Pirate or royalty?
Maybe your kids are really adventurers at heart. They can take their pick at the brand-new LEGOLAND Hotel at LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., and your suite, complete with bunk beds and a separate TV for the kids, will be decorated accordingly with everything from LEGO models, wallpaper and even a treasure chest.
Did I mention the 250-room hotel, opening April 5, which features more than 3,500 LEGO models created out of more than 3 million LEGO bricks? That means you might have a LEGO parrot in your pirate suite or a frog in your kingdom suite. The Skyline Cafe features a LEGO city skyline with 35 miniature scenes made out of what else -- tiny LEGOS. (I especially liked the woman trying to entice a monkey off the balcony with a banana and one fighting a turkey that came out of her oven.) I got a sneak peak just before opening.
Check out the LEGO trees at the pool outside! Young kids -- this place really is designed for the under-10 crowd -- will especially like the pool with its "talking" and bubble-blowing dragon and the giant smoke-breathing dragon that greets you at the entrance to the hotel. You won't be able to get them to leave the Castle Play area (check out the LEGO filled moat!) and they will give a thumbs-up to the Bricks restaurant where the buffet station is designed so kids can reach the food, which incidentally will include plenty of fruit, veggies and other locally sourced and healthy eats.
Hotels are so much more than a place to sleep these days, especially for families. Check into the Thayer Hotel at West Point, N.Y., and kids might even learn a little history in a room dedicated to famous graduates like astronaut Buzz Aldrin, complete with memorabilia. (The newest is the Army Baseball Room.)
In many cases, rooms have morphed into suites with kitchenettes so that families (often including grandma and grandpa) can spread out. For another, they come complete with toys, kid-sized robes and special decor all designed to continue a specific theme -- pirates, princesses, or favorite characters. Royal Caribbean has even launched The Barbie Premium Experience complete with special pink sheets, fashion show and fashion designer workshop.
Are your little ones fans of Fisher-Price Little People? In Mexico's Riviera Maya, the Azul Hotels by Karisma all-inclusives have just introduced Fisher-Price Family Suites complete with Little People toys, decor (even special kids' bathrobes and pillows) and breakfast with Little People favorites Eddie and Mia. I like that the suites will be stocked with age-appropriate toys and books.
Got a future movie star in your gang? Check into the Little Divas Suite at the boutique Diva Hotel in San Francisco's Union Square that comes complete with karaoke machine, a drawing table, giant stuffed animals and photographs of famous child stars.
At New York's Tony Plaza Hotel, the Eloise Suite complete with tea set, Eloise books, robes and towels -- all designed with the fictional 6-year-old heroine of Kay Thompson's classic tale of the rambunctious Eloise who lived at the hotel -- has proved so popular that there is now a Tower Suite for young knights in training.
Think round bed in a round bedroom with a 23-foot exposed cathedral ceiling and a closet full of knight dress-up outfits and toys from FAO Schwarz. Let's not forget a huge chocolate knight and a picnic lunch at Belvedere Castle in Central Park -- all for $1,345 a night.
In Orlando, Fla., Disney's Art of Animation Resort is far more affordable -- it is a "value" resort, which means it is among the most affordable of the Disney properties with rates that can be as low as $100 a night ($252 for a suite that sleeps six).
Take your pick of four different wings that celebrate characters from "Finding Nemo," "Cars," "The Little Mermaid" and "The Lion King." Parked at the entryway to the "Cars" wing, Sheriff and Doc Hudson welcome us; inside the suite where I stayed, the pull-out bed looks like the back seat of an old car, the dresser looks like a tool chest and the bathroom design is inspired by a car wash. Stay in a "Lion King" suite and kids can chill on a leaf-shaped chair; in the "Finding Nemo" suites, the lampshades look like jelly fish. (No worries if you are going to Disneyland, the Disneyland Hotel offers five signature suites, including the Mickey Mouse Penthouse and the Fairy Tale Suite.
I loved the options for healthy eats at the food court at Art of Animation -- think omelets made to order or smoothies for breakfast. Parents will love the space in these suites, as well as the fridge and microwaves. Kids will love everything -- from the easels set up outside the entrance (the theme of the resort tells the story of the animation process, starting with sketches) to "Big Blue" the largest pool at Walt Disney World, 11,859 square feet, where kids can get underwater messages from the characters.
Across town, kids can channel their inner rock star at the music-themed suites at the Loews Hard Rock Hotel kids' suites while dinosaur lovers can check in to "Jurassic Park" suites at the Loews Pacific Resort. Families are already booking stays at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort that won't even open until next year and is designed to evoke memories of beach resorts from the 1950s. (Family suites that sleep six start at just $174.)
And while we're talking Orlando, we have to mention The Nickelodeon Suites Resort where the generously sized suites with kitchens are designed with Nick character wallpaper, (take your pick of SpongeBob Square Pants or Dora the Explorer) and there's a chance to get slimed and play Nick-themed games at the water playground.
The only down side to all these themed hotels: Your kids won't want to leave the property. You won't, either.
Ready for another ride down the water slide?
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando, LA and Chicago. Coming later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.