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Planning tips for luxury trips with kids

By Eva Vasquez, Special to CNN
Planning a trip with kids involves a whole new set of considerations.
Planning a trip with kids involves a whole new set of considerations.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • You don't have to leave the kids at home to enjoy a luxurious vacation
  • Distinguish what is best for your family and ask about kids' programs and discounts
  • Include the children in the planning process and keep their ages in mind as you plan
RELATED TOPICS
  • Family Travel
  • Parenting
  • Vacations
  • Facebook Inc.
  • Twitter Inc.
  • Europe
  • Hawaii

(CNN) -- Sometimes a parent wants a little more pampering on a family vacation than camping or a road trip to the beach can offer. But you don't have to leave the kids at home to enjoy a vacation to a five-star hotel or a villa in Hawaii.

Many moms feel strongly about continuing to travel to exotic places after having children -- and sharing what they've learned about making it work.

Amie O'Shaughnessy founded Ciao Bambino!, a website dedicated to family travel, after she became a mother and found a dearth of information for traveling families.

"I realized travel for me had changed. I had very different needs," she said. O'Shaughnessy and her family, including her son, 7, just got back from Switzerland and plan to return to Europe over the summer.

On Hip Travel Mama, Anne Taylor Hartzell also shares travel tips with other parents "who love luxury travel that fits their style and budget." Hartzell owns a Seattle, Washington, public relations firm specializing in technology and travel.

Hartzell and her husband have managed to continue traveling in style with two daughters, 6 and 2. Recently they've been to Hawaii and Palm Springs, California. Hartzell is also planning a trip to France with the kids, "as well as trying out 'glamping,' [glamour + camping] this summer," she said.

With these experts' advice, we created this 11-step crash course on getting the best experience for your specific family needs.

Understand the benefits
The finest thing about luxury travel is the amenities. "Sometimes when you are traveling with kids it's the little things that make it worth the expense," Hartzell said. Little things like returning to a stocked fridge or having a crib already set up on arrival will leave you more time for enjoying your surroundings and each other.

Distinguish what's best for your family
To maximize value, tailor your vacation to your family. "The age of your kids completely changes the planning of your trip," O'Shaughnessy said.

When considering space for the family, remember that room configurations change when you go international. "In Europe, with the older buildings, it is much harder to find a room with two double beds," O'Shaughnessy said.

Decide how much work you want to do planning
Homework is necessary to planning a vacation you and your family will never forget. "I do the research myself, because I enjoy it," said Hartzell. However, there is always the option of "completely outsourcing it" to a luxury travel company such as U.K.-based Abercrombie and Kent.

If you are going to a place where ground logistics will be involved, O'Shaughnessy recommends using a family tour operator. "They do fixed itineraries -- it's not for every trip, but good for exotic places like Costa Rica," she said.

If you choose to plan, know what to look for
There are certain places that are just not family-friendly, Hartzell said in her blog. When searching for a resort where the whole family will feel comfortable, here are some go-to indicators:

Check to see if they have a kids' program. Programs like a kids' club or activities for families solve the quandary of "what to do once you're there," Hartzell said. "The Four Seasons has a great program called Kids for All Seasons."

Ask if there are family support services such as baby-sitting (most high-end hotels have background checks) or arranging baby-gear, Hartzell said.

O'Shaughnessy recommended getting a feel for the hotel's attitude. "You can do this by calling and asking, 'Do families stay with you?' -- the answer [and tone of it] is always very telling," she said.

Try to identify the objective of the other guests, O'Shaughnessy said. "If the rest of the guests are there on business, you are going to spend your entire trip feeling guilty that your kids are disturbing them -- that's not relaxing."

Involve the kids
"Engage your kids in the planning process," O'Shaughnessy said. With online resources it is easy to involve the entire family. "With older kids it is easier to do that," she said. For younger children she recommends reading books to your kids about the place you are going to visit.

How cool is the pool?
"One thing that is really important to my kids is the pool," Hartzell said. Check out to see what the pool situation is. Make sure it is not "adults only." The worst thing that could happen is to have your kids in their swimsuits and floaties with the pool in sight, and then having to tell them it's a no-go. That's just asking for a public meltdown. A lot of hotels and resorts have a kid's pool and then a separate one for adults, she said.

Leverage community and social networks
Your community is a great starting point for planning your vacation because chances are you have a lot in common with your neighbors when it comes to taste and budget. "Often, my best vacation ideas or advice comes from a neighbor, a colleague, a mom at school or a parent on the playground," Hartzell said on her blog.

Social media is the new way to leverage your community and get the first tips, Hartzell said. It can also help you get instantaneous updates on new offers from resorts and hotels. "Some hotels offer special discounts using Facebook or Twitter, so it is worth following them," she said.

Take the initiative to ask
"The more kids you have, the harder it is to keep the expense in line," Hartzell said. Call the hotel and ask for family packages or programs. Many hotels offer 50 percent off with an adjoining room, she said.

"Some hotels offer discounts on larger room configurations," O'Shaughnessy added.

Plan activities
Minimal travel time reduces risk of embarrassing tantrums, but sometimes your dream destination requires longer flights or drives. "The key to traveling with kids is making it fun," Hartzell said. She recommended packing each child a backpack with new toys, games, art supplies and snacks. "I keep it a surprise and don't let them open them until we get past security."

Use your concierge for restaurant choices
Eating out can be a challenge. On her blog Hartzell explained that staying at a vacation home with a kitchen can alleviate these worries. But if you are at a hotel, your concierge is your best friend. The concierge can tell you where to find a more casual restaurant. "We tend to go higher-end and risk it -- sometimes you have to make a calculated risk," she said.

Focus on the family
Parents know that with children some things are just unavoidable and unpredictable, but keep your anxiety to a minimum and enjoy your trip. "Luxury travel is all about attitude -- focus on your family first," Hartzell said.

Of course, the caveat to that is being respectful to others. The first class cabin or four-star restaurant is not the best place to make a disciplinary point, she said. "Kids grow up fast and you will one day miss the time your baby threw up on the table of the nice restaurant, or your toddler screamed the whole flight home from Hawaii. These are the days."