laguna_nigelSometimes the answer to your quest for the perfect family resort is so much closer than you realize. Particularly if you live in Southern California, within driving distance of the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel.

Dream Vacation Checklist:

The Kids Want:

  • To Frolic in the pool
  • To play on the beach
  • To go on a fun scavenger hunt
  • Restaurants that serve food they like and have crayons and coloring books
  • To be treated kindly by hotel staff, despite the fact that they leave a crumb trail
  • Complimentary Pool Noodles and Boogie Boards
  • Organized activities just for them

You Want:

  • Poolside Cocktails
  • Beach Valets to schlep your towels, toys, chairs, umbrellas
  • A chance to enjoy your  gourmet dinner on your own and take a romantic stroll on the beach one evening
  • Spectacular Views in a World class luxury resort setting
  • To be pampered at a spa
  • To be treated like royalty, even though you brought the rugrats
  • A luxury family vacation that you’ll all remember fondly

My husband and I honeymooned at the Ritz Carlton in  St Thomas, USVI. Ritz Carltons have held a special place in our hearts ever since. We’ve been known to pop over to the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel for tea or cocktails or better yet, the wine, chocolate and cheese tasting room. The Ritz’s Sunday Brunch at Restaurant 162 ‘simply cannot be topped. Indeed it is pricey at $85 pp for adults but I will go on the record as saying: for a special occasion it is worth every penny and then some. My advice? Eat. Very. Slowly. Just check out this Ritz Carlton Sunday Brunch Menu.

Any excuse to spend time at this hotel, is  a good one. We don’t need much arm twisting to linger in the lobby with out of towners, when they visit. They admire the view of surfers and sunbathers at Salt Creek Beach, and we smile, perhaps a little smugly, that these are the people, and places in our neighborhood. Once or twice in the last five years we’ve even splurged and spent a romantic night sans kids at the resort. But before this summer, we never really considered the resort as a destination for family travel. Perhaps that was just us being selfish. Perhaps it was our romantic history at the Ritz. One thing’s for sure: every time we walked through the lobby with friends, our kids asked the same question. “Why can’t we stay here at this hotel!!!?”

So, recently our entire family spent the night at the Ritz Carlton, and we learned all about the appeal of this resort as a family destination.

ritzcarltonI’ll admit I was a little nervous at first. Having spent time there in the past I knew fairly well, just how posh and refined it was. And having spent several years with my children, I was pretty familiar with how unrefined they could be as well. I  had to fight the urge to disown my 4 year old son as he scuffled chocolate faced into the marble clad lobby, loudly singing a Backyardigan’s song and practicing his Ninja moves. I cringed a little, waiting for the inevitable look of disapproval from the concierge, but was instead met with a smile. Sand shovels and buckets with the Ritz Carlton logo were quickly procured, along with an invitation to complete a scavenger hunt form to win a prize. The prize was a frisbee, by the way, at least for the 4 year old. The hotel keeps a basket full of goodies for kids behind their desk. This was only the beginning of the kid friendly flourishes that made me, and my kids feel at home during our time at the Ritz.

When we requested a crib for the room, we were given an extra toiletry kit especially prepared for babies. Everywhere on the property that we wandered my kids and I were treated kindly and with respect. For some reason this seemed to help them stay on their best behavior. Though I would have thought it impossible, the 4 year old Ninja made it through the entire stay sipping water like a gentleman from a fluted glass cup, sans straw, without spilling. My 12 year old developed a taste for Mahi Mahi and the determination to have her wedding at the resort. Someday.

Spectacular does not begin to describe the cliffside setting over the Pacific. It’s a little piece of paradise. In this paradise, formally clad bridesmaids wander through the palatial hotel hallways, past future surfers in their shorts and swim gear. Without blinking an eye. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the setting that rinses away the pretentiousness that one might expect of a hotel this grand, leaving only a relaxed and appreciative smile behind. Taking in the sunset sitting in one of the many ocean facing chairs on the Ritz Carlton’s property, it’s possible to one again believe in all your childhood dreams and embrace your best self.

Unfortunately we did not get the chance to try out the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel’s Children’s Program but it is advertised on the site as being perfect for kids aged 5 and up. Activities include crafts, games, beach activities and poolside movies during the summer. We were just a couple of weeks to early to take advantage of this program. For guests that visit when the program is on hiatus and those with kids under 5, the hotel does maintain a list of private in room sitters. There were plenty of families visiting with kids the weekend we were there, despite the fact that the official kids summer program had not begun.

We met and bonded with one of those families at the pool on our second day. The Taub family from Castle Rock, Colorado told us that they had been coming about once a year to the Ritz, for over five years. It was a family tradition for them and they don’t really even consider going elsewhere for their family vacations. Their love of the resort has actually driven them to consider moving to the area. They loved the resort for many of the same reasons we did. It’s just so easy and it’s a “real” vacation. Not one where you skimp on the things you like to do, and your own relaxation, so that you can have the kids along.The Ritz is running several family (and eco) friendly specials this summer.

We’ll happily return to this hotel in the future, with or without our children. It’s a destination that’s close to home and anything but a compromise. Why spend a fortune to schlep the whole family caboodle to a far flung location that could never live up to the dream that is our nearby jewel? It’s actually more affordable (and less stressful – no flying with the baby!) to keep our family’s vacation local. For all these reasons and many more, for those in the Southland and a bit beyond, the Ritz Carlton is a suprisingly family and budget friendly getaway.