Mocktails and a swimming pool swordfight: five ways to make your hotel a child’s holiday highlight

“Oh look! A crocodile!” my six-year-old daughter Zenya squeals. We’d planned an action-packed itinerary in the Midlands, but spotting safari animals isn’t part of it. She jumps on the bed and puts her arms around it, because this crocodile isn’t deadly – it’s made out of rolled-up towels.

“Come and look at this!” my nine-year-old son Ziggy calls from the massive living room next door, where a sofa bed is made up for him. He points to more towel art – a monkey in sunglasses, clipped to a wooden hanger. But it’s my 10-year-old Zayla who is the first to spot the real piece de resistance: white plates with the children’s names written on them in chocolate, on which stand chocolate sculptures sprayed in gold. “This is why I love hotels!” she says. “You never know what you’re going to find in the room when you arrive.”

As a travel journalist, my children have been lucky enough to stay in all kinds of accommodation, from manor houses to canvas safari tents, but for them a holiday means staying in a hotel. They love engaging with the staff, particularly when someone remembers their names. They adore the independence of helping themselves to a buffet breakfast, and they are thrilled when they walk into a hotel room to find it has been especially prepared for them. These are all the little things that make a family holiday special for me.

Here are five ways to make your family holiday one to remember.

  • The hotel offers a warm welcome for all the family, with the children particularly impressed by the towel art – and their beds

Choose a hotel that comes with family extras
The towel art and chocolate welcome plates were just a few of the little extras the Hilton Birmingham Metropole had put in our room to ensure the kids had the best time. We also found miniature versions of the hotel slippers and soft fleece dressing gowns to fit the kids.

Grownups hadn’t been forgotten either, and we were delighted to find a bottle of vegan prosecco, which because of the confirmed connecting room setup, we were able to enjoy when the children were asleep without feeling we had to clink glasses in bed.

It’s not easy finding suitable accommodation for a family of five, but the Hilton Birmingham Metropole gave us the perfect solution with a king bedroom and twin bedroom either side of a huge living room, which, as well as the sofa bed, had a dining table to seat six and a balcony overlooking a lake. If you’re travelling with kids, it’s always worth calling the hotel in advance to discuss room options with them, particularly if you have booked via a third-party booking site. This is also an opportunity to let the hotel know your children’s names and ages so they have the opportunity to tailor your stay.

Related: Room with a view: a love letter to London’s iconic skyline

Pick a place with a variety of dining options
We arrived quite late on Friday night, so we wanted to fill our stomachs as soon as we got there. At the Hilton Birmingham Metropole you can choose between dining in the restaurant or the bar, so we opted for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Gild Lounge and Bar.

The kids were happy to graze on platters of crisp calamari, spicy chicken wings and cauliflower fritters, but were also pleased when they were given a children’s menu with lots of favourites such as margherita pizza, mac and cheese and a burger.

When choosing a hotel, it’s always worth checking if they allow children in the bar, and if there are any time restrictions on them being there. It’s also good to know if the hotel has children’s menus or if it can do child portions of dishes from the main menu. To get us in the holiday mood, I let the children order virgin pina coladas, while my husband and I knocked back a couple of negronis. And the hotel provided pens and paper for the kids to draw on to keep them busy between courses.

Book a hotel that’s weather-proof
The next morning, we were set for a day trip to Warwick Castle. Unfortunately, the arrival of a sudden biblical downpour meant we were stuck indoors. So the kids suggested we go for a swim. For a moment, I thought they were joking about the puddles that were fast filling up outside, then I remembered that, of course, the Hilton Birmingham Metropole has a large leisure swimming pool with hydro jets, whirlpool bath and a fabulous view of the surrounding trees.

  • The Hilton Birmingham Metropole’s large pool and whirlpool bath were a hit

Nothing makes kids feel more like they are on holiday than a swimming pool. I knew they wouldn’t regret missing out on medieval jousting if they could pretend to sword fight with a couple of swimming noodles instead. We had a great time splashing around as a family – the kids took it in turns to climb up my knees and be thrown into the water, they showed off their handstands and raced each other up and down the pool.

But bear in mind that some hotels have specific times when children can use the pool, which may not fit in with your plans, while some are only available for adults to use. This can particularly be the case if the pool is part of a separate spa. So it’s always good to check the overall usage policies.

Find out if the hotel offers any other child-friendly activities
When I realised the weather wasn’t going to abate any time soon, I asked if the hotel had any other indoor activities the kids could take part in. “How about our mocktail masterclass in our new Brightsmith on the Water restaurant?” suggested the cheerful young woman at guest relations. “I spotted your lot were into the virgin pina coladas last night!” Perfect.


With the promise of sweet drinks, I was able to entice the children out of the pool and into dry clothes. We hadn’t even noticed that the hotel had another restaurant in our hurry to eat the first night, and were wowed by the stylish waterfront space. A large wood-panelled bar lined with turquoise leather chairs, teal velour banquettes with plump cushions and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on to Pendigo lake.

The children were delighted to be in such a grownup place, sitting at high bar stools with their own cocktail shaker in front of them ready to learn how to mix the perfect mocktail. The bar manager was so patient with the children as he guided them on how to measure the ingredients, shake them, pour them and dress the glass. They loved the blue effect created by a squeeze of butterfly pea flower tea, but the highlight was being shown how to use the flavour blaster; a handheld device that creates bubbles of flavoured vapour to sit on top of cocktails. With the kids thoroughly entertained, we were able to sit at the bar, just the two of us, and have an uninterrupted conversation.

  • On arrival, the children were greeted with chocolate sculptures sprayed in gold; later on, mocktail making kept them entertained

Make the most of the restaurant
The mocktails led into dinner, a slap-up affair that saw the children try their first taste of scallops and my eldest braving a plate of chilli prawns. As we gave each other forkfuls of our food to try, we all agreed how grateful we were that we’d booked into a hotel for the weekend and not a self-catering property.

Next day, after the kids had thoroughly gorged themselves on the buffet breakfast, we headed out to Cadbury World, just a 30-minute drive from the hotel for a fun day exploring how chocolate is made. The hands-on activities included learning how to temper chocolate, and the 4D cinema was an exhilarating rollercoaster ride through a fantasy chocolate land.

As most of the activities were indoors, the incessant rain didn’t matter. And, anyway, we knew we had our comfortable warm hotel to head back to.

Want a winter getaway closer to home? Find your perfect stay with Hilton