If innkeepers don't welcome kids, you'll hear it in their 'code words'

April 25, 1993|By Candyce H. Stapen | Candyce H. Stapen,Contributing Writer

Part of the fun of booking a bed and breakfast inn for you and your children is the opportunity to experience another lifestyle. Where else can you get the chance to sleep in the place of your dreams?

If your kids are learning about the Civil War, find an antebellum plantation house for an overnight. If your city-bred children like animals, select a farmhouse with wheat fields and horses. If you want to explore the country, choose an isolated lodge with a fishing stream and a front-porch view of the mountains. To add spice to an East Coast city stay, book a historic town house in whose parlor 18th-century notables sipped brandy and talked politics.

"Kids like B&Bs for the same reasons adults do," says Sarah Sonke, director of the American Bed and Breakfast Association in Richmond, Va. "You get to go to another part of the country and talk to the people who live there. You really get an understanding of an area. Instead of going to a hotel and eating at a restaurant, you are in someone's home."

But be careful when choosing a lodging. Not all homes welcome children and, worse yet, not all owners feel free to say this.

As a result of a lawsuit filed in the late 1980s by a California couple denied lodging at an inn because their young child was traveling with them, many innkeepers and hosts have become reticent about saying outright that kids are not welcome. Even though the case was settled out of court, advocates and agencies for innkeepers warned owners that since they operate public facilities, the act of refusing lodging to children could be interpreted as age discrimination and therefore a violation of the law.

So how can lodging owners protect their priceless Ming Dynasty vases from peanut butter and jelly fingers and still maintain a sophisticated ambience without being open to litigation? And how can parents find those places that truly welcome children?

First of all, parents should look for "code words."

"As a result of the lawsuit, people have to be more careful in what they say," notes Greg Page, director of the Traveller in Maryland, a bed and breakfast registry with listings throughout Maryland and the United Kingdom.

"Some ways people get their message across is to . . . have only double occupancy rates so that any couple with a child would have to pay full price for a second room," says Mr. Page, who is also president of Bed and Breakfast, the National Network, an association of reservation services. Other inns discourage children by being inflexible about breakfast, serving brunch at a later hour than most children are accustomed.

"In our guidebook," says Ms. Sonke, "we show that families are welcome only if there are no age restrictions. That's how we handle the situation. More and more inns are opening their doors to kids of all ages because they have to. It's not just a legal issue. Frankly, B&Bs need the business, and families are a growing segment of the market that innkeepers can't ignore."

Says Cal Fairbourn, owner of the Inn at Antietam in Sharpsburg, "We take kids during the week but not on weekends. The problem is that many of our guests have employed baby-sitters to take care of their kids. Many of our guests are here because they want to get away from children."

To find a place that's suitable, book through a bed and breakfast registry as opposed to calling the lodging yourself. This generally won't cost you more. The registries know the properties and can match you with one that meets the needs of everyone in your family, from your grandmother who doesn't want to climb the stairs to your toddler who needs a safe setting without, say, widely spaced balcony railings.

Always tell the registry, the innkeeper or the host your children's ages, and that you are bringing them. Don't take "yes" to children as a true test of family acceptance. Listen carefully to replies, read the pauses and listen to the sighs. If the host or registry owner hesitates when you mention your 5-year-old and starts talking about the crystal collection at the property, this is probably not a place at which you will feel comfortable.

Here are other questions to ask to find a family-friendly lodging:

* Is breakfast continental, or a hearty spread? Is there cereal easily available at 7 a.m. so you can feed your 4-year-old who is not much interested in the 10 a.m. quiche?

* Does your room have a private bath? With two parents and two children lodging together, you won't want to share a bathroom with another couple or family.

* Are there family suites, or discount prices for families?

* Is there a television?

* Do you have access to snacks, to a refrigerator for keeping juice cold, and to a kitchen for heating food for infants?

TTC * Are cribs and highchairs available?

* Is there a separate, safe play area for children? Some properties have a sun room with toys.

* Are there activities on the property that children and parents might enjoy? Some lodges offer horseback riding, hikes, swimming, or fishing, for example.

* Are there resident animals? Some children love to play with the friendly cats and dogs; others are allergic or frightened.

Remember to be a responsible parent when you travel with your children. A B&B is someone's home, not the local discount motor lodge.

Be sure to keep an eye on your children at all times; make certain they are not endangering themselves, the furniture or the collectibles. Be considerate of other guests -- don't let your children run or shout in the house. And don't expect the hosts to serve as baby-sitters.

Basic courtesy and a few simple rules (which work well at the local motel, too), go a long way toward making the stay pleasant for you, your children, and the hosts.

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