Ethan building sandcastles at Hyatt Scottsdale

DAY FIVE (At the Hyatt Scottsdale) — The kids are hard at work — on vacation.

They are crafting elaborate sand creations at the small sand beach that is poolside (well, at one of the nine pools) at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch.

Parents are looking on as they create monkey villages, Jedi castles (complete with Star Wars plastic characters), an airport and a volcano, as Camp Hyatt counselors supervise. Everyone is smiling.
“The thing we like is they seem to integrate the environment for adults and kids,” says Melissa Codespoti, who is here from Seattle with her husband and two young sons. “And they don’t nickel and dime you to death.”

In fact, this sand castle competition as well as a long list of other activities — from making Native American masks to s’mores in the evening, from Native American games to a big splash contest are all complimentary.

“They really like kids here,” adds Carolyn Kuykendall, who is here with her husband and young sons from suburban Chicago.

“It’s very relaxing for parents and that’s not easy with little kids,” adds Julie Blissett, whose kids are 3 and five, here for the second year from Seattle.

Hyatt has made an effort to be kid friendly for two decades. In fact, the camp Hyatt Program, which heralded the movement toward resort kids camps started right here in 1987, shortly after the resort opened, said Anne Lane, a senior Hyatt executive who thought up the idea for the Easter break crowd.

Beauty and fun at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort

The one time supervised kids activities program was so successful that it was initiated at all of the Hyatt resorts within two years and other resorts followed suit.

“It was about kids having fun together and parents getting some space,” said Lane, herself the mom of two daughters.

Today, for example, my cousins Ethan and Hannah Sitzman, age six and four, spend the afternoon in Camp Hyatt doing crafts, learning about Native American culture, eating chicken fingers and mac and cheese, while their parents play golf next door.

These days, parents use Camp Hyatt for exactly that kind of respite or if they have to do some work while they are here — an increasingly common occurrence, says Lane.

These days, though, families who can and want to spend time together will find that Hyatt has been a pioneer again of experiential vacation experiences that reflect the culture and nature of the surrounding area. That’s why there is a Native American Hopi learning center to introduce kids to Hopi culture here. There is Hopi Basket Weaving and pottery demonstrations, native children’s games and bow and arrow making—all mixed in with the beach blanket bingo, dive-in movies and a big splash contest in the pool.

This is of course a spectacularly beautiful resort with pools that seem to go on forever — including a gated adult area and another with the sand beach and water slide designed for kids.

“This is the perfect size,” says Carolyn Kuykendall, whose kids are five and eight. “I’m already working on next spring break.”

That’s not to say this is an inexpensive resort, it’s not – at least not until the rates drop dramatically for summer. But families here feel like they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck.

Even usually finicky teens seem to like this place. “We come to Arizona a lot and this is my favorite hotel,” says 14 year old Maggie, Logue, who is from suburban Chicago. “It’s really nice but not fancy.”

Not stuffy, I think. No one will get upset if a child starts crying at the pool or can’t sit quietly at dinner. In fact, Mary Field, traveling with her daughter, son and law and grandsons, loves that the kids can run around safely on the resort lawn while parents and grandparents relax listening to music, having a cocktail. “We love it,” she says.

My gang does too, giving Camp Hyatt decided thumbs up. It’s nice for everyone to be smiling at the end of a vacation day.

We can’t wait for the after dinner smores.