By Kim Watts-Diaz
Hill Country, the verdant central region of our state that stretches from just east of the Colorado River to just west of the Pecos, is considered by some to be the Texas version of paradise. In spring, a riot of wildflowers lines the hills and highways. In summer, Hill Country’s many sparkling rivers and lakes beckon in the Texas heat. Year round, quaint towns such as Burnet, Gruene, Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and Kerrville offer fantastic shopping, festivals and family activities.
The bed-and-breakfasts of Hill Country are a wonderful opportunity to introduce your children to not only Texas’ most breathtaking region, but also the quaint niceties of yesterday. For the about the same price as a no-frills motel room, the family can stay at a gracious Texas manor with beautifully decorated rooms, lush grounds, and gourmet meals. From a freshly prepared country breakfast to a long, lazy sunset viewed from a porch swing, to falling asleep in a cozy bed while cicadas sing to the starry Texas sky, the family will find new appreciation for life’s more simple pleasures - and for time spent together.
Bed-and-breakfast inns have long been popular as quaint, romantic getaways for couples - and many do maintain an adults-only policy. However, a significant amount of inns in Texas Hill Country, due to their proximity to family attractions such as Schlitterbahn, Sea World, the New Braunfels River and the towns of New Braunfels and Gruene, have put out the welcome mat for families with young children.
Pam Thomas, president of the New Braunfels Bed and Breakfast Association and owner of Acorn Hill, is happy to help families find kid-friendly accommodations in the area, and recommends that parents consider the following when selecting a bed-and-breakfast:
• Children’s ages - Tell the host your children’s ages when making a reservation. Some inns may have age restrictions or other requirements regarding children. Why? "Some rooms are quieter than others," Thomas says. "For example, a family with an infant can be booked into a cottage, if available, so if the baby cries it doesn’t disturb other guests at night."
Many bed-and-breakfasts will also require that any child younger than age 18 be under adult supervision at all times while on the property, to minimize any risk of damage to the charming touches that make staying at a bed and breakfast so special.
• Menus - "Children don’t usually like quiche or Canadian bacon, so I keep an array of breakfast cereals for them to choose from," Thomas says. Make sure that the bed-and-breakfast you select has menu options that kids will find appealing.
• Pet policies- Very few inns allow pets to stay on the property, but if kids like to have the dog along for a day of outdoor fun with the family, many inns can help you locate a place for Fido to stay. "We actually have an animal bed-and-breakfast nearby," says Thomas, regarding pet lodging near Acorn Hill. "It’s much more than a kennel - it’s a really fancy place for your dog or cat to be pampered."
• Property size- "Consider whether the property surrounding the inn is large enough for kids to go out and play," Thomas says. "Bed-and-breakfasts located within a city may only have small, pristine gardens that they don’t want children messing up." Some Hill Country inns, however, are on large, well-landscaped property with much for families to explore and enjoy, including hiking trails, gardens, swimming pools and proximity to a lake, river or town attraction
• Activities available- "At Acorn Hill, we have a cabinet full of board games, a TV/VCR and children’s video collection, so Mom and Dad can play a video to keep kids happy on a rainy day," Thomas says. "Be sure to ask if your inn provides rainy day activities for children."
Some bed-and-breakfasts will also coordinate group activities, such as singalongs, crafts, hiking, horseback riding, boating, fishing, and shopping or local tours.
• House rules -All kids, from toddler to teen, should be prepared to use their best "visiting manners" while staying at any bed-and-breakfast. Unlike the anonymity of a hotel stay, you may be mingling with your hosts and any other guests, and possibly sharing mealtimes and common areas such as porches, gardens, foyers and libraries from time to time. That means kids (as well as grown-ups) need to be polite to hosts and guests, use their "inside" voices and respect the belongings and rules of the house.
Don’t worry, however, that a bed-and-breakfast stay will be like a visit to a fussy great-aunt’s house for the kids. "We like to have children stay with us," says Innkeeper Monica Friedel of Accents of Gruene Bed & Breakfast in Gruene. "Most have been very well-behaved.
Locating Family-Friendly Bed and Breakfasts in Texas Hill Country:
• New Braunfels Bed and Breakfast Association - 1-800-525-4618; www.texasbedandbreakfast.com - Locate family friendly inns in the New Braunfels area.
• BnBFinder.Com - 1-888-469-6663; www.bnbfinder.com/childrenwelcome - Perform Central Texas regional searches for inns that welcome children.
• Theinnkeeper.com Bed and Breakfast Guide - www.theinnkeeper.com - Perform Central Texas regional searches for inns that welcome children.
• TexasHillCountry.com Visitor and Travel Guide - www.texashillcountry.com - Perform searches by town for Bed and Breakfasts, family activities, calendar events and more.
• Texas Hill Country Life On-Line - 210-495-1484; www.texhillcntry.com - Locate Bed & Breakfasts, camps, river outfitters, restaurants and more.
• 2003-2004 TexasTraveler: The Ultimate Guide to the Lone Star State, Texas Monthly Custom Publishing, 2003.
• Absolutely Every Bed & Breakfast Texas, by Carl Hanson, Editor, Sasquatch Books, 2000.
Kim Watts-Diaz is editor ofHouston Family Magazine, a United Parenting Publication.