Families Look for Hotels With a Little Bit of TLC

MTA babysitter setting up toys and furniture in the Marriott Aurora Hotel's playroom. The city is experiencing a severe dearth of child services in hotels.
Chances are that tourists planning to visit Moscow will think twice before bringing their children with them. For all the government's talk about encouraging foreign visitors to come to Moscow, family-friendly accommodation remains rare, inconveniently located, or prohibitively expensive.

A particularly acute problem is the lack of three- and four-star hotel rooms traditionally sought by parents traveling with children. Traveling with children in tow, it seems, is a luxury only the relatively wealthy can afford.

"Traveling to Moscow with children is not difficult to arrange if the tourist can pay good money," said Maria Petrikina, the sales manager for Infinity Travel.

That is because the services that parents are looking for -- large or interconnected rooms, children's menus, baby-sitting or child recreation programs -- are usually available only at hotels with rates beyond the reach of most young families.

Among the mid-range hotels popular with tourists, the Hotel Cosmos' lack of special services for children is standard for the city. For an average rate of $200 per night, the Cosmos' 106,000 square meters includes a nightclub, casino, concert hall, business center and a multitude of shops and kiosks spread over three floors, and even a bowling alley.

But parents of small children are unlikely to be able to enjoy it all, as there are no designated areas for children to play in, no baby-sitting services and no children's menus in any of the hotel's seven eateries.

Even hotels that get rave reviews from tourists in travelers' blogs and hotel web sites fall short when it comes to traveling with children.

"The Hotel Sovietsky sees few guests arriving with small children, even in the peak summer season -- this, despite the fact that there is no charge for children under the age of four and that cribs are provided," sales manager Anastasia Luzina said.

Indeed, parents who anticipate a warm welcome in the city center may be disappointed in many cases. At the $260-per-night Heliopark Empire, staff replied to inquiries about services for children by recommending the chain's other hotels in the Moscow region.

The all-inclusive Heliopark Country and Heliopark Thalasso offer plenty of outdoor space and all the child-friendly standards, such as children's buffets, large rooms with kitchenettes, supervised playrooms and nanny services, plus some impressive extras like art and dance classes, full-time art tutors, kids' discos and petting zoos, starting at $75 in the high season.

The drawback to these options is that at 84 kilometers and 45 kilometers from the city center, respectively, they are an unlikely choice for visitors looking to go sightseeing in Moscow.

In the heart of the city, the Courtyard Marriott is one of the few hotels offering child-friendly menus and rooms; it even has a 24-hour playroom. The hotel arranges baby-sitting services for about $30 per hour and its web site offers suggestions for places in Moscow that children will enjoy visiting.

Although he could not provide exact numbers, guest relations manager Vsevolod Glinov was positive about the uptake of child-related services since the hotel opened last year.

"[The hotel] has received more than just a few -- I would say it has hosted quite a lot of young children," he said.

Glinov attributed this to the hotel's special "adoption rate," aimed at families in the process of adopting Russian children.

Not surprisingly, the range of child-friendly options expands at the city's most upscale hotels. At the Ararat Park Hyatt, where rates for standard single rooms start at $560, a VIP gift bag includes luxury baby toiletries and small toys. Also, the kitchen can customize meals suitable for children and some deluxe rooms come with small kitchenettes.

"Apart from the Sunday brunch, there are no standard child menus because the vast majority of visitors are businesspeople," Ararat Park Hyatt sales director Yekaterina Esakova said.

The Ritz-Carlton, scheduled to open in March 2007, is gearing up to cater for children in the same way as in its other hotels worldwide, even though the sales team has predicted receiving mostly business travelers, said Katrin Herz, the hotel's executive assistant manager.

"They tell us [children are] not a big market here," Herz said.

That notwithstanding, the hotel will offer a wide array of child-centered services, including etiquette classes, teaching children as young as eight how to behave suitably in social settings.

Parents who are not put off by the average $850 price tag for a superior room will also arrive to find it has been baby-proofed with electrical-outlet covers and night lights, and rubber mats and step stools in the bathrooms. Little blue or pink bathrobes and slippers will be waiting in the bathroom for the older children.

"We're prepared to offer everything. We'll just have to see how it goes," Herz said.