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What to ask before dropping your children off at a hotel kids' club

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The kids' club at 2013 Gold List property, Chiang Mai's Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi ups its game (and puts other clubs to shame) with activities like rice planting, water buffalo riding, and muay thai (kickboxing).Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

You’re on the verge of booking the perfect resort vacation, and you plan to include a little grown-up time by dropping your children off at the kids' club. How do you make sure that the program measures up to your expectations (and your kids’) so that you can truly relax?

I typically call ahead before booking and ask to speak to the club's manager. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want. In many cases, the manager will be able to email you more detailed information than what's available online. Once you’ve confirmed that the program meets your needs, go ahead and make your booking, reserving a space for your child a week before your visit.

On your first day at the resort, make time to drop in, meet the staff, and take a look around. It’s worth re-asking a few key questions on-the-spot just to make sure you are entirely comfortable with the hotel’s program and staffing. If not, you’ll still have time to make adjustments by using a hotel babysitter or a local camp.

What’s included?

Pricing and available hours are a little different at every club I’ve visited. Some include meals and snacks, while others expect you to order a meal at additional cost. Most include all activities, but in some situations (a field trip or an optional activity, for example) your child could incur extra charges. Find out exactly what’s included, what your kid needs in order to participate, and how flexible the drop-off and pickup times are before making your plans.

What ages can you accommodate?

Some clubs will accommodate young babies, while others want only kids who are fully potty independent (and will call you to pick up your child if there is an accident). Make sure you know what is expected, and verify that there are age-appropriate toys and activities available for your kids.

How are staff selected?

I always like to know how kids’ club staff are trained and how long they have been working at the hotel. What are the maximum staff-to-child ratios, and what happens if more kids enroll than expected? Does the club stop accepting kids, or bring in staff who don’t normally work with children? If you are planning to send your child several days in a row, will the staffing change each day? It’s important to note that local day care laws vary considerably, especially internationally, so training might look quite a bit different than what you are used to at home.

What areas of the hotel will the kids be in?

For some parents, a secured room with a fully fenced play area is an ideal situation, while others want their kids to make use of the resort facilities. There’s no one right answer, but if the kids will be out and about, make sure the you’re comfortable with the way the hotel keeps track of kids and keeps them safe. For hotels with a swim program, you’ll want to ask detailed questions on pool safety, especially for non-swimmers.

Can I see a schedule?

The best way to determine whether a hotel is offering a quality kids club or parking the kids in front of a TV all day is to ask to see a weekly schedule. If there isn’t one, or if the planned activities don’t seem stimulating, that should raise a red flag.

Can I leave the property?

Some resort programs require that parents stay nearby to help in case there’s a problem, while others allow you to visit the surrounding area. If you’re planning on an excursion, verify that your hotel’s program rules allow it.

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