All Aboard the Polar Express on the Grand Canyon RailroadDec 9, 2013
The Grand Canyon Railroad brings a classic holiday tale to life with the return of the Polar Express. Now through January 4, families can experience this themed train ride that follows the storyline of the acclaimed children’s book.
By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services
The visiting kids are shy about meeting the Arizona locals until Lance, Bailey and Sonora start showing off their tricks, wowing their young guests.
Meet Lance the Hawk, Bailey the turkey vulture and Sonora, a 2-year-old bald eagle — all injured and nursed back to health by Liberty Wildlife (www.libertywildlife.org), which in the last 25 years has rehabilitated more than 50,000 wild animals.
What’s even more amazing than seeing these creatures strut their stuff “up close,” as the kids say, is where we are seeing them — in a free show on the lawn at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch (www.hyatt.com). This expansive resort, like others in the Hyatt group, is committed to introducing its guests to the culture and wildlife of the region. We’re in Arizona so we are learning about Arizona birds. We’re also treated to Native American dancing.
“A lot of people have stereotypes about native people,” says Derrick Suwaima Davis, a champion hoop dancer. The hoop dance celebrates the circle of life. “We are the children’s role models.”
The kids have a chance to string bead bracelets and make pottery, thanks to the first-rate Native American educational center in the resort lobby. There are 14 Native American tribes in Arizona, explains Forrest Chimerica, the Learning Center’s cultural interpreter. “Kids get to experience a different culture here. We want them to learn our ways of life.” Chimerica led the kids in playing Hopi games (one involves throwing corn cob darts through woven circles); later there will be a basket-weaving demonstration.
“This resort makes it so easy to teach the kids about a new culture,” says Theresa Halpern, whose 8-year-old daughter was busy making pottery one afternoon with my cousins Ethan Sitzman, 6, and his 4-year-old sister, Hannah.
“They really like kids here,” adds Carolyn Kuykendall, who is here with her husband and young children from suburban Chicago.
Hyatt, in fact, heralded the movement toward kid-friendly resorts 22 years ago when it started the Camp Hyatt program here, shortly after the resort opened, said Anne Lane, a senior Hyatt executive. Lane thought up the idea for the Easter break crowd. That one-time supervised kids activities program was so successful that it was initiated at all of the Hyatt resorts within two years and other resort companies quickly followed suit.
Today, of course, you’ll find innovative programs at resorts across the country and beyond — everything from pizza-making workshops at Loews Coronado Bay Resort in California (www.loewshotels.com), a mini lab for budding marine biologists at the Ritz-Carlton Naples, Fla., (www.ritzcarlton.com), painting classes with an artist in residence at the Eden Rock St. Barths (www.edenrockhotel.com), gombey dance lessons at the Fairmont in Bermuda (www.fairmont.com) to treasure hunts, on land and underwater, designed to teach kids about Polynesian culture at the Four Seasons Bora Bora (www.fourseasons.com). Even National Geographic is getting into the act, with a new National Geographic Explorers Camp at the Fairmont Scottsdale (www.fairmont.com/scottsdale), complete with photo safaris, GPS treasure hunts into the Sonoran Desert and meet-and-greets with bona fide National Geographic adventurers.
“It was about kids having fun together and parents getting some space,” said Lane, the mother of two daughters.
Today, it’s as much about learning and new experiences — Crabbing at the Hyatt Regence Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, stargazing at the Intercontinental Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale, making adobe houses at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort in New Mexico and making dream catchers and sand paintings here in Arizona where there is also plenty of family activities poolside — sundae-making, sand castle building contests and water balloons.
“The thing we like is they seem to integrate the environment for adults and kids,” says Melissa Codespoti, who is here from Seattle with her husband and two young sons. “And they don’t nickel and dime you to death.”
That’s because this year there are more complimentary programs here and elsewhere than I’ve ever seen before. Thank the bad economy for spurring resorts to do what I think they should have been doing all along for families.
For the first time, the Hyatt Scottsdale resort is offering Camp Hyatt free. (Look for deeply discounted room rates too, including on the spacious individual casitas, as well as appealing packages at Hyatt resorts that include a second room at half price, free breakfast, discounts on spa and food and more. Mention takingthekids when booking Camp Hyatt at the Hyatt Tamaya in New Mexico or Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in California and get a free day.
I’ve always applauded Four Seasons resorts for their complimentary programs. Not only are they unusual (want to feed swimming pigs in Great Exuma?), but also parents don’t feel guilty because the kids can stay just an hour or two — enough for parents to get a break.
This summer, even at the toniest resorts, you’ll get more for your family vacation buck than ever before, including free kids’ clubs, free food for the kids, free nights and substantial discounts on a second room for the kids. Here’s just a sample of what’s out there:
– The Ritz-Carlton Peace of Mind packages offer five nights for the price of three, Ritz Kids for two kids, free Internet, parking, breakfast and more.
– The Westin Aruba (www.westin.com/arubaspecials) has deals starting for a family of four at $309 a night, including free kids’ club and free food. The club is open all day until 10 p.m. in case parents want to hit the casino.
– The 100-year-old Breakers Palm Beach (www.breakers.com) offers free food for the kids, free kids’ camp and free golf, tennis and fitness classes.
– Windjammer Landing on the island of St. Lucia (www.windjammer-landing.com) invites kids to stay, play and eat free and also offers resort credits up to half of the room rates.
These special family deals are examples of very smart marketing. While parents might not want to pay for these programs — they can be more than $50 a child — they’ll use them if they are free and offer intriguing activities. “It’s really a nice option,” said Courtney Witter, who is from Seattle and used Camp Hyatt for her 5- and 3-year-old. “We went to the adult pool and relaxed and tonight we’re going out to dinner.”
So did we — and we didn’t feel the least bit guilty, especially when the kids reported they’d had more fun without us.
(c) 2009 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.