Allison Hyman-Tibaldi, Family Travel Forum -- My family’s recent stay at the luxurious Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah was surprisingly stress-free for everybody. Over the years, my children and I have stayed at some posh resorts that in theory accept children, but in reality were none too welcoming. Although upscale resorts and kids don’t always blend together harmoniously, Grand America combined elegance with casual, Western-infused comfort from the moment we arrived.
A hotel Eloise might leave the Plaza for
Enter the sumptuous lobby and you are greeted by crystal chandeliers, elaborate fresh flower arrangements, chichi Tuscan marble accents and hanging Flemish tapestries, attributes that don’t exactly scream toddler. The initial feeling is that of a fine European hotel. But spend a few minutes exploring the grounds and you will quickly see that the property is a destination made for kids.
Just off the lobby is Jou Jou, a toy boutique that gives FAO Schwarz in New York City and Hamleys in London a run for the money. While not as big as these two toy emporiums, we found it more inspiring. It sells unusual toys, special edition model cars, hard-to-find games and vintage candy, but the fantasy design and experiential play centers are what set it apart. You can interact with digital monsters, watch a 7-foot-tall dragon seem to take flight, custom build your own robot or try on a fairy costume in this dream-like setting. There are various hands-on workshops and book readings scheduled, but even if these events don’t coincide with your stay, you may have to drag the kids (and yourself) away.
A Bakery beyond your Sweetest Dreams
Turn another corner and you will find La Bonne Vie. If you thought a pastry shop couldn’t be destination-worthy, come on in. Executive pastry chef Jeffrey de Leon creates sweet temptations baked fresh daily, including artisanal chocolates that rival those made in Belgium, authentic Italian gelato and delicate macarons. Don’t expect dense, coconut-laden cookies. These petite confections are swankier, like you might find in a Parisian patisserie or at a bakery frequented by the well- heeled on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. These airy meringue sandwiches come in striking colors like sea-foam green, luminescent pink and psychedelic yellow that call to mind the hues of Matisse’s palette.
For all of the deliciousness that La Bonne Vie provides, it is the Willy Wonka-esque visual displays that are so full of show-stopping panache. Bunches of flowers with cookie centers are one of many creatively eye-catching, food-as-fashion statements that will wow you and the kids.
The practical side of sleeping at the Grand America Hotel
The hotel goes out of its way to accommodate families with a variety of room configurations and amenities. With 775 gracefully furnished rooms and suites spread over 24 floors, you have a lot of choice.
Family suites are very spacious and include a full-sized kitchen bigger than the one in my New York City apartment, complete with a washer and dryer. If you’re traveling with an infant, the Families First program offers a crib, Diaper Genie, stroller, bottle warmer, baby tub and more, all complimentary. Bigger kids are given a play kit with age-appropriate games and toys.
Cookies and milk and kid-sized robes are yours for the asking.
Swimming pools, indoors & outdoors at Grand America
The gigantic seasonal outdoor pool is a fun-filled beauty, with colorful water toys floating freely. There is a baby pool right next to it, which means parents with different-aged kids should be able to keep an eye on all of them. There is a poolside café with kid-pleasing choices and ultra-comfy lounge chairs for relaxing.
The indoor pool evokes the grand spas of Europe. You may feel as if you are taking the waters in Baden-Baden until you open your eyes between strokes and see the Wasatch Mountains to one side and the Salt Lake City skyline to the other.
The beautifully landscaped courtyard garden was the perfect place for the kids to let off steam with a game of Hide and Seek.
What makes The Grand America Hotel so special?
The hotel is family-owned and the staff pays meticulous attention to all guests' comfort no matter how old they are. The Holding family own eight properties, but this is their flagship that was originally built for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Another nice touch is that the hotel spa offers ritzy services just for kids, such as a mini mani-pedi. There is a popular Princess Getaway package that combines a spa service credit with a hotel credit that can be used for a proper British-style afternoon tea, elegantly served in the palatial splendor of the lobby. Despite all of this grandeur, the staff is exceedingly tolerant of spills and un-ladylike behavior.
The Sights & Appeal of Salt Lake City
You might be tempted to never leave the hotel grounds. That would be a shame, because Salt Lake City is a winning family vacation destination.
The not-to-be-missed sight is the Natural History Museum of Utah. Its stunning location in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains is only a few minutes from The Grand America. The environmentally sensitive building opened in November 2011 and has been designed and built according to the standards of LEED Gold Certification. What makes the museum so spectacular is that it brings Utah’s unique outdoor scenery indoors. This is not another generic natural history museum that could be anywhere in the world. It is laid out like a canyon and your visit simulates making your way down to the bottom, just as you would in an actual Southern Utah canyon. The museum’s section on the six state Native American tribes is thought- provoking. A great selection of dinosaur artifacts should keep most kids interested for hours, as should the many interactive exhibits. There is a café with tasty sandwiches and salads, including a specially priced kid’s combo.
The Clark Planetarium explores the wonders of space and science. You will find a 3D IMAX theatre as well as a hunk of moon rock that was brought home by astronauts from their 1971 journey to the moon. It is free to visit, though you will need to purchase tickets for the IMAX movie.
This is the Place Heritage Park is a living history museum where kids can experience life in a pioneer village. Kids can pan for gold, watch a tinsmith at work, ride a pony and hop on a vintage fire engine as they acquaint themselves with pioneer life.
The Hogle Zoo is another kid-approved place to spend an afternoon. It is the home to over 900 animals including rare cats of the Asian Highlands and African elephants. If you plan on visiting several of these attractions, consider the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass, which gives you a money-saving, pay-one-price option to 13 attractions.
Salt Lake City Eats... Very Well
Settebello is a Neopolitan-style pizzeria that serves delicious individual pizzas cooked in a blistering hot, wood-burning oven. We loved the authentic, old-world taste, casual atmosphere and low prices. The Little America Hotel is across the street from The Grand America, and is home to the popular Coffee Shop where you can get simple, home-style cooking for a great value.
If you’re looking for an extravagant treat try The Grand America’s famed Sunday Brunch. Ice carvings and a cascading chocolate fountain should delight the kids, as should the sushi, seafood and delicate Danish pancakes filled with sweet and savory delights. Kids 4 and under eat free, 5-12 pay half price.
Great Base for world-class skiing in winter
The Grand America is only an hour away from nearly a score of ski resorts, so it is entirely possible to use the hotel as your base while you spend the day enjoying Utah’s famous Champagne Powder during ski season. After an exhilarating day on the slopes you can swim, relax at the spa and have dinner in town. Snowbasin is owned by The Grand America, so deeply discounted tickets to this resort are offered.
Getting around SLC
The city has terrific public transportation options. Combine this with an airport that consistently ranks as having the best on-time record, and you have the potential for a car-free family getaway. The hotel is steps from a TRAX light-rail stop, which is free to ride in downtown Salt Lake City. In season, buses will get you to several ski resorts efficiently, for a low price.
For an entertaining way to sightsee, try the hop-on-hop-off double decker bus, called the US Bus. It will take you to many of the city’s most popular attractions, and getting there is sure to be part of the fun.