Hotels v. Big Families

As summer nears a close, I must express frustration over a problem that worsens for us each summer as our family grows, and which I imagine also frustrates other families our size.

We have four children, ages 2 to 10, which, in modern times, is considered “large.” As we have happily raised those kids, my wife and I gradually realized that we were slowly squeezing ourselves out of opportunities to take them on trips, a reality that began to hit us with the arrival of our third child. Squeezed by what?—by occupancy limits on the number of children in a hotel room. Of course, it is reasonable to expect occupancy limits, but the limits seem unreasonable; they generally cap at two to three children, no matter how small.

It is not clear if these requirements are imposed by state governments or by hotels themselves. I always ask that question, and the clerks are rarely able to give an answer; they typically mumble something about the hotel ensuring my family’s “comfort.”

Well, the comfort is not financial, since these requirements leave us with one option: reserve two rooms. Unfortunately, that option is unaffordable. It is also unnecessary, since we simply don’t need two rooms. My two little girls, ages two and four, sleep in the same bed with their mom and usually one of the boys ends up there as well at some point during the night. My eight-year-old son always finds great excitement in pushing two chairs together and making his own special “fort” for the night. The other son wants to sleep on a sofa or whatever else is unusual but available. My kids are so young and so small that we have no problem sleeping three or four in a bed. The typical room with two large beds is easily satisfactory. I explain this to hotel clerks, who refuse to budge.

Recently, my wife and I shared our frustration with someone else who has a large family. Her advice: “You have to lie. When they ask how many kids you have, say ‘two.’ You have no choice. If you don’t lie, you cannot take your family on vacation.”

That advice did not sit well. As my wife notes, we are trying to teach our children virtues, of which lying is not one.

Speaking of teaching, therein further illustrates the problem: Like many dads, I travel frequently for my work. I always try to bring my family along, especially because we homeschool, and the big cities are filled with museums and historic sites and educational opportunities. Yet, here again, we are hindered by occupancies.

In March, I readied to travel to Philadelphia to attend a conference in the historic part of town. For school, the boys were enjoying a section on the American Revolution. We excitedly discussed a field trip to Independence Hall. My conference meant I would be staying at the Sheraton Society Hill—around $250 per night, once all costs were considered. Everything was perfect, until the occupancy requirements killed the plan. Imagine my outrage when I got to my room—alone—and encountered a huge space, easily enough for the entire family, and way too big for one person. The boys could’ve literally pitched a tent in the room.

Then, in May, we planned a trip to Boston, another ideal educational stop. We called several hotels, each time torpedoed by the damning question: “how many people?” Here, too, the punishment would be an extra room—at the obscene Boston rate of nearly $400 per night. Desperate, I finally lied to the Colonnade; feeling guilty, I called back and canceled the reservation. We eventually found a hotel that didn’t ask our family size. That was the solution: keep calling until you find a clerk that doesn’t ask—“don’t ask, don’t tell.”

In July, I had a speaking engagement near Hershey, Pennsylvania, “the sweetest place on earth”—Chocolate World, the amusement park, a paradise for kids. We love the Hershey Lodge. My two oldest have the fondest childhood memories of the place. When I called on May 23 to make a reservation for July 26, I was offered one option: two rooms, at a cost of $279 (plus tax) per room. Given parking, tips, and so on, it would cost over $600 for my family to sleep one night at the Hershey Lodge. Each room had two queen-size beds, easily accommodating us; two rooms were absolutely unnecessary. Sadly, the Hershey Lodge will not be experienced by my youngest kids.

I don’t know who is responsible for this. At a deeper level, it seems symptomatic of a culture in which many people—not everyone, of course—insist that one or two children per family is enough, and if my wife and I won’t draw the line, others will. I doubt that’s the intent, but it’s the effect. The more kids we have, the more we would like to give a full taste of American life. I guess we will need to do that at home.