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Resorts Needn't Be a Last Resort when Traveling with Kids

by Elaine Sosa Labalme

Having kids doesn't mean you have to forego a rejuvenating and pampering resort vacation in favor of a mega-themed hotel spelled M-O-U-S-E (or something like that). What it does mean, however, is that you have to choose a resort property more wisely, focusing in on one that will keep both parents and kids happy and where the vibe isn't just for margarita-sipping singles and giddy empty-nesters. To that end, a number of resorts have launched well-developed children's programs designed to keep young ones safe, happy and entertained while mom and dad relax and reconnect. Even wee ones and toddlers will feel right at home in these child friendly environs. The following resort properties fill the bill to a kid-sized "t" and are an excellent starting point when planning your resort vacation.

Phoenix, Arizona might as well be called Resort City, U.S.A., what with its sun-soaked climate and profusion of swim 'n spa resorts, each seemingly bigger than the next. One of the newest entries on the local resort scene is the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, a do-it-all-for-you resort with all things Arizona as its central theme. The Westin Kids Club is where you'll drop off the tots for arts and crafts, game time and pool time and since the pool here has a beach, river ride and water slide, the kids may never want to come home. Moms will soak at the spacious and sparkling Agave Spa, where a massage followed by a multi-jet Vichy shower is a pretty good way to spend the afternoon (don't forget to sip the spa's Agave limeade). Dads can play a round of golf on the 27-hole course right next door and the whole clan can meet for dinner at Nellie Cashman's, where the burger is a mushroom and mozzarella-topped confection sure to induce slumber in the most wound-up kid. Speaking of bed time, Westin's signature "heavenly bed," a custom-made bed-duvet-pillow dream, can be found in every room alongside buttery leather chairs, all designed to get you ready for more tomorrow. With its spanking-new feel and endless array of nooks to explore and things to do, the Westin Kierland Resort is sure to keep kids happy and their parents relaxed and care free. The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ 800-354-5892 or westin.com Rates starting at $99/night. The Westin Kids Club is available to guests ages 4-12 for a full day session ($70 including lunch) or morning or afternooon sessions (9 AM-noon or 1-4 PM, both $35, if lunch is included from noon-1 PM add $10). The program is available seven days a week, reservations required 24 hrs. in advance. Babysitting services and children's items also available. The Westin Kids Club is available at selected Westin properties nationwide.

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is on the northern edge of Scottsdale and just north of Phoenix. Driving up to this desert oasis is akin to approaching the Taos pueblo, a sea of low-slung earth-colored buildings resting at the base of Pinnacle Peak. The Kids for All Seasons program will guide the tykes up Pinnacle Peak (an easy ¾ mile ramble to the main view point) or keep them busy on property with swimming, ping pong, treasure hunts and eco-tours. Teens can indulge in their own yoga class, sign up for a tennis clinic or work on their technique at the games arcade. There's even stargazing at the desert sky (mom and dad might want to join in for this late-night treat). Signature Four Seasons service is everywhere and most delightful in Acacia, the resort's main dining room. Young diners are greeted by Pooh-themed flatware and assorted toys to fill in those mealtime lulls. Babysitting can be arranged, however, if a romantic dinner a deux is on the bill. While this property is a bit out of the way, if it's solace you seek, you've come to the right place. The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, Scottsdale, AZ 888-207-9696 or fourseasons.com Double rooms from $185 /night. Kids for All Seasons is complimentary for resort guests ages 5-12, lunch is available at a small charge . Hours are 9 AM-5 PM, seven days a week. Babysitting services and children's items available. Kids for All Seasons is available at Four Seasons Resorts worldwide.

Making the resort experience far more intimate and personal is the Hermosa Inn, a 35-room property in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. Formerly the hacienda of cowboy artist Lon Megargee (it's his drawing that's replicated on the inside of every Stetson hat), the Hermosa boasts elegant, individually-decorated rooms ranging in size from a mini-suite "casita" to a just-like-home "hacienda," assuming your picture of home is an adobe-encrusted, high-ceilinged, Western-themed retreat. The living is easy at the Hermosa, since your days are likely to consist of walks along the property's cactus-lined paths, dips in the swimming pool and leisurely meals at Lon's, the inn's award-winning dining room. Will this easy living work for the kids? While there's no organized children's program here, if our child is any indication, the almost-home-but-better vibe works like a charm, probably because the property is spacious both inside and out and the staff feels like family. The Hermosa Inn is truly a diamond in the rough Sonoran desert and making the old cowboy proud. The Hermosa Inn, Phoenix, AZ 800-241-1210 or hermosainn.com Rates starting at $95/night. Babysitting services and some children's items available.

If it's a beach-y resort you crave, think Southern California and in particular, the area around Orange County's Laguna Beach. That's where you'll find the new Montage Resort & Spa, an ultra-luxe Craftsman-style lodging perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. The sandy beach below beckons, although it can be quite the challenge to tear yourself away from the stunning aqua-on-blue mosaic pool overlooking the ocean. Kids are invited to swim in the adjacent children's pool although they'd probably rather be dropped off at Paintbox, the resort's children's program where every day sports its own theme. "Hooray for Hollywood" includes talent shows and movie making while "Surf's Up" is more like Sand Castles 101 and "Fiesta Friday" allows the kids to cook their own quesadillas and create pinatas to take home. Garden tea parties, ice cream socials and kids' spa days are also on tap. This attention to detail is also evident at Spa Montage and at Studio, where chef James Boyce practices his brand of fresh, regional cuisine. And did we say that just about everything at Montage faces the ocean, including every single room? There's no getting away from that beautiful beach. Montage Resort & Spa, Laguna Beach, CA 866-271-6953 or montagelagunabeach.com Doubles starting at $540 /night during high season, $450 /night low season. Paintbox, for ages 5-12, is $75 for a full day (9 AM-4 PM) and $50 for a half day (9 AM-1 PM or Noon-4 PM); all sessions include lunch. Kid's Night Out is available on Saturday nights from 6-9 PM, $50 charge. Babysitting services and children's items available.

A short ride down the coast is the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, the grand dame of Southern California beach resorts. Looking to keep up with the new kid on the block (the aforementioned Montage), the Ritz will definitely be putting on the Ritz once its current renovation is completed in 2004. It's all tradition and elegance at this coastal resort, from the twinkling chandeliers overhead to the prompt and courteous service at your feet. The young ones will make themselves right at home in the Ritz Kids program, starting with a playroom packed with everything from Twister to SpongeBob. The program heads outdoors for kite flying and boogie boarding, though kids and staff all take a mid-afternoon snow cone break. Mom and Dad can also sign the tykes up for "Kid's Night Out" on Friday or Saturday night, a feast of movies and games for the junior set. It's also the perfect opportunity for parents to enjoy a romantic dinner in The Dining Room, Orange County's only five-star restaurant. Ritzy, indeed. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, CA 800-241-3333 or ritzcarlton.com Doubles from $325 /night during low season, $395/night high season (summer months). The Ritz Kids program is available free of charge to guests ages 5-12 on a half or full day basis seven days a week (hours are 9 AM-4 PM , lunch available for a small fee). Kid's Night Out is available from 6-9 PM on Friday and Saturday nights, no charge. Babysitting services and children's items available. The Ritz Kids program is available free of charge at all Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide.

Elaine Sosa is a food and travel writer based in San Francisco, California. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and three-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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