Chicago’s Peninsula Proves That Families Can — And Should — Stay In Luxury Hotels Too

The kind of beauty and hospitality which Peninsula Hotels have been refining for almost a century around the world is for parents with young kids too.

by Justin Holmes
A dog sits with a parent and child as they play with a stuffed animal in front of the Bean in Chicag...
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images, Shutterstock, The Peninsula
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I used to spend a lot of time visiting and thinking about hotels. When I traveled to a new city for work or fun, I’d opt most of the time for minimal budget and maximum adventure — but on a few rare occasions I managed to land somewhere rare and spectacular, at a truly great hotel, the kind of place that’s both emblematic of its city and seems to float above it in a separate atmosphere.

Those old hotel experiences felt like the attainment of a dream, if only for a night — simple pleasures in luxurious spaces: A cold local beer in the lush garden of a hotel in Zamalek, Cairo (a man-made island in the Nile); a feast of Ottoman delicacies in the Ciragan Palace on the Bosphorus, in Istanbul. A great hotel can feel like a refuge from all the noise and energy of a new and unfamiliar city, a space that holds its own. It’s a destination unto itself.

But now that all my travel is family travel, with two kids under the age 5, the accommodations my wife and I choose are almost an afterthought — the loosest piece of the puzzle. We look simply for an affordable place that’s convenient to the stuff we want to see, where we can all fit with room to spare, where we can throw together family dinners. Our room is a headquarters, more than anything else: A place from which to launch the day and a place to return to the familiar home routines of cooking and cleaning and bedtime. It’s someone else’s home — ours for the weekend — but we’re on our own in all the familiar ways.

The Peninsula

So I’d almost forgotten about the world of hotels — the great hotels — until my 5-year-old daughter started talking about them nonstop, perhaps picking up on my nostalgia or intuiting their specialness from the grand hotels that occasionally pop up in children’s books.

Luckily, the Peninsula Chicago — indisputably one of the finest hotels in the world — is a short ride on the El from our house. There are a dozen Peninsula Hotels around the world, from Paris to New York to Bangkok; the flagship, in Hong Kong, opened in 1928. Though the Peninsula Chicago is pretty new — it was built in 2001— it has all the grandeur and gravitas of something more historic. The second-floor entrance to the lobby and its adjoining restaurant occupy a huge space that feels very much like an inviting living room, multiplied through mirrors. Friezes in the style of WPA murals line the lobby walls just under the ceiling, depicting scenes of agriculture and industry, from Chicago’s meteoric rise in the 19th century as gateway to the West.

I walked down some stairs off the lobby and found a few empty chairs. I looked up at the Art Deco chandeliers overhead and was reminded (in a good way) of the movie Metropolis, released in 1927 — a vision of the future, from a distant past, the light fixtures seemed paused on their last rocket pulse before touching ground and changing things forever.

For good reason, great hotels offer the perfect setting for movies about political intrigue, love, spy craft, war, ruin and rebirth. But if, like me, you don’t fall into any of the above buckets — tinkerer, tailor or spy, or lobbyist — then you are likely just hoping for some renewal, the liberating experience of being pulled from one’s day-to-day, from life “outside” to a place more “inside,” closer to the heart.

A great hotel like the Peninsula takes over your senses, and in return, you find, you are once again dreaming. I gave myself up to the hospitality of the Peninsula, confident that the flecks of perfection that hang still in the air, would find their way into my bloodstream like nano Turkish Delights. Efficiency and process are beautiful things when they go unnoticed

When I returned to my actual home, I found an elaborate game of deep imagination taking place across several rooms, until my daughters eyed something new — an obviously special takeaway container holding what was undoubtedly a delicious treat. I peeled open the four sides of the box to reveal a perfectly rendered miniature pumpkin from the Peninsula’s Pierre Gourmet cafe. I cut it into four pieces, further revealing a complicated architecture of pumpkin mousse and cake. Once my 5-year-old had finished her portion, she delivered a 10-minute monologue on mousse and the many ways it can be enjoyed, and announced I had brought home the best dessert ever. I did feel like a better person.


Camp Peninsula

Although the Peninsula is full of refinements, it’s extremely family-oriented, with special packages designed specifically with children and families in mind, such as Camp Peninsula, which includes an inviting “campfire” of soft, snugglable logs and flames beside a tent pitched right in your own room, in addition to camping-inspired snacks. Starts at $1,100 before taxes for two adults, two children in Grand Premier Room; Deluxe Suite, $1900; Premier Deluxe Suite, $2200.

Holly Jolly Family Package

Chicago is a very fun town for kids over the holidays. The Peninsula keeps pace with seasonal packages that include bringing a tree or Menorah to your room. For two adults, two kids, Grand Premier Room starts at $1375, up to $2650 for the Grand Deluxe Suite.

The Peninsula

Peninsula Spa

If a day of sightseeing has you worn out, the whole family can head to the Peninsula Spa, which offers manicures and pedicures for children. Back at the room, child-sized bathrobes and slippers complete the experience.