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'Togethering' suddenly is in, but let's be realistic about the concept

Family-friendly services are proliferating. Some are silly, but others -- child-oriented travel consultants and retreats -- are brilliant.

April 10, 2005|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

Some family-friendly packages seem to be on the right track. Families need less spin and more actual help. Wouldn't it be nice, for example, if you could rent a stroller at your destination airport or hotel as you do a car so you wouldn't have to schlep it onto an airplane?

Speaking of rental cars, why don't agencies make sure their employees know how to work the car seats they provide? That would be a giant step forward for family travel. (We spent half an hour in Vatican City trying to figure out one model before settling for another that was made, I am almost certain, out of Styrofoam.)

Travel agents who deal in rental properties for families also might try to find a service that would provide the first day's groceries for arriving guests: After a transatlantic flight and a few hours in the car, the last thing you want to do is take your cranky kids to a restaurant or a grocery store. Recommendations for local baby sitters, as Ciao Bambino provides, would also be great.

As for hotels, the little kids' backpacks are nice -- although most moms travel nowhere without crayons -- but what I want to know is why don't hotels have lifeguards at their pools? This seems like a fairly inexpensive way of giving parents a break. Offer some swim classes and you'd ensure the adoration of several generations.

And I know I have said this before but I will say it again: The universal kid's menu needs some serious overhaul. Ketchup is not a vegetable, and how many ways can you describe a chicken nugget? (We've begun ordering from the adult menu. This means either paying for food that will never be consumed or Mommy choosing her dish based on what the children will share. And you don't get the cool cups with lids.)

There is -- and this also is a repeat observation -- a fortune to be made at airports. If we can't have a play center, give us a real kid's store. Some place where you can find all the things you suddenly realize you need -- Benadryl and diaper wipes, baby food and sippy cups, tweezers and bandages. I once scoured the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX for Anbesol, fully prepared to pay hundreds of dollars for a tiny tube of the oral pain reliever (because when a kid needs Anbesol, she really needs it). But it was nowhere to be found.

If travel agents were really serious about "togethering," they would hire someone to put together the perfect family travel backpack, in air and land versions, and offer it to clients as a goodwill gesture. Because, as with any vacation, a primary ingredient of "togethering" is a little peace and quiet.

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