By Gregory Keer
Who needs airplane flights with their predictable liftoffs and restrictive windows that don’t allow kids to touch those tantalizing clouds? How exciting is it to visit national parks with wonders that are just as easily seen on the Internet without the risk of allergy attacks? What good is an island paradise when children cannot drink anything spiked with rum?
The real center of vacation fun is the hotel room.
After 11 years of traveling, my kids rank hotel visits as the most preferred part of their getaway experiences. Even if my family wasn’t on a budget, my boys would take a stay in a low-cost inn over most any other adventure.
Actually, cost cutting is where the good times begin. For our most recent road trip, my wife and I start our journey at the computer.
“Where do you want to go?” I ask Wendy.
“Let’s see what the booking sites come up with,” she says as if she’s about to roll dice.
For several hours that night, we troll online reservation services, including Hotwire.com and Travelocity.com, before we settle on Priceline.com. With the staccato encouragement of William Shatner playing in our heads, we invite the kids to the laptop to see what pops up once we commit to a room price.
“We could get a hotel for $5!” Jacob shouts from his seven-year-old economic perspective.
“Not exactly,” I reply as the response downloads. “But we’ll take $60 a night for a three-and-a-half star hotel close to the beach!”
A week later, we arrive at a fairly new hotel, albeit in a corporate park rather than near the beach (location uncertainty is part of the trade-off for a low room rate). But the kids are already excited.
“Cool lobby,” Ari (4) giggles as we head toward check-in.
Wendy pulls me aside by the arm less burdened by backpacks and toys. “We can’t let the hotel see we have three kids or they’ll try to charge us for two rooms,” she says conspiratorially. “Wait for my cell call.”
Reunited on the third floor, my giddy kids burst into our room.
Benjamin (11) heads straight for the bed and leans back with his hands behind his head. “Nice mattress,” he offers in his pre-adolescent discernment.
Jacob sets to unpacking our bags and putting clothes in the dressers. “These drawers are better than the ones we have at home,” he critiques.
Ari breathlessly yells from the window, “We can see the other buildings! Come look!”
I join him at the glass then say to Wendy, “It’s a $60 view of an insurance company, but we’re happy, right?”
For the next hour, my sons explore the room like Alice’s in Wonderland, making rabbit-hole discoveries in the bathroom (“Check out the extra shampoos in the shower!”), the TV (“Can we watch HBO Family all day?”), and the night table (“Somebody named Gideon left his Bible here!”).
Ari finds the mini-bar, opening the fridge to a world of diminutive goodies with massive prices. “Free candy!” he declares.
I rush to prevent him from doubling our hotel bill in one bite. He cries loudly and I try to shush him.
“Yeah, Ari,” Jacob reasons precociously. “Mommy said there are people on their honeymoon, next door, so we have to be quiet.”
“There are no honeymooners, here,” Benjamin responds.
“Yes there are!” Jacob shoots back as he slugs his brother. They commence to brawl, one of the unfortunate inevitabilities of collapsing our living arrangement into 300 square feet.
“Let’s go see the pool,” Wendy announces, averting further sibling violence.
That night, all irritation toward each other has evaporated following a day of swimming and discovering free snacks in the lobby. Our sons, who at home cannot stand to be within three feet of each other, drift off to sleep together in the queen-size bed, looking like angelic urchins in a Dickens novel.
In the morning, the kids resume their rambunctiousness, throwing pillows around without a care for the “honeymooners” next door. Jacob, still a proud new reader, nags us for “hot cakes with bananas” from the room-service menu, despite our refusals. And Ari seems to have fallen in love with the bathtub – minus the water.
Still, it takes us a long time to get outdoors. It doesn’t matter if there’s a magic show in the park starting in an hour or an IMAX presentation in the science museum that would blow their minds. We’ve got a hotel room and each other.