotels, cruise ships and airlines are beginning to cater to children.
"There's a real good reason for this," says Charles Park, general manager of the Mauna Lani Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Parents Happy Too
"If the children are happy, and treated as special guests, their parents will be happy, too. It all makes for a successful vacation experience."
The Mauna Lani is not exactly known as a resort for children, but since 1983 its Camp Mauna Lani, a supervised day and early evening care program, has been an unqualified success.
The reason is simple. The Mauna Lani, like many other hotels, can offer options; while mom and dad have their tennis lesson, their 7-year-old can have a great time as well.
The camp, operated by the hotel staff during the Christmas and Easter holiday periods, is free for children ages 5 to 18 who are staying at the hotel.
The children get their own special registration cards and T-shirts. (Younger children also get special sand pails.)
Ten full-time counselors run the program, which includes field trips around the resort. "The kids get to learn about the history and geology of the area," Park says, "and they get to study the tide pools that surround the hotel, which are fascinating."
In addition, the hotel provides a special game room, campfires on the beach and shopping trips to nearby Kailua. There's also a children's dance night featuring popcorn and root beer floats.
The Mauna Lani children's program also offers reduced-rate children's menus, and lunch and dinner meals for the kids are supervised by the counselors.
Much about successful travel with kids rests on good staff attitudes. "Children's programs can't be afterthoughts," says Cynthia Fontayne, spokeswoman for Sitmar Cruise Lines. "Kids are hipper than you think. They know when they're being sent off to some corner to sit."
For a number of years Sitmar has done more than simply look for secluded corners on their ships to warehouse children who are aboard.
At Sitmar children are openly encouraged to cruise along with their parents. The cruise line has a high-energy, aggressive children's program on each of its ships.
The programs are well supervised (counselors for children and teen-agers are hired for each cruise), and offer a variety of activities for the children while the ships are at sea. "With this program," Fontayne says, "cruising can be a successful family experience without the need for the parents to have a separate vacation after their cruise."
Little Things Count
More often than not, it's the little things that count when traveling with kids; that applies to both parents and children.
For example, when planning for this year's Expo in Vancouver, officials paid particular attention to children and the needs of their parents.
Every day more than 22,000 children have visited the Expo site. Expo has provided children's play areas, baby stations (providing a place for diaper changing and infant care), and locations around the fair site offer stroller rentals.
"You don't need to hire clowns and magicians to keep kids happy on trips," says Suzi Beckman, a veteran American Airlines flight attendant. "The children just need to feel that you're interested in them."
When was the last time you noticed a children's care center at a major U.S. airport?
Western Airlines was one of the first to provide rooms for children at two of its hubs, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Those rooms are specifically designed for children who are traveling alone. They're furnished with bean bag chairs, stocked with refreshments, and constantly supervised.
The Hotel Inter-Continental Hilton Head in South Carolina features a free "kids' korner" program, including everything from scavenger hunts at dawn to quiet games at dusk.
When the Virgin Grand Beach Hotel makes its debut this December on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands, the hotel will offer one of the most comprehensive programs of organized and supervised activities in the area.