Ready to play dress up?
If you stay in the kids' suite at the Hotel Diva (www.hoteldiva.com) on San Francisco's Union Square, your little princess can do just that with sparkly shoes, a pink boa, jewelry and a drawer full of "gowns." If you have a prince, he can play Wii among other things.
At the Diva, one of the local Personality Hotels (www.personalityhotels.com), there are games, puzzles and an assortment of kids' movies. And kids sleep in bunk beds while parents sleep in a separate room attached by a hall. Older kids simply like the ambience of the sleek hotel -- glass wall, stainless steel headboards, bright blue carpet -- complete with a sidewalk-of-fame featuring signatures of celebrity guests.
Across the country, such small unique hotels are gaining a following among families who appreciate the intimate atmosphere, the service and the fact that they have, well, more personality than big chain hotels. Small hotels don't necessarily cost any more and in some cases they cost less.
At Kimpton's 189-room Monaco (www.monaco-seattle.com) near Pike Place Market in Seattle, families get a check-in packet complete with lists of kid-friendly restaurants and attractions.
Boutique hotels, for their part, are responding to this enthusiasm with more family packages and amenities -- from kids' digital cameras with some packages at New York City's Affinia Hotels (www.affinia.com) to a personalized itinerary created for you at the Clifton Inn (www.cliftoninn.net) in Charlottesville, Va., where you can end the day with afternoon tea. Grab a handful of hard candies from the big jars at Whitney's Inn (www.whitneysinn.com) in Jackson, N.H., where kids can fish in the stocked pond -- with complimentary poles. There is even a chance to set up a tent in your room at the Houstonian Hotel (www.houstonian.com) in Houston or have a cart loaded with activities and games delivered to your room at Seattle's Maxwell Hotel (www.themaxwellhotel.com).
This summer, opt for a kid-friendly bed and breakfast or inn and you might even get a free tank of gas. Nearly 300 have banded together to help ease the sticker shock at the gas pump with a "B&Bs kick gas" campaign (www.betterwaytostay.com).
You'll also see a growing number of packages that will include admission to area museums, bike rental shops and even whale-watching excursions (www.bassrocksoceaninn.com).
Kimpton Hotels (www.kimptonhotels.com), which has 52 properties around the country, has a companywide Kimpton Kids program and an array of family packages and amenities at its city hotels aimed at helping families to get out and explore, explains Niki Leondakis, Kimpton's president. There are kids' comment cards inviting them to rank their experience from yummy to yucky, kid-sized robes and concierges briefed on where local families go -- from playgrounds to restaurants.
Boutique Caribbean resorts are attracting families too -- from the budget friendly 49-room Jakes Hotel (www.jakeshotel.com) in Treasure Beach, Jamaica (kids' cooking lessons or mosaic tiling workshop?) with rates starting at under $100 a night to the 89-room Abaco Beach Resort (www.abacobeachresort.com) in the Bahamas Out Islands where kids can make "Bahamas Buddies" with local children.
In San Francisco, I traded the Diva's coolness for Kimpton's Harbor Court Hotel's homeyness (www.harborcourthotel.com) on the Embarcadero, a block from San Francisco's restored Ferry Building and the heart of a growing restaurant scene. I didn't care that the room was small when I could see the Bay Bridge from my window and walk to my favorite farmers' market.
Even better, the wine reception in the living room-like lounge encourages guests to chat and trade travel tips, as does the complimentary coffee in the morning. I pet a guest's dog and talk about my own back home. The front desk clerk greets me by name.
And when you're away from home with the kids that counts for a lot.