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A Love Letter to Family-Friendly Hotel Amenities

These hotels treat their tiny guests like V.I.K.s—Very Important Kids.

There’s a lot of gear to remember to pack when you travel with a 7-month-old. Diapers. Wipes. Food pouches. Teething toys. When your little one is particularly obsessed with precrawl scooting, you also need to bring stuff to keep her safe as she inches around a hotel room. And if you’re anything like my wife and me, these are the items you often forget at home.

Imagine our surprise, then, during a recent stay at the Fairmont San Francisco, when we checked into the room to find four plastic outlet covers waiting on the desk.

Apparently the concierge had caught wind that we were traveling with a baby and notified housekeeping to leave the little gifts. Right after we unpacked our bags, my wife and I popped the covers into all of the outlets within baby reach. The little one was able to crawl to her heart’s content.

This episode of awesomeness got us thinking about other kid-oriented amenities that can improve a family’s experience on the road. Here, in no particular order, are some of the ones we love most.

Coloring books. Kids never can have too many art supplies, especially when your family is dining in restaurants and kids might need extra distractions to stave off boredom. Hotel chains such as Loews leave coloring packets and crayons in the rooms when they know kids are coming.

Kid-sized bathrobes. No, child-sized robes aren’t going to make or break a trip, but they do go a long way toward making kids feel special, which, in turn, facilitates good behavior during lazy mornings when mom and dad want to linger in the room. Many Four Seasons properties offer this amenity. (The Fairmont San Francisco left us one for our 4-year-old, too.)

Stroller rentals. Schlepping a stroller on a plane flight is, in a word, cumbersome. Hotels that offer stroller rentals eliminate the need for enduring this struggle. Concierge desks at hotels inside the Walt Disney World Resort can arrange for daily stroller rentals while your family visits the park. In an ideal world, we’d love to see properties offer free jogging strollers the way Kimpton and other boutiques offer bicycles.

Potty seats. Many standard-issue hotel toilet seats are too big for tiny bottoms. This makes potty seats another family-friendly amenity worth its weight in gold. At the LEGOLAND Hotel inside the LEGOLAND California Resort, in-room toilets have two seats—one sized for grown-ups and one sized for kids. The child-sized offering fits into the grown-up sized one for easy storage. It’s engineering genius.

Breakfast buffets. Free food! Free UNLIMITED food! When you’re a 12-year-old boy, life doesn’t get much better than this. A handful of hotel chains offer free hot and cold breakfast buffets, but Holiday Inn Express properties usually have the best.

Of course, some dream family travel amenities haven’t made their way into the mainstream just yet. In an ideal world, here are the three we’d love to see:

Stools for sinks. Most hotel sinks are 3.5- to 4-feet tall. Most toddlers are shorter than that. In-room stools would help eliminate this problem, providing kiddos with the height and leverage they need to do their things at the bathroom sink. Until that day, we parents will continue to put the bathroom wastebasket upside-down and have our kids stand on that.

Nightlights. When you’re 2 or 3, spending the night in a dark and unfamiliar room can be spooky. The solution? Hotel-provided nightlights to make each room a bit brighter during evening hours. Hotels could even write off this amenity as a way to defray energy costs, since nightlights mean fewer room lights at night.

Sound machines. There’s nothing quite like the ambient sounds of the Amazon rainforest or waves crashing against the shore to help keep baby asleep. While most parents can download sound machine apps on their phones, standalone sound machines free up personal devices for mom and dad to scroll through photos from the day—a nighttime family travel ritual.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com