Regional Destinations Cater to Kids While Pampering Weary Parents
Oftentimes, a weekend away with the children ends up being a weekend for the children — not so much for the parents. But given the abundance of destination options in and around the nation’s capital, Washingtonians have their pick of family-friendly resorts that cater to the kids while providing some parental pampering as well. And these resorts go beyond mere babysitting services to offer a true getaway experience for all ages.
Hershey’s Sweet Surprises If you live in the area and have children, it’s inevitable that at some point they’ll want to go to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, roughly a two-hour drive from Washington. After all, what can be better than roller-coaster rides and unlimited chocolate?
For the kids of course the main attraction is the park itself, which features a variety of rides and coasters, shows, amusement-themed activities, a boardwalk and even a separate North American Wildlife Park. And did we mention the chocolate? Hershey’s makes those iconic Kisses, as well as Reese’s peanut butter cups and KitKat wafers, all of which are readily available throughout the town named after chocolate entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey.
But the whole Hershey complex offers some sweet treats for adults as well, most of which can be found in the two main resorts, Hershey Lodge and the Hotel Hershey. The lodge, the less expensive of the two properties, offers 665 guest rooms, four restaurants, three pools, access to golf at the Hershey Country Club and other amenities. It even gives kids their very own check-in desk, where they may run into one of the many life-size Hershey’s chocolate characters.
At the higher end is the more adult-oriented — though no less kid-friendly— Hotel Hershey, an upscale historic property that recently underwent a million “grand expansion” last year to coincide with the hotel’s 75th anniversary. Among the most noticeable results of the expansion are 10 new luxury woodside guest cottages located behind the 278-room hotel. These elegant enclaves are a getaway in and of themselves — surrounded by woodland, secluded from the main property, yet still within walking distance of the hotel.
Intimate yet spacious, the 10 cottages feature individual front porches and private outdoor entrances, as well as classic, contemporary décor inside, with marble bathrooms, stone hearths and original artwork that make for a refined lodging experience.
Also part of the million upgrade was a new outdoor recreation area that includes an elaborate aquatic facility (with private cabanas and an infinity-edge pool for the adults, and spray pool and water slides for the kids), as well as a year-round ice skating rink, a 130-seat restaurant called Harvest, and a string of new boutique shops.
The bulk of the action, so to speak, still revolves around the hotel itself, a member of the Historic Hotels of America that was rated one of the top 50 “hotels for families” in the United States and Canada by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine last year.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the town of Hershey, the hotel offers 23,500 square feet of meeting and function space. But perhaps what appeals most to adults, especially weary parents, is the Chocolate Spa, where this tasty ingredient forms the basis of decadent — and distinctive — treatments. These range from a whipped cocoa bath and chocolate bean polish exfoliation to the ultimate chocolate fondue wrap, in which warmed moor mud and cocoa are brushed onto the skin, followed by the fondue application and wrap, and capped by a Vichy Shower rinse.
There are even of Cuban-inspired treatments stemming from Milton Hershey’s first visit to the country in 1916. Incidentally, because many spa treatments aren’t recommended for pregnant women, Hershey has cleverly come up with an array of massages and treatments specially geared toward mommies-to-be.
And if the spa hasn’t loosened you up after a day corralling children around the park, some spirits should do the trick. The hotel regularly hosts events such as chocolate martini mixology classes and wine-and-chocolate pairings.
In addition, the cozy Iberian Lounge is packed in the evenings with guests sampling the hotel’s signature wines and cocktails while listening to live music against a grand fireplace (though finding a seat and unhurried service can be hard when the crowds get big).
There are also several prime venues for grown-up palettes, namely the award-winning Circular Dining Room, which offers a sweeping view of the manicured gardens and ponds outside, as well as the newer Harvest restaurant, housed in its own separate building not far from the woodside cottages. More casual than the flagship Circular Dining Room, Harvest nevertheless boasts a striking lodge ambience complemented by a traditional but well-executed American menu.
For dessert, head over to the hotel’s Fountain Lobby for the chocolate dessert buffet. If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, the price tag per person may be too steep for your tastes, but for chocoholics, this buffet is a heavenly — and unlimited — indulgence.
The Fountain Lobby itself is a nice spot to unwind. Designed to resemble a Spanish courtyard, the lobby features a hand-painted sky ceiling, mosaic tile floor and mezzanine balconies — all anchored by a dramatic fountain.
The concept for the lobby was actually inspired by Milton Hershey’s love of Cuba, where he owned sugar plantations and mills and where he created a village called “Central Hershey,” much like the town he developed in Pennsylvania.
In fact, the history behind the Hershey enterprise is a fascinating one for the entire family. Guests of the Hotel Hershey receive free admission to the Hershey Story: The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, and it’s well worth a visit to learn how Milton Hershey built his empire — and how he gave much of it away toward philanthropic causes.
