Call it the five-starring of children. Or just kids puttin' on the ritz -- as in Ritz-Carlton.
At some top hotels, a 5-year-old can get a facial, an 8-year-old can be tutored in golf etiquette, teens can take in some skeet shooting and, soon, a "ski nanny" can whisk little downhillers to and from the slopes in Colorado.
The choices for young guests at luxury hotels, in the $300-and-up class of room rates, are mind-boggling. And more activities are popping up each day, especially at resorts that draw families.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, in Florida, which opened in July with rooms from $329 a night, offers a twice weekly "Golf FORE Kids Etiquette Class" for 5- to 12-year-olds. They learn what bogey and par are, what to wear on the course (collared shirts, no cutoffs) and how to behave. A key tip, said Bruce Seigel, director of marketing: "Don't joke around on the tee box." The class costs $25 for about 1 hour, 15 minutes.
The indoor-inclined child can head to the Orlando hotel's spa for a "Ritz Kids Cleansing Facial" ($60), described as a "mini-facial designed to cleanse and refresh skin and teach basic skin care and cleansing tips," or a "Ritz Kids Massage" ($65 for 25 minutes). Teens can schedule a $110 facial with massage and "personal analysis."
The spa is "really popular," Seigel said, especially with teens holding birthday parties. For $55, children 5 to 12 can take in a full day of activities, such as cooking classes, nature walks, and arts and crafts.
A key reason for the ritzing of kids: "More and more families are traveling to luxury hotels with younger children," said Shelby Taylor, spokeswoman for the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui, where published room rates start at $375 a night. The evidence is mainly anecdotal. The number of trips Americans overall took with children younger than 18 decreased slightly from 2001 to 2002 because of lower birthrates, said Peter Mason, director of Meredith Travel Marketing in New York. But the luxury traveler may be an exception.
With the trend to later child-bearing, experts say, many parents of young children are in their 40s or even 50s, established in their careers and thus better able to afford top-of-the-line trips.
Family travel in general to the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in Arizona is up about 8% in the last 18 months, said spokeswoman Nikki Lequin.
At the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado, the most popular employee may be Bachelor, a 2-year-old golden Labrador that families can reserve for hikes and, starting this winter, snowshoe treks.
"He was booked almost 100% in July and August," hotel spokeswoman Kristin Yantis said. "It was easier to book whitewater rafting than it was to book Bachelor." Originally promoted for families and children, Bachelor is surprisingly popular with singles and couples too, she added.
The Ritz at Bachelor Gulch is also responsible for the ski nanny program, which, beginning this winter, will provide an aide to escort 5- to 12-year-olds from guest room to ski school and back ($40 for the first child, $20 per day for each additional child).
For five-star hoteliers, families with children pose a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to cater to families, which often book multiple rooms and use more services. On the other hand, they want to avoid having children, especially badly behaved ones, spoiling the five-star serenity of adult guests.
"It's a touchy issue," said Anastasia Mann, chairwoman of the Corniche Group, a luxury travel company in West Hollywood. Her poolside lounging at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, an exclusive Arizona resort, was recently ruined by running, screaming toddlers. "It was like lightning crashing through the peace and tranquillity," said Mann, who likes children.
Organized programs can be a solution, separating children and adults or providing activities for families.
Parents should ask hotels about children's activities before they book or contact a travel agent to help design a program, suggested Susan Hastings, president of Wellington World Travel in San Francisco, which specializes in customized luxury family vacations. Ask specific questions because children's programs touted by some hotels may be "nothing more than glorified baby-sitting services," she said.
Four Seasons, which runs many top-rated hotels, was a pioneer in children's programming and has long been popular with families of even modest means. One big reason: Many of their kids' activities are free.
Luxury hotels in Hawaii, because they cater to families, often have extensive programs for the younger set. Many are adding teen activities. For $120, for instance, your teen can book a full day of surfing, horseback riding, kayaking and more at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
Even in Britain, top resorts are bucking their stuffy image to cater to kids.
Gleneagles in Scotland, one of the world's toniest golf resorts, where double rooms start at $437 in winter and $538 in summer, maintains a Web site for its young guests, www.gleneaglets.com. It's aimed at the 4- to 10-year-old set and offers a newsletter, chat room and links to other kids' sites on the Internet.
New this year at Gleneagles is "Active Pursuits," in which those 12 to 19 learn skeet shooting, archery and all-terrain vehicle driving. The price is about $300 for three hours. For $82 more, they can add an hour of falconry instruction.
It may be a small price to pay, considering the pain that a way-too-bored teen can inflict on a vacationing executive's family.
Jane Engle welcomes comments and suggestions but cannot respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or e-mail email@example.com.