JW Marriott courts families with program for kids

Max, 6, and Roxy, 4, the reporter's children, cook up something good during a pizza-making party at the JW Marriott Essex House. Photo Credit: Hector Fadraga

The kids are alright. 

That's especially true now at JW Marriott, which on Monday announced the launch of the Family by JW program, a series of experiences and personal touches for children ages 5 to 12 and their parents.

"We're looking at how do we make our experiences, how do we make the design of our hotels actually even better for that type of travel, and making it be the place that people want to choose because they accommodate families," said Mitzi Gaskins, JW Marriott's global brand leader, at this past weekend's launch event at the Essex House in New York.

The initiative consists of exclusive on-property experiences, such as hands-on cooking classes with hotel chefs and off-property outings in conjunction with JW Marriott partners. The Essex House launch weekend, for example, included a pizza-making party with Essex House executive chef Andrew Burriesci and a pre-opening tour of the interactive and kid-friendly exhibits at the Guggenheim Museum. 

Such activities will vary across the 80-plus JW Marriott hotels around the world. 

"There's all kinds of different activities, whether it's on the beach or whether it's culinary inspired," Gaskins said. "We leave that up to the hotels."

For example, at the JW Marriott San Antonio, she said, an experience might entail a close encounter with snakes and sloths.

The personal touches start upon check-in, when kids receive an explorer's journal featuring the Family by JW mascots, Billy and Allie, who are named after JW Marriott founders J. Willard and Alice Marriott. Gaskins said the program honors and was inspired by the Marriotts.

J. Willard Marriott, she said, "welcomed all kinds of people into his house, whether it was a doorman or the president of the United States. He treated everybody exactly the same."

So, following his example, JW Marriott seeks to treat traveling families, well, like family. 

"This is a brand that really is leaning in a lot to family and multigenerational travel," Gaskins said.

Gaskins explained that a hotel such as the Essex House, which is centered on business travel during the week, could effectively pivot to focus on family travel on the weekends. Other JW Marriott properties, she said, already have a "ton of family travel," including Los Cabos in Mexico and Camelback and Desert Ridge in Arizona. The upcoming JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort will be near all the Disney theme parks, Gaskins noted.

Business-focus notwithstanding, the guestrooms at the Essex House, which underwent renovation in fall 2017, are ideally suited for rambunctious little kids. The elegant, comfy suites decorated in muted tones are homey, and the rooms are supremely quiet, a boon for neighboring guests. The staff at the Essex House was also very responsive to families' needs, and members routinely engaged the children in conversation, eliciting shy smiles, and ensured their needs were being met.

In their guestrooms, families can expect welcoming touches and surprises to delight the little ones. At Essex House, pint-size travelers were welcomed by a toy fire pit and camper tent. And parents were pleased to see a sink step stool by Bloom Baby and kids' robes and slippers to match their own. Bloom Baby also provided the book "Letters From New York," to help bedtime go down a bit more smoothly.

An in-room family-style dinner of oven-roasted organic chicken with rainbow veggies and mashed potatoes at the JW Marriott Essex House.
An in-room family-style dinner of oven-roasted organic chicken with rainbow veggies and mashed potatoes at the JW Marriott Essex House. Photo Credit: Hector Fadraga

The Family by JW program is divided into three themes: creativity, activeness and culture. On the creativity front, the travel journal encourages children to explore their surrounding through both self-guided and collaborative experiences. 

For the activeness pillar, JW Marriott built upon its partnership with the Joffrey Ballet to develop the Get Up and Wind Down routines, a series of in-room, guided exercises and stretches to help the kids get up and at 'em in the morning and ease into bed in the evening. At the Essex House, one active experience involved a picnic and mapped tour of Central Park at the hotel's doorstep.

The program will explore the culture theme through meals and culinary activities from destinations, making the most of the diversity of locations in the JW Marriott family. 

Family by JW puts nutrition in this culture pillar, but it could be a fourth theme. The highlight of the revamped menu is the new in-room family dinner. The meals are delivered family-style and guests make up their own plates, encouraging families to circle around the hearth and eat as they might at home.

The menu focuses on ingredients from organic farms and sustainable fisheries, and it offers a guide to nourishment that lists all the vitamins and nutrients a growing body needs and what menu items offer them.

The program is rolling out at all JW Marriotts in the coming weeks and months as the hotels develop the activities they will offer. 

The developing program will build upon and leverage existing partnerships, such as with the Guggenheim and Joffrey, while looking to build additional connections, particularly on the level of individual hotels. 

"We'll continue to explore different things as we continue to evaluate or focus," Gaskins said. "Stay tuned."

The best part for parents (and travel agents with parents for customers): The program will require no opt-in or additional expense. Features such as the Joffrey exercises and the bespoke travel journals, along with surprises such as in-room tents, will be offered by default. For activities such as the pizza-making party, the hotels will invite guests with children to participate.

"As long as we know that you have children coming, the program will be launched that way," Gaskins said.

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