A Family Afar: The Benefits of Staying Close to Home

As a rule, we try not to get into the parenting arms race. But when our elder daughter, Sophia, turned 16, she wanted to celebrate this milestone in an extra-special way. We envisioned something fancier than a sleepover at home, but less lavish than those crazy parties on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. Throwing around ideas, we hit on the combination of slumber party and staycation, with a little luxury thrown in—and where better than the iconic Hotel del Coronado?

To San Diegans, the Hotel Del is our pièce de résistance, dating back to the Victorian era and legendary for hosting US presidents and movie stars. Antici­pation was building as we piled five of Sophia’s friends into the car along with our family and headed across the bridge for the weekend.

To coordinate the weekend, I had called the Del’s guest services team, explaining that I wanted to celebrate a special birthday, and they came back with a package they dubbed a "Suite 16." It included a suite, cupcakes for each guest, chilled sparkling cider served in Champagne flutes, gift bags for each guest with beach towels, chocolates, notepads, and pens, plus a Del-themed Monopoly game for Sophia.

Things kicked off with our host, Spencer, a VIP guest services manager known among the girls as "Hot Spencer" or "an even cuter Shawn Mendes." He met us at the valet and escorted us to our two adjoining rooms (you didn’t think we’d stay in the same room with all those screaming girls?), but we didn’t realize until we got there that he’d upgraded us to the Crown Suite. After rattling up that antique cage elevator, we emerged at the top floor into the most enormous suite of rooms I’ve seen outside of Las Vegas. Just think—Presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and more had all slept in this room. Out came the phones for Snapchat and Instagram selfies.

One great reason for families to travel together is the way everyday tensions lift and expectations shift when you’re not on your home turf. Having Sophia’s birthday celebration at a hotel let us sit back and enjoy it without having to manage everything. And we loved our stay so much that we never left the property. We walked on the beach at sunset, the girls had an impromptu photo shoot from the veranda overlooking the ocean after dinner, and we regrouped for a private marshmallow roast on the beach in sweats and T-shirts, white-chocolate-covered strawberries included.

The hotel staff went out of their way to make sure the occasion was special in lots of little ways. One minute the girls were looking very grown-up, dolled up in dresses and heels for a delicious wood-fired pizza dinner at Eno; the next minute, they were back to their giggly little-kid selves—the hotel even supplied a bejeweled crown for Sophia, which she proudly wore for the rest of the evening, while every girl received a robe and slippers.

As we packed up to go home, I realized another great thing about this birthday party was that, for us, there was no cleanup. We didn’t have to deal with cake smeared into the couch or spilled soda. We weren’t washing a zillion dishes or taking out the trash.

It turned out to be one of the best birthday celebrations ever, and Sophia has a ton of great memories and photos to show for it. Her friends were blown away by the grandeur of the Hotel del Coronado, and we looked like heroes for arranging the whole thing, Shawn Mendes doppelgänger included.

Now Ava wants a quinceañera. Sigh. I guess we need to start saving up for that ball gown, since her 15th birthday is just around the corner.


Jon Bailey writes the travel blog 2dadswithbaggage.com.

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