The town that bears his name and legacy is the direct result of Hershey’s belief that employees who were treated fairly and lived in a decent environment would be better workers. As early as 1909, Hershey and his wife Catherine established the Hershey Industrial School, a school for orphan boys. Then in 1918, with no fanfare, Hershey transferred the bulk of his fortune to the Hershey Trust to be held for the Hershey Industrial School, now known as the Milton Hershey School. Today, the school continues to house and educate hundreds of underprivileged boys and girls, alongside the public elementary and secondary schools that Hershey also supported. That type of forward-thinking humanitarian spirit really reinforces the town’s motto that Hershey is “the sweetest place on Earth.”
Williamsburg Excursion Amusement parks rarely lose their allure for children — or teenagers for that matter. So for older children who’ll scoff at actors dressed up like candy bars, but haven’t quite outgrown the thrill of a roller-coaster ride, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., is a happy medium for many families.
Busch Gardens is unique in that it combines a traditional American amusement park with European culture, dividing sections of the 350-acre park into countries such as Scotland, France, Germany and Italy (hence rides such as “Loch Ness Monster” and “Escape from Pompeii”). And it certainly might be easier taking a teenager to Virginia than on a transatlantic flight to Europe.
In addition, the surrounding town of Williamsburg is itself a major tourist draw for visitors who flock to experience 18th-century life at Colonial Williamsburg, which features scores of original public buildings, homes, shops, restaurants and other sites spread out over 301 acres — most on their original foundations — that together make up the largest living history museum in the United States.
Costumed actors on horseback, candlelit taverns and other historic recreations offer a glimpse into the revolutionary time period when Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Patrick Henry fought for America’s independence.
Both Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg are ideal getaways for families who want to give their children a more learning-oriented adventure. Both are also located close to one another, and a convenient middle ground for the family to set up camp while they visit Williamsburg is Kingsmill Resort and Spa, a family-centric destination located directly on the banks of picturesque James River.
But Kingsmill provides much more than temporary lodging while you visit other sites. The sprawling complex offers its own array of family activities from outdoor swimming and bicycle rentals to a Kid’s Kamp program — along with distinctly grownup diversions such as golf and spa treatments — all of which act as a great complement to a Williamsburg outing.
They also act as an invaluable support for parents trying to manage a hectic family vacation. Kingsmill for instance provides free shuttle service to Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA (a priceless resource when parking becomes impossible at the height of the summer season and lugging children’s gear to a water park becomes a hassle).
There’s plenty to do inside the resort as well. On-site recreation options include 15 clay and hard tennis courts, a fully equipped sports club, fishing, and a full-service marina with boat rentals for guests.
In addition, more than 400 villa-style suites — with one, two or three bedrooms — wind throughout the property and provide ample space for different family accommodations (not to mention spectacular views of the river and grounds). The setting alone is relaxing — a tranquil retreat dominated by lakes, ponds and rolling greens against the backdrop of the expansive James River.
And on those greens, you’ll find the ultimate form of adult recreation: golf.
That’s because Kingsmill is Virginia’s largest golf resort. Guests can tee off at three championship courses designed by Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Tom Clark and two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange. For nearly 30 years in fact, the Kingsmill River Course was home to PGA and LPGA tournament play. For less seasoned players, there’s also a full-fledged golf academy at Kingsmill that offers personalized lessons, clinics, junior camps and fitness lessons.
Another prime outlet for stressed parents is the spa, home to a complete salon, massage studios, facial rooms, saunas and whirlpools, among other amenities. Treatments run the gamut from a cooling seaweed peppermint wrap to an invigorating marine-salt exfoliating scrub. There are also special treatments for expecting mothers, men and teens.
On that note, both the spa and golf facilities have incorporated elements specially designed for children — such as introduction classes for young golfers to an “all about u” spa package to celebrate birthdays, graduation and mother-daughter outings.
Finally of course, there’s the food. Five restaurants offer a mix of dining choices, though some are open based on season and demand, so check before you go. The staples that are open year-round are Regattas, a colorful, low-key café that serves pizzas and pasta, and Eagles, a steak and chophouse. Though the dishes at Eagles are hearty and traditional, the preparations are surprisingly innovative and nuanced — largely the result of a beechwood-smoking process that adds a flavorful punch to the meats and seafood.
In the summertime though, the place to eat is at the Marina Bar & Grille, where guests can dine outdoors along the James River in a setting that perfectly mirrors the natural beauty found throughout the resort.
Bliss by the Bay Like Kingsmill, the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa & Marina is shaped by the beauty of its landscape. In fact, from a distance the striking white exterior of the resort seems to rise out of the waters of the Choptank River, which is just steps away from this 400-acre haven along Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Given its location, it’s no surprise that the river defines so much of this hotel’s identity. From the moment guests enter the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay, they are swept away by soaring vistas of the water outside framed by a massive, two-story glass wall that anchors the lobby area.
That panoramic view forms the dramatic centerpiece of the lobby lounge, dubbed Michener’s Library (after the author of the novel “Chesapeake”), which is one of the main gathering spots in the hotel. Punctuated by wood-burning stone fireplaces, cozy nooks, billiard tables, a sleek, spacious bar and large-screen televisions, this “library” has a little something for everyone, from sports fans to bookworms.
A soothing, nautical-themed design runs throughout the property, where many of the 400 guest rooms look out over the majestic Choptank River (all of the rooms also have their own individual balcony).
But the real scenery is outside. A 1,100-foot pier juts out from the River Marsh Marina, a focal point of the property. From there, guests can embark on a variety of aquatic adventures, such as sailing lessons, fishing, kayak and canoe rentals, sunset dinner cruises or boat tours through the Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are also hikes and ecological tours of the nearby 26,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a giant resting and feeding area for waterfowl and migratory birds (including the Atlantic Coast’s largest population of bald eagles), as well as the resort’s own Blue Heron Rookery, a preserved area of lush vegetation for animals indigenous to the Eastern Shore. For less-strenuous outdoor activities, guests can simply grab a drink at Dock’s Poolside and lounge at one of the resort’s four outdoor pools, or its two smaller private beach areas.
Water is also the driving force behind the Stillwater Spa, an 18,000-square-foot European-style refuge that was voted one of the best spas in the mid-Atlantic region by Southern Living magazine. There, guests can soak up signature Eastern Shore-inspired treatments such as a hot shell massage, the “Chesapeake Couple’s Massage” or the “Waterman’s Facial.”
In addition to the river on one side of the resort, the other half of the Hyatt Regency is flanked by an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Keith Foster. The water is never far away though — the Choptank River makes for a stunning backdrop to the par-5 18th hole.
The emphasis on the Chesapeake Bay also carries over to the cuisine. Highlights among the resort’s six restaurants include the Water’s Edge Grill, which offers an Eastern Shore-focused menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as the freestanding Blue Point Provision Company, specializing in regional seafood fare such as blue crabs and oysters.
Kids too can learn to appreciate the natural wonders of the bay. The award-winning Camp Hyatt program for children ages 4 to 12 explores the culture, history and environment surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, with activities such as nature trail walks and searches for real Native American Indian arrowheads.
Logistically too, the resort is a good fit for families. Located only an hour and a half from downtown D.C., the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay is one of the more affordable resorts in the area, with prices starting at 9 per night Sunday through Thursday and 9 per night Friday and Saturday until June 4.
Northern Romp and Southern Style For very young children, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort up in Pennsylvania offers innovative activities that are sure to keep kids from getting bored. There’s a Kidz Spa where little ones can glam it up with movie-star makeup; age-specific Kidz Klubs; and programs such as “The Jackson Pollock Experience,” whereby artists-in-training (ages 6 to 15) use a variety of different mediums from paintball guns to darts to create their own masterpieces that would make Pollock proud. Other interactive activities include snow tubing, swimming, dinosaur digs and mini golf.
Likewise, resorts such as Rocky Gap Lodge in Maryland and Wintergreen in Virginia specialize in outdoor activities that are sure to give kids a great workout — and wear little tykes out so the parents can get some peace in the evenings.
For older children though, something more sophisticated might be in order. To that end, consider venturing a bit further south to Charleston, a historic town in South Carolina with abundant charms, and stay at the nearby Woodlands Inn to complete the Southern hospitality experience. An immaculately restored 1906 classic revival mansion nestled amid 42 acres of parkland grounds, the 19-room Woodlands Inn is one of only four properties in North America to hold the Mobil Five Star and AAA Five Diamond ratings for both its accommodations and dining room.
The inn also boasts a local connection as one of the properties under the portfolio of Salamander Hospitality. Founded in 2005 by entrepreneur and well-known Washington presence Sheila C. Johnson, Salamander is a private company based in Middleburg, Va., that manages hotels, resorts and inns that reflect the authenticity and character of their surroundings.
Closer to home, the company will debut its Salamander Resort and Spa in its home base of Middleburg in spring 2012. Incidentally, the origin of the Salamander name can be traced to Bruce Sundlun, a two-term Rhode Island governor and war hero who evaded capture by the Nazis and was given the code name “Salamander” after the amphibian that can mythically walk through fire. Years later, Sundlun bought a 200-acre estate in Virginia and named it “Salamander.” When Johnson purchased the estate, she revived the moniker that she associated with strength, courage and fortitude, applying it to her hospitality ventures.
About the Author
Anna Gawel is the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat and news columnist for the Diplomatic Pouch